I said I wanted it: A Mac that can run Windows. With Apple Computer's transition to Intel (INTC) microprocessors well under way, I joined the chorus of Macheads who said they wanted to boot Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows in addition to Mac OS X (see BW Online, 2/09/06, "Travels With My Mac"). Now that it's possible, I'm not so sure I'm willing to take the leap. At least not yet.
THE IDEA. The Mac user community was abuzz this week about a contest that offered a cash prize to the first developer who could find a way to let Windows XP boot on an Intel-based Mac. Two guys from California claimed the $14,000 prize from Colin Nederkoorn of Houston, who funded the prize pool with donations. The winners used a complicated method that involves partitioning the Mac's hard drive -- essentially splitting one drive into two -- and creating a special Windows XP installation disc that includes some extra files.
The contest and the interest it generated -- not to mention the plethora of pro-Mac pundits like me who called for it on blogs and elsewhere -- tell me there's sizable demand for a Windows-friendly Mac. To a certain kind of user, the XP-On-Mac contest and its results are clearly encouraging.
At first glance they help make a compelling case to Apple (AAPL) that it should at least consider enabling users to install Windows easily, should they need it. And there's little doubt that some do need it.
COMPUTER CONTRADICTION. However, to me there's some poetic irony in the timing of the contest. It precedes, by a matter of days, an announcement by Microsoft (MSFT) that the consumer version of Vista, the next revision of the Windows operating system, will be delayed until January 2007 (see BW Online, 3/21/06, "Microsoft's Receding Vista"). This means that Microsoft and hardware partners like Dell (DELL), Gateway (GTW), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) Lenovo, and Toshiba, among others, are going to have a hard time pushing PCs to consumers during the consumer-heavy fourth quarter.
Even before the delay was announced, there was a certain illogic to the idea of running Windows on a Mac. As one commenter on Slashdot.org observed: "We've figured out how to put an inferior OS on more expensive hardware!" That way, he says, you can have both the frustrations of Windows and pay a lot for the equipment. "Next, how to mod your Porsche into a Toyota Camry."
CONSTANT ANNOYANCE. Windows certainly is inferior. But like taxes and carbon emissions, many people find it a necessary evil for getting along in the world. I dislike the way Windows gets in your face all the time with system messages, and how it requires so much hand-holding.
I have one Windows box at home. Every time I use it, before I can get anything done, I need to update something -- whether it's a new set of spyware or virus definitions, some new component of Windows, or the driver software for my mouse. The Mac for the most part stays out of your way and walks you through simple updates, but only when you really need them.
Indeed, this is no time to make nice with Microsoft and Windows. Now that it's got a little extra time before Vista is available to consumers, Apple should make every effort before January to take all the market share it can.
This a time to go on the offensive: Bring back the "Switchers" TV ads that portrayed happy Mac converts telling their personal stories of Windows unhappiness followed by Mac-inspired bliss. Ellen Feiss, call your agent! It's time for Apple to publicly flog Microsoft for a long string of slipping development schedules.
ALTERNATE ADS. Here's my first go at a TV-ad storyboard: Show a calendar changing years with a voiceover saying something like: "2004: Microsoft delays a beta test of its next operating system, Longhorn. 2005: Microsoft shifts release plans for its next operating system, now called Windows Vista, to 2006. 2006: Microsoft promises to deliver Vista to consumers -- in 2007." Cut to a calendar displaying the year 2007, followed by a question mark. Back to the voiceover: "Tired of waiting for a next generation operating system? Get a Mac, now running Leopard." All the more reason to push Leopard out the door as soon as possible.
And while we're at it, how about handing Microsoft a few choice shots to the solar plexus. Having already played up its lousy reputation for delivering products on time, hit them where they have another sore reputation spot: Security.
Film another ad. This one touting how much more secure the Mac OS X is than Windows. Call in some corporate IT security specialist who will testify how much time and effort he or she spends patching Windows systems, and all the related anti-virus, anti-spyware and other anti-bad-computer-thingee software.
MIGHTY MAC. Finally, how about reminding the whole wide world once again -- in case there is anyone who hasn't got the message -- that the Mac is not only simpler and more pleasant to use on a daily basis, but that there is practically nothing that any mainstream computer user cannot do on a Mac. Sure, there aren't as many high-end games. (Much to my occasional chagrin.) But by and large a Mac user is on an equal if not often superior footing when it comes to being able to get things done. That old complaint that the Mac won't run certain applications holds less water with each passing day.
To paraphrase Aragorn's rousing speech from before the final battle in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a day may come when it makes sense for Apple to get serious about offering Macs that boot to Windows easily. But it's not this day. This is the time to fight.