New Apple software lets Macs run Windows

PLUGGED IN

April 06, 2006|By MIKE HIMOWITZ | MIKE HIMOWITZ,SUN COLUMNIOST

Great news! We can finally buy a PC that runs the Macintosh operating system. Or is it a Mac that runs Microsoft Windows?

It all depends on your point of view, now that Apple has given its blessing - and a little bit of help - to users who want to run Windows on the latest generation of Macintosh computers.

Those machines use Intel's Core Duo processors, which are in the same family of chips that run Windows-based PCs. Theoretically, these IntelliMacs (or MacIntels) are quite capable of running Windows. But getting it to work requires considerable tweaking, even from the most experienced Machackers.

FOR THE RECORD - Mike Himowitz's Plugged In column in the Business section yesterday incorrectly implied that the Apple PowerMac G5 computer uses an Intel processor. The G5 uses a PowerPC processor. The MacBook Pro uses an Intel Core Duo processor.

After originally saying it wouldn't support Windows on the new Mac hardware, Apple reversed course yesterday and unveiled a program called Boot Camp, which smoothes the way for users who want to install Windows on their Macs.

Most experts see Boot Camp as a friendly interface that helps users set up a Windows disk partition and install the proper drivers - software snippets that allow Windows to operate the Mac's video, sound and other internal circuitry.

To create one of these dual machines, you'll need a Core Duo Mac - not an older model with a Power PC chip. You'll also need a legitimate, original installation copy of Microsoft Windows XP, which costs $180 to $200 on the street. And you'll need a copy of Boot Camp: a test version, or "beta," is available on Apple's Web site.

When you're finished, you'll have a machine that can start up, or "boot," using either the Mac or Windows operating system. To switch from one to the other, you'll have to restart the computer.

So who wants one of these hybrids?

If you're a Mac lover, you can run Windows software that might not be available on the Mac. Apple has only 3 percent or so of the desktop market, and lots of games and specialty business applications have no Mac versions. For 200 bucks, why not have it all?

Likewise, Windows users can satisfy their curiosity about the Mac operating system, whose longtime fans view it as a religious experience.

More likely, they'll be multimedia fans who want to latch onto production software available for the Mac, including Garage Band - a music maker and the only Mac program that really makes me jealous.

Just realize that you'll pay for this. Aside from the cute but stripped-down Mac Mini ($600 to $800), the cheapest iMac is $1,299 and the cheapest stand-alone PowerMac G5 is almost two grand. Plus $200 for a copy of Windows. You can buy comparable PCs for a lot less - but it still might be fun to have a twofer.

My prediction: Apple will sell a few more Macs, Microsoft will sell a few more copies of Windows, Dell and HP will sell a few less PCs and nobody else will care.

Unfinished business

I got lots of questions from last week's column about an IBM storage expert who warned that the recordable CDs we use to store music, photos and data might last as little as two to five years.

First, readers wanted to know whether recordable DVDs have the same potential longevity problem as CD-Rs.

The answer is yes. The video disks basically are made the same way - with an organic dye layer forming the "pits" that store digital ones and zeroes. As the dye undergoes normal chemical changes and degrades, it may become difficult, if not impossible, to read the disk.

All rewritable compact disks (CD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RW) use an even less stable phase-change film layer to record data. So don't use RWs for long-term storage, whether they're CDs or DVDs.

Another issue: Few of these technologies have been around long enough to develop a track record. Commercial CDs have been on the market less than 30 years, while writable disks for consumers have barely reached adolescence. This raises two questions about longevity.

How can manufacturers claim a 100-year life span? The answer is that test labs simulate aging by applying extremes of heat, light and environmental contamination to random samples of disks. They use the failure rates they observe to calculate a normal life span.

Can we believe these claims? Well, these are accepted test methods in many industries, but the truth is, we'll all be gone by the time anybody knows for sure.

So, if want to learn more about keeping CDs safe in this lifetime, the most comprehensible source I've found is a 48-page booklet entitled Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs, by Fred R. Byers, a storage expert at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It's free online from the Web site of the Council on Library and Information Resources (www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub121abst.html).

Byers takes no stand on how long a particular CD-R or DVD-R will last. But he explains in relatively simple terms how compact disks of all types are made, how they work, and what factors affect their longevity.

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