Apple Archive

DOS Cards, x86 Emulation, Boot Camp, and the Future of Windows on Macs

- 2006.04.07

Not only do the 2006 Macs come with Intel processors, now they can also officially run Windows thanks to Apple's announcement of Boot Camp, a utility used to install Windows XP on the new Intel Macs.

As I suggested previously, this can only help both Apple and Microsoft - but at the same time many people are stunned now that the only difference between a Macintosh and a conventional PC is the logo on the front and the added capability of the Mac to run OS X.

DOS Cards

Many also forget that the Mac has a long history of being able to run other operating systems, whether it be Linux, MS-DOS, or Windows. Some of the 68040-based Macs were available with DOS cards installed, which was basically a PC on a card that fit in the Mac's PDS slot. The Quadra 610 and 630 were the most notable for this option. (Before Apple got into the DOS card business, AST made x86 cards for the Mac SE and Mac II way back in 1987.)

Some of the early Power Macs, such as the 6100, also had the capability, but unfortunately in all of these models having a DOS card present eliminated the possibility for any other cards, because the machine's sole slot was occupied by the DOS card.

Later on with the PCI Power Macs, the 7300 offered the option a PC card, and cards similar to the one available for this machine could be purchased from Orange PC to function with nearly every PCI Power Mac up to and including beige G3s.

However, Mac OS 8.5 (released in 1998) broke support for these cards, so those using them were forced to stick with OS 8.1.

Software Emulators

Software had been written to allow the Mac's CPU to emulate an Intel processor so that applications meant for conventional x86 PCs could run in a window on the Mac. One of the popular early ones was SoftWindows, and SoftPC was another.

SoftWindows allowed Windows 3.1 (and later 95) to run on a Power Mac, such as the 6100/60. SoftPC let users install their own operating system, and there was even a version that run on a lowly Mac Plus.

When Connectix' Virtual PC was released, it pretty much took over the SoftWindows market. Virtual PC acts like a regular PC - built right into a Mac - and can run Windows, Windows software, and other x86 operating systems. Furthermore, you could simply drag and drop files from the PC desktop to the Mac desktop, making integration seamless.

The best part, however, was that OS upgrades would not take away the functionality - if a particular version of Virtual PC didn't work with OS 9, for example, there would be an upgrade available.

Virtual PC

Virtual PC worked fairly well until Windows 2000 came out. Windows 95 and 98 had relatively low system requirements, and most Macs of that era could handle running them in emulation fairly well. Later versions of Virtual PC, combined with Mac OS X and newer versions of Windows, slowed things down considerably. I have serious doubts that Windows Vista will work at any reasonable speed using software emulation on PowerPC Macs, and if Microsoft does decide to make Virtual PC for Intel Macs, it would most likely be exclusively bundled for that version.

I would love to see a "Fast OS Switching" option built into OS X 10.5 that would allow Windows (or any other OS) to be running "in the background" instead of forcing the user to reboot to switch operating systems. If Apple were able to pull that off, I'm sure they'd not only get a lot more switchers, but many Mac users would buy copies of 10.5 who might not have otherwise bothered to upgrade.

This might cut into Microsoft's Virtual PC market. On the other hand, Apple has recently begun to stand up to Microsoft with Safari, Pages, and Keynote. That said, Microsoft would probably be delighted to see such integration - if Microsoft can sell a few more copies of Windows to Mac users, I'm sure it wouldn't complain.

Regardless, the Mac has had a history of being very flexible when it comes to running alternate operating systems, and with the Intel transition and Apple's attitude for installing Windows on the Mac, now is a better time than ever if you plan on running it - or any other OS - on your Mac.

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