Digital World: Frankenstein's computer

It's a brave, new, OS world - and it's scary!

By DAVID SHAMAH
April 11, 2006 08:23
mac os x 88 298

mac os x 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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For years, Mac users were the right-brainers, the creative types - as opposed to the left-brain, draw inside the line, corporate toady Windows users. Thus it was forever, it seems, until - in a Frankenstein-like mixing of body parts- Apple came up with the Intel processor-based Macintoshes described last week. But that, apparently, was just the beginning. Apple is now crossing all the lines and authorizing - maybe even encouraging - installation of, would you believe it, Windows, of all things, on these Intel-based machines! The truth is that I was going to describe methods of setting up just such a cross-platform animal this week anyway. But any such installation, until now, has been the work of hackers and other such computer misanthropes. But, now, Apple itself - the company that "Thinks Different" - is telling customers to go out and buy a copy of Windows XP, and providing a driver disk to help owners of Intel-based Macs to set up the "other" operating system on their machines. Last Thursday, Apple announced that "Mac can do Windows too," and offered for free a download of Boot Camp (apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/), which will allocate a portion of your hard drive (you decide how much) to Windows. Your Mac data and applications remain where they are and, once Windows is installed, you decide at boot time which OS to run. Boot Camp is a beta application, but Apple says it is slated to be included in its next major operating system upgrade. The real misanthrope, as it turns out, has been lurking in the clean, neat lab at Apple headquarters and is now being unleashed on a nervous public. The first obvious question that pops up is how your hard disk will handle this schizophrenia, since Mac and Windows use different file systems to store and load data. Windows supports both FAT-32 and NTFS file systems in partitions of up to 32 GB in this setup, which would allow the Mac "section" of the hard drive to access and modify the files written to the PC portion. If you want more than 32 GB, you need to format your Windows partition with NTFS, which will prevent you from manipulating files on the Windows partition (although you can read them). Boot Camp makes the MS on Mac setup "official," but the moment the Intel-based Macs came out inquiring minds had already set out to discover the secrets of cross-breeding. This site (http://wiki.onmac.net/index.php/HOWTO), for example, provided a nearly-painless method of setting up a Win/Mac machine. Basically, it entails creating a CD with Windows-type drivers, an effort now precluded by Boot Camp, which does all the heavy lifting for you. Note that OS X is based on BSD, a Linux variant - so it stands to reason that Linux will work on Mac hardware as well. In fact, nearly any variant of Linux designed for Intel hardware can be compiled to work on Macs - there are even Linux editions for Power PC Macs (check out http://www.osxbook.com for more information). Installing both Windows and Linux would give you a unique machine that would be able to boot into the three major operating systems in use today. Pretty cool, if you ask me. However - the question of "why bother" comes to mind almost immediately. Why bother turning a Mac into a PC, even if you could? Some, of course, would answer "because I can," but there are plenty of downsides to the effort. Many Mac users say that the best feature of their computer is its operating systems' stability - Macs running OS X rarely crash, and while Windows XP is a great improvement over its predecessors, it still spits out an occasional "Blue Screen of Death." The notion of seeing one of those on a machine with the Apple logo emblazoned upon it is just too weird for many of us to fathom! But stability is small fry compared to the security risks involved. Besides stability, another bragging right Mac folk have over their Windows compatriots is the far better OS security found in OS X. Rarely do we ever hear about a Mac-oriented virus - I can count on one hand, with plenty of fingers left over, just how many viruses OS X users have suffered from - while Windows, when it comes to viruses, is, of course, Windows, regardless of the hardware its running on. Opening up your Mac to Windows means opening it up to the plethora of nasties floating around PC cyberspace, and the first application you'll want to install in your Windows environment is an anti-virus program. On the other hand, its feasible that with the Intel-based hardware, it'll be easier for hackers to develop viruses for Macs running OS X alone. So why go ahead with it? The main reason would be to have access to many PC applications that have not been developed for Macs. The new combo is especially a boon to users who want a Mac at home but need to use a PC at work; they can have it all on one box, saving a bundle by having to buy only one set of hardware. In addition, even many major third-party applications available for the Mac haven't been optimized to run on Intel hardware; and those that do are often slow, unlike the iLife suite, which Apple rewrote from the ground up to work with Intel hardware. But if you've got access to the PC version of those apps, you could use them while waiting for their Intel Mac versions to be written. And the Mac's ability to run Windows will certainly gladden the hearts of many Mac heads, who scratch their heads trying to figure out why the obviously superior Apple platform still has, after all these years, only about 5% of the PC market. A versatile machine that will pander to the masses and run the majority OS might be just the thing to wean users away from their old habits and into the OS X scene - and once they see the wonders of Mac, they'll never go back to their old Windows ways. If this is Apple's strategy, I certainly wish the company well - but still, it feels like some line has been crossed, that nature itself has been violated. It's like something out of a medieval monster story - and who knows whether this creature won't rise up to avenge itself on those who created and installed it? Ds@newzgeek.com

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