Run Windows Natively on a Mac?

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding what Apple’s move to Intel based processors will mean to the future of the platform.  In my mind, I think the answer is simple.  It is a question of evolution.  Apple knows that the future of the RISC chip is not what it needs to be.  Apple is also IBM’s main motivation for developing the chip in its current incarnation.  Conversely, there are countless applications for Intel based chips out there that reach beyond the computer industry.  That means that there are more reasons to develop the technology and this motivates constant development.

There is also a great deal of discussion regarding the Mac’s ability to “Dual Boot.”  In theory, a Mac could have two hard drives installed in it.  Mac OS X would be installed on one, and Windows XP could be installed on the other.  Every time the system is booted, the user would select which operating system they would like to boot into.

Dual booting has its advantages, but no one has touched on the possibility that rebooting might not be necessary.  Consider Virtual PC, a long standing staple of the Mac community.  It allows Mac users to run the entire Windows operating system inside of a window on the Mac.

Virtual PC is a great application, but it has always been plagued by a simple and inevitable disadvantage.  In order to run Windows on a Mac, the Mac must emulate a PC processor.  And, given the vast differences in the platforms architectural designs, a massive performance hit is taken. So much so that Virtual PC is considered unusable to many Mac users.

But with Apple’s transition to Intel based processors, emulation is no longer an issue.  Virtual PC will have access to the processor directly, and as a result, there should be little or no performance hit.  Mac users will finally be able to run Windows applications on their Mac at speeds that will rival Wintel based computer systems.

In theory, this could eliminate the needs for anyone to dual boot their system and give the average Mac user the best of both worlds.

There is, of course, a possible down side.  Several years ago, Microsoft acquired Virtual PC from Connectix.  Since that time, new versions have been released and the product is still very well supported.  It is simply a question of whether or not Microsoft will take advantage of the change in processor technology and take Virtual PC to the next level.  For now, we have to wait and see!

Along a similar line of thinking, Kelly McNeill has published an interesting article that expands on this thought and theorizes that OS X 10.5 (a.k.a. Leopard) might have native support built in for all Windows applications.  For now, the idea sounds a little far fetched, but it would be the perfect way to steal the thunder from Microsoft’s impending Longhorn release.  Read Kelly’s article here.


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