For years the Mac OS has been widely recognized as providing a more stable and “safer” platform than the Windows operating system. Mac systems are less prone to system “crashes” and are the target of far fewer computer viruses. Despite this, Apple has lagged far behind Windows-based systems in market share. As a result, Mac users have had to cope with a woefully small number of software titles relative to the number available for Windows, a problem that is magnified in the realm of investment programs.
Last June, Apple made an announcement that may have signaled a seismic shift in the PC industry. The company announced that it would start using Intel-made processors in its Mac computers, thereby ending its use of PowerPC chips provided first by Motorola and then by IBM. In January, Apple started rolling out its first “Mactel” systems running on Intel processors, several months earlier than expected. At this point, Apple has introduced several Intel-based product lines, including the MacBook Pro, Apple’s high-end laptop; the Mac mini, Apple’s entry-level desktop; and the iMac, Apple’s “all-in-one” mid-level desktop. The company hopes to have Intel chips in all of its systems by year end.
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The main reason for the switch is that Intel processors will allow Apple to produce Macs that run faster and cooler than PowerPC-based systems. For many PC users, there has been a perception that Mac systems lack the speed and performance of Windows-based systems. For laptops, the new Intel chips should have longer battery life and allow Apple to produce thinner and lighter systems. According to Apple, the new Intel-based Macs run two to five times faster than their PowerPC-based equivalents. Performance specs provided by computer companies are infamously overstated, but most industry experts agree that the Intel chips should narrow the performance gap.
One drawback to the Intel-based Macs is a near-term lack of software written to run on both PowerPC and Intel chips. It will take time for software makers to re-write their applications to run on the Intel chips.
In April, Apple once again shocked the computer world by announcing that it had released Boot Camp—software that enables Microsoft Windows XP to run on the new Intel-based Macs. Some die-hard Mac users proclaimed this unholy marriage a sign of the coming of the apocalypse. Others viewed it as yet another shrewd marketing move by a resurgent Apple Computer.
With Boot Camp, Intel-based Mac users can choose between running Mac OS or Windows XP. It removes a major obstacle for those who prefer the Mac but use Windows-only software.
To calm the nerves of Mac users, Apple was quick to point out that it is not abandoning the OS X operating system. Nor is it endorsing Windows, as it took a swipe at Windows’ well-known susceptibility to viruses, noting that Windows running on a Mac will be subject to the same vulnerabilities.
A free public beta version of Boot Camp can be downloaded from the Apple Web site (www.apple.com). The company also plans to include it in Mac OS X 10.5, called Leopard, scheduled for release early next year.