Two computers in one: put a PC in your Mac

My name, Tom, means "twin." I have Canadian and American citizenship. And I'm bilingual - French and English.

You can see that I like being able to do two things at once. So when I heard last week that Apple had released a program called Boot Camp that allows you to run Microsoft's Windows XP operating system on Apple Macintosh computers with an Intel processor, I was intrigued. I could see the advantages for Mac users, especially gamers.

While many Apple users are loyal to their machines, the reality is that they have to use a PC to play most computer games. Reason: the best games are created initially (and sometimes only) for PCs. That's just the way it is when only 2 to 4 percent of all computer sales are Macs. (The gaming issue was also the main reason I had switched from a Mac to a PC six years ago.)

Boot Camp's release is a smart business move by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple. Microsoft's new operating system, Vista, has been delayed until 2007. Mr. Jobs took advantage of that delay by releasing Boot Camp now. The move also may help sell more Apple computers since the huge sales of iPods have not resulted in increased Mac sales as the company had hoped.

Even if Boot Camp does boost sales of Intel-based Macs, Microsoft will not suffer. After all, in order to run Windows on a Mac, you actually have to buy a full install of Windows, which can run between $200 and $300, depending on which version you decide to use.

No, the real loser could be a company like Dell computer. While Dell's computers sell for less than a Mac, the pricing on the new Mac Mini machine is much more PC-like. As a result, the decision to buy a Mac becomes more of an option if price was the main concern. So while Bill Gates is happily selling his operating system to whomever wants to use it, Apple and Dell (and other PC-makers) will have to slug it out for a share of the computer sales market.

But before I head out and buy a new Mac, I needed to see if Boot Camp would really work.

I don't currently own a Mac, especially one with Intel inside. But a good friend does. And he was very interested in being able to run Windows XP on his machine. He was even happy to buy a new copy of Windows. So I went to his house and watched him do the install.

It was actually pretty easy. Here's how it went:

First you need an Intel-based Mac. Old G4s, and even newer G5s won't cut it. You need a new Mac Mini, an iMac, or a MacBook Pro. Make sure your Mac has the newest version of the OS X operating system.

My friend, who has an iMac, first made a backup of his files. Then he went to the Apple site (http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/), and downloaded a "firmware" update for his machine. He printed out the installation and setup guide. Finally, he downloaded the copy of Boot Camp.

Boot Camp then helped him burn a copy of all the drivers he would need to make Windows work on a Mac. (So you'll need a blank CD, too.) The program also helped him "partition" his hard drive by dragging a simple onscreen divider. Basically, this tool allows you to divide your hard drive to accommodate both operating systems.

Then he put the Windows CD in the disk drive and restarted the machine. He followed the onscreen instructions to install Windows. (Remember, Microsoft doesn't provide technical support for this procedure yet, so you're on your own if you make a mistake.)

Once Windows was installed successfully, my friend inserted the CD with the Windows-Mac drivers.

And that was it.

He held down the option key while rebooting, and the Mac presented a screen that allowed him to choose between the two operating systems. (Note: If you decide you don't like Windows, you can uninstall it.)

The process was pretty simple, taking about an hour or so to install. My friend tried a couple of his son's PC games, and they seemed to work just fine.

One final reminder: Don't forget about security. Once you are running Windows, even on a Mac, you are subject to all of the viruses, worms, etc. that attack Windows operating systems. So make sure you install a good security program on your computer as well.

Soon, you'll be able to do two things at once: have all the benefits that a Mac computer offers - and play all the best PC games.

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