But What About My "Blue-Screen-of-Death"--or should that be "Aqua"?

I view [Boot Camp] as only the first move in what will be a fascinating chess game over the coming months and years. To me, Steve Jobs just pushed forward his first pawn, and it was an excellent first move. Now it's Bill Gates' turn.
Peter Burrows

Like seemingly everyone else, I, too, was surprised by Apple's news this morning with Boot Camp. But while many others see this as a bold declaration of war on Microsoft, I view it as only the first move in what will be a fascinating chess game over the coming months and years. To me, Steve Jobs just pushed forward his first pawn, and it was an excellent first move. Now it's Bill Gates' turn.

I say this because I don't think today's news, in itself, will cause the hordes of Windows users to make the pilgrimage to the Mac. That may well happen in time, but only after Apple has baked Boot Camp into the next release of the MacOS, dubbed Leopard, and--more importantly--until it has accepted responsibility for supporting folks who opt to run Windows on their Macs. Once Apple does that, it could truly crank up its marketing engines to push the Windows-compatibily angle to its utmost. (My idea for a print ad, which I'm very proud of: a minimalist picture of a Mac on a white background, beneath the simple headline: "The Ultimate Switching Machine: Windows Optional")

Indeed, I think this customer support issue will have a huge impact on whether todays news turns out to be a game-changer, or just a fleeting bit of excitement. As in so many things, Apple is trying to have it both ways with its current approach. It is all well and good for Apple to suggest it has released Boot Camp as a response to customers' requests (though it begs the question: what about all those customers who are asking to use their iPods with services other than iTunes--but that's another topic). But the truth is, people are going to run into hardware problems as a result of using Windows. When these unfortunates find that their Macs have been contaminated by using Windows and learn that Apple isn't willing to help them, how much of a favor have they really received?

As such, the first phase of this chess game will come down to how well Apple executes the basics. Does Boot Camp really work as advertised? Is the installation process really a snap? How bad is the performance hit on Windows apps? What unforeseen problems will crop up that drive Boot Camp users nuts? If Apple has done its normally stellar job of rolling out new technology (though some are less stellar than others, it seems), then all will end well. Apple will find that it can support Windows without incurring legions of angry callers seeking profit-sapping support. If this experiment doesn't come off so cleanly, however, I bet Apple will simply stop talking about Boot Camp or developing the technology, and will go back to its current course: trying to take share, sans Windows-compatibility.

All in all, the chessboard is clearly tilted in Jobs' direction. Assuming customers like Boot Camp, it could accelerate Apple's maket share gains. The company has the stores in which to show off the new dual-boot Macs, the Geniuses to hawk them, and the marketing mavens to go after the mainstream buyers--particularly if Apple's designers also came out with new hardware designed to appeal to Windows deserters (Hey gamers out there: what would you like to see from Apple?).

But then, Bill Gates has plenty of powerful moves he can play. So far, Microsoft suggests it will do little to support XP customers who try to run their products on Mac hardware. As many PC owners know, Microsoft and its hardware partners have the maddening habit of pointing fingers at each other whenever customers call for help. If Microsoft, by either its actions or lack thereof, turns Apple's Boot Camp experiment into a hassle for customers, this day may have less significance in the long run than many currently think.

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