on Intel Macs? OS X on PCs? Don't Hold Your Breath
by Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First
published in Low
January 24 2006, Mac2Windows column
The January 10th release of the first Intel-powered Mac models got a
lot of people’s hopes up that these Macs could boot to run PC
operating systems like Windows or Linux. It makes sense, after all;
they’re using the same Intel processor as standard PCs from
manufacturers like Dell, Sony, HP, or the clone-shop around the corner.
Many Mac users have need, now and again, for a single specialized
Windows program that lacks a Mac equivalent; this is the case for many
custom-developed business applications, for instance. Others would like
to be able to play games that come out first (or often only) for the
Windows platform. Emulators like Microsoft’s Virtual PC or
Lismore Software’s Guest PC (see http://www.lowendmac.com/mac2win/05/1205.html
can be used for occasional Windows use, but they’ve got a speed
penalty and are really no use to the game-players at all.
The day of the product release, Apple VP Phil Schiller
was quoted as saying that Apple wouldn’t put any barriers in the
way of people wanting to run Windows on the new Mac models. But it
hasn’t proven to be as easy to accomplish as many had hoped.
Within a few days of the first Intel-powered iMacs becoming available,
forum poster reported the results of trying to boot with a range of
bootable CDs, including Windows XP, Solaris, and Ubuntu and SuSE Linux.
None could be used to boot the iMac.
There are a couple of levels to the problem. Virtually all
standard-issue PCs start booting using a tiny program burned into ROM
known as the BIOS; these are all related to the boot software used in
1983’s IBM-AT, letting the computer know about the connected hard
drive (and some other drives), video card, and other standard hardware.
Even modern BIOSs are pretty primitive and tend not to know about many
of the sorts of modern hardware connected to computers.
EFI Is the Issue
Several years ago, Intel proposed a new, ‘extensible firmware
interface’ (EFI) to replace BIOS, but it hasn’t been widely
adopted. Windows XP doesn’t support EFI, though the next version,
Windows Vista, promised for sometime in 2006, will. (Typical Linux
distributions also don’t include EFI support at this time). The
Intel Macs use EFI rather than BIOS, making it difficult to simply boot
to a PC operating system CD.
It shouldn’t be impossible, however. Gateway, for instance, has
marketed an EFI-based Windows Media Center system since 2003, writing a
custom compatibility module to enable Windows XP to run. And Intel has
released ELILO, a Linux boot-loader for EFI. Linux distributions
supporting ELILO should be popping up soon, and (fingers crossed) these
should be able to boot the Intel Macs.
(Microsoft’s current 64-bit Windows versions include EFI support,
but the current Intel-powered Macs are 32-bit systems. So far, I
haven’t heard any reports of anyone trying to use the Windows
Vista beta versions to boot an Intel-Mac).
There are other issues as well; while it may be possible to boot the
new Macs to an external Firewire drive, most people booting to multiple
operating systems prefer to partition their computer’s internal
hard drive, dedicating a partition to each operating system. If
there’s any software allowing users to mix and match Windows and
Mac-native partitions on a single physical hard drive, I’m not
aware of it.
None of this is insurmountable. There are almost certainly a number of
pretty smart programmers working on these issues right now. But at the
moment, if anyone has managed to boot up an Intel-Mac to any version of
Windows (or Linux), they’re keeping pretty quiet about it.
What about emulators? Microsoft, makers of Virtual PC, are said to be
working to support the Intel Macs in the next version of that product.
There are some suggestions that, while not impossible, it may be an
uphill struggle; VPC was built using Metrowerks’ CodeWarrior
compiler. It’s reportedly harder to convert such programs to
support the Intel processors than programs made with Apple’s
Objective C compiler.
Lismore Software, developers of Guest PC also said they’re
working towards Intel support, but put it relatively far down the list
of features that they’re working on. Other emulators may offer
support sooner; iEmulator (www.iemulator.com
is promising an Intel-native version by the end of February. And one
product, OpenOSX WinTel (www.openosx.com/winte
boasts that it ‘runs native on Intel’ already. I’ll
be looking at OpenOSX WinTel and iEmulator and will report back ASAP.
OS X on Windows PCs
With a version of OS X running on the Intel-Macs, many users are also
salivating at the possibility of running OS X on standard PC hardware.
There are issues of legality- Apple’s retail OS X boxes are all
licensed for upgrading a system from another Mac OS version, not for
installation on a non-Mac system. There are also, most likely,
technical reasons why the OS X disc that ships with, say, an Intel iMac
won’t be usable on a Dell or HP PC clone. Apple’s Phil
Schiller told eWeek: "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything
other than an Apple Mac." eWeek said that Apple hadn’t gone into
any specifics, but they suspected that the software looks for a TPM
(trusted protection module) as an authentication mechanism during