Friday, April 07, 2006

Is Boot Camp As Ingenious As I Think It Might Be?

I blogged this on 6/14/05:

On the other hand, if Apple ships boxes that can run OS X and Windows XP, but generic PCs are precluded from running OS X, Apple keeps (virtually) all of its existing hardware customer base, and adds to that Windows users who either a) are attracted to Apple's better hardware designs, or b) want the option of migrating to OS X later. All upside, no downside, excluding the Mac users that Apple loses to Windows, which I believe to be a very small number, and even some of them will hedge their bets with dual-purpose hardware.

Let's look at what Boot Camp has done with respect to that scenario. Basically, Boot Camp provides a quintessentially Apple approach to configuring a dual boot system: partition the disk, set up a boot loader to choose a boot volume, and install the alternate OS (Windows) on the new partition. The Apple touches: most of the installation runs in the familiar application mode (as opposed to a character-based installer), and you can re-partition your disk without destroying your existing data (it's been done before, but it's not common).

The interesting nuances: the process pretty much assumes that you are only going to install at most two OS's, and one of them is always OS X.

The bottom line is that Apple has made it very easy to buy Apple hardware and run Windows on it, but OS X always remains as a boot option. These constituencies are served:

  • Committed Mac users don't care; they don't use Boot Camp, and continue to use their Macs to run OS X.

  • People who would prefer to use OS X but need to use Windows in a pinch use Boot Camp to set up their Windows environment on their Mac hardware, and re-boot as needed to switch environments (as dual boot users do for other permutations, such as Windows/Linux).

  • People who would prefer to use Windows but are attracted to Apple's elegant hardware buy the hardware, configure it for dual boot, then set Windows as the default.

  • Apple has already made a killing: the loyal Mac base doesn't notice the change, a very small percentage of people who want to run the two OS's and are willing to deal with the complexities can do so, but the killing lies in the people who buy Apple hardware to run Windows. If you stipulate that Apple currently has 4% market share in system sales, if 1% of Windows users buy Apple hardware, that's a nearly 25% increase in Apple's hardware sales (where all the margins are). That's a compelling number all by itself, but there's more.

    Remember, under normal circumstances, even those Apple machines that are running Windows all the time have retained their ability to boot into OS X, even if their owners aren't planning on doing so. The only downside for those users is that some portion of their hard-drive space is "wasted" on the OS X partition; but these days, hard drives are typically so big that this isn't likely to be an issue for a while.

    Now suppose that at some point in the future, Apple introduces something akin to Wine, which enables Windows executables to be run from within the OS X environment. This is not wild speculation; Wine is already pretty robust under Linux.

    At this speculative stage, we have people running Windows on Apple hardware who now have the option to boot their previously dormant OS X partitions and continue to use the applications and data that they have been using via Windows. All of a sudden, a Windows user who happens to own Apple hardware now finds it almost completely painless to boot into OS X and continue to use the Windows applications and documents on their Windows partition. These users lose (practically) none of the capabilities or data that they were using under Windows, and gain the additional (and, IMHO, attractive) capabilities of OS X. For these users, there is little or no downside to configuring their machines to boot into OS X instead of Windows, and if they find a problem, they can switch back to Windows without having lost anything.

    As an admitted Mac zealot, I assume that a substantial percentage of Windows-centric Apple owners would choose to start booting into OS X, and start pointing out to their Wintel-using friends that they've achieved full compatibility on Apple hardware. And the already-beneficial trend would continue.