The Back Page: Boot Camp Means More Mac Users

by - April 13th, 2006

It's a fascinating thing, but it really seems as if more people are tense about Boot Camp, Apple's new software that makes it easy (and possible) to run Windows on an Intel-powered Mac, than there were about Apple's transition to Intel itself.

It may be that only the transition from Classic Mac OS to Mac OS X has generated this much tension in our microcosm.

Then as now, however, I am here to tell you not to worry. Allowing Windows to run on Intel-powered Macs is going to bring more people to the Mac, and when I say "Mac," I mean Mac OS X.

Not only that, but I have to give a friendly ::smack:: upside the head to anyone who thought for a second that Apple would ever stop people from running Windows on Intel-powered Macs once they decided to make the Move to Intel to begin with.

That's another story, though, and this column is going to focus on the pertinent issue of why I think this will be good for the Mac platform -- as well as being good for Apple, Inc., but I think that's largely a given for most folks.

First and foremost, I think that Apple will be able to sell more Macintosh hardware because of Boot Camp, especially if Boot Camp itself is more thoroughly integrated into Leopard and subsequent releases of Mac OS X.

Indeed, I would like to see the company make Fast User Switching between the OSes a seamless user experience, and if I can have my cake, the icing, and all the leftover batter in the mixing bowl, I will have the option of Fast User Switching and some sort of parallel environment (like the aptly-named Parallels) that would allow me to run Windows inside the Mac itself, which makes drag-and-drop between the OSes simple (like Virtual PC, but faster).

The concern among some in the Mac community is that if Mac owners can so easily run Windows, too many of those people will choose to do just that, use Windows. That, in turn, will lead to an exodus of developers from our platform.

"You want Mac support? Buy Windows," people are worried developers may say.

And my first and foremost rebuttal to this fear is will you choose to run Windows on your Mac?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

So who are all these Mac owners that are going to choose the Dark Side? The only logical answer to that is Windows users who buy a Mac, but choose to run Windows instead. After all, they are comfy with Windows, and most folks will choose to remain in the comfy zone rather than risk change and difference.

Now I want you to think about that for a moment or two. Go ahead, I'll wait (and I am not being snarky like I usually am when I say something along those lines).

So if Mac users will prefer to remain Mac users, and it's new Mac owners coming from the Windows world that are far more likely to run Windows on their pretty new Macs because of Boot Camp, what happens to the Mac's user-base?

In a worst-case scenario, it remains the same (which means it continues to rise, as it has been doing for the last 18-24 months).

In a best-case scenario, it increases more rapidly than it has as most or all of those Windows users buying Apple hardware for the first time actually try the Mac and like it.

What is most likely is that some percentage of those former Windows users will try and like the Mac (say 20% on the small side and 60% on the hooray side), which will result in what is still an increase in Mac OS X users.

In the meanwhile, Apple has the money from even those who choose Windows over Mac OS X, and that money will go to both shareholders and R&D for the Mac and other new products. That in and of itself is good for the Mac platform.

What I personally see happening is that Apple is going to sell quite a few machines to three kinds of people:

  1. People who have long wanted to try a Mac but were afraid to make the change (the largest group that will result in the most true Switchers).
  2. People who love Apple's industrial design and want that cool looking computer on their desk (a smaller group that could go either way).
  3. Business executives who want something slick and expensive on their desks (a much smaller, but very important, group that will serve as a Trojan Horse into the Enterprise space).

Each of those segments will have different reactions to the Mac, but even if only 10% of them became Mac OS X users, that would still represent an increase in the MaC OS X user base.

That argument is, frankly, irrefutable.

But let's go even further: I believe that the ability to run Windows is going to become a huge safety net for the primary and secondary education markets.

Your teachers want Macs, yet your IT pinhead has convinced someone on the school board that kids need to learn on the crappiest OS on the planet?

Fine! Buy a Mac and you get mixed use (and you know that most of those Macs would end up running Mac OS X). It's not as good as being all-Mac, but it's a far sight better than being all-Windows.

I think this will be even more important in higher education, where the ability to choose between Mac OS X, Linux, Unix, and Windows will be of paramount importance to many, many university settings.

The same goes for research departments in many governmental and corporate settings.

And the creative world? Forget about it! The creative market will be all over the ability to have mixed platform options.

The list goes on, and as that list grows, Apple is selling more Macs, Macs that it would not otherwise have sold.

Remember, it only takes a small percentage of those Macs that would not otherwise have been sold running Mac OS X for Apple to grow the installed Mac OS X user base.

So tell me again about these developers who are going to abandon the Mac?

Please, brother, it ain't gonna happen, and if it does happen here and there, new developers will be there to fill the void because there will be more Mac users to buy their software.

Also, it should be noted that developing for the Mac is going to become that much easier for Windows developers because of the move to Intel. Developers wanting to develop for both platforms have had to worry about not only the different OSes, but the different processor architecture and everything that entails. No longer. Coupled with the growing user-base I keep going on about, the idea of supporting two platforms will be less of an issue than it was even last year.

Lastly, I would like to bring up an issue I mentioned in yesterday's column, and that is the subject of one Stephen P. Jobs. Mr. Jobs believes so strongly in the concept of controlling the whole widget (i.e. the hardware and software), I think it impossible for Apple to sell computers without also having an OS to run on them as long as he is in charge.

Without that control, Apple loses its entire competitive advantage, a message that Mr. Jobs and other execs have hammered home again and again.

Tying that back into today's column, it should be obvious that Stephen P. Jobs knows this far better than you or me.

While I hardly subscribe to the idea that he is infallible (Suing journalists for their sources? Banning books? Folly and un-American all at the same time!), I do think it's inescapable that his business instincts have been firing in the 90-95% success range in the last seven or eight years.

If my supposition that Apple (with Mr. Jobs at the helm) will never sell a computer if it doesn't control the hardware and software is true, then it is obvious that Mr. Jobs thinks that Boot Camp will not threaten that business model.

So there you have it. Steve Jobs must then agree with me...*

Fear not, my fellow Mac users. Our ranks are going to continue to grow!

* This last exercise in logic was brought to you by Duck Suppliers, Inc. -- Duck Suppliers, Inc. "You bring the scales, we'll bring the ducks, and let the witches beware!"