Busy Week for Additions to the Apple Realm

Datamation Columnist John Welch runs down an impressive list of new technologies.
In this week's column, there's so much going on that I'm actually worried about taking up most of the space on Datamation's site.

On April 3, the only way to dual-boot an Intel Mac with Windows XP required slipstreaming the Windows install CD. It was a rather involved process. What you got didn't have a lot of driver support. The idea of running Windows in a virtual machine was a future dream.

As of April 6, we now have betas of an easy-to-set-up dual boot system with solid driver support from Apple, whose execs also stated that this software -- aka 'BootCamp' -- would be a part of the next release of Mac OS X -- aka 'Leopard'.

We also have, thanks to Parallels, and its beta of Parallels Workstation 2.1 for Mac OS X, a virtualization implementation for Mac OS X. I've not had a chance to work with either yet, (unlike the WSJ, we don't get hardware thrown at us). But from talking to people I know who have, both are impressive and a boost for different reasons.

BootCamp is Apple's implementation of a dual-boot system for Windows XP SP 2. It uses a new feature in Mac OS X 10.4.6 that allows for non- destructive partitioning of drives under Mac OS X, (Really, check out this entry for diskutil: resizeVolume (resize a volume, increasing or decreasing its size). You also can use this to set up new partitions, not just HFS+ either. Pretty much any partition that Mac OS X can read and write to will work.)

With BootCamp, you can set up a FAT32 or NTFS partition, install Windows XP SP2 into it, and add in the custom drivers so you get things like 3D acceleration. Initial reports indicate that this works quite well, at least for games. BootCamp also modifies your Intel Mac's firmware to make this work. However, Apple is supplying a firmware restorer, so if you decide to leave BootCamp, you can undo BootCamp's modifications.

There are some caveats.

First, BootCamp is in beta at this point, so I highly recommend you read the release notes/manual for it. Since Mac OS X can only read NTFS, but not write to it, and Windows needs third-party software to read HFS+, data transfer between the two will be tricky unless you format the Windows partition as FAT32. But then you lose NTFS benefits. And when you boot Windows, it's Windows. That means all the Windows Malware is now a problem for your Mac.

In general, your HFS+ partition will be safe, (unless you get the HFS+ software, such as MacDrive. However, if you do that, then Windows malware now has access to your Mac OS X partition, so be careful with this.

I also will point out that there has been, in the past, malware that was able to reach out and do bad things to your BIOS and your drive structures on Wintel Boxes, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that someone would create malware that could do bad things to your MacBook when you run Windows on it. Just because it's a Mac doesn't make it immune to malware, especially when running Windows on it.

If you use BootCamp, take malware threats seriously.

While BootCamp is getting a lot of press, and I'm glad Apple did this, it's not a huge new feature for me, at least on a wide scale. I can see it as being of use for testing things, or for folks who are doing cross- platform development, as it allows you to consolidate the number of test machines you need. I also can see it being good for gamers, or people who do most of their work in Mac OS X, but occasionally need to use 3-D/CAD or similar programs that only run in Windows. It also could be handy for laptop users who only need the occasional Windows program.

However, dual-booting is anything but a productivity enhancer. I've lived the dual-boot life, and it's best described as being 'half as productive in twice the operating systems'. I don't care how fast your system boots, having to reboot multiple times is tedious at best.

Outside of specific needs, I don't see this as suddenly getting a Fortune 500 company to buy 50,000 Macs. Supporting one OS on a machine can be tricky. Supporting two is trickier by far.

However, the ability to run Windows in a Virtual Machine, ala VMWare or Virtual Server? Now that is of use in a corporate setting. The day after BootCamp was released, Parallels announced its Parallels Workstation 2.1 beta, which allows you to run multiple operating systems on your Intel Mac at the same time from within Mac OS X.

This means you can have, along with full access to your Mac OS X environment, simultaneous access to Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Solaris 10, Linux, and even OS/2. No rebooting needed.

That's much handier in a corporate situation, especially when you note that you can completely deny any network access to the guest OS. It's really hard to get malware from the Internet when you can't get to the Internet.

For laptop users, this is a much more elegant solution to the problem. Need to run a Windows program? Fire up your Windows VM, and run it. When you're done, quit. Need to restore a damaged VM? No need to reboot and monkey with an OS reinstall. Just drag over a clean copy of the VM data file, and Bob's your uncle. Need to update images, or change the VM image file? Just do a file copy.

A VM can't really run as fast as natively booting. But barring a real need for that speed -- something that most corporate users don't need -- Parallels' solution is much more enterprise-friendly. I know, for my needs, being able to run Solaris, Linux, and a couple versions of Windows with ease is going to be a serious productivity enhancer for me.

Depending on how easy it works, it could be a nice solution to the laptop problem. Give laptop users a Mac with Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection when behind the firewall, and a tuned XP VM for use on the road. If you don't allow the VM network access, there's some safety there.

The problem, at least with the initial release is, of course, data transfer. The only way to do this is via a multi-step clipboard utility, along the lines of Apple Remote Desktop. There are workarounds for this, but it's something that Parallels will need to make dead simple. Drag-and-drop simple is the goal, ala Virtual PC.

(Note... This would be a great chance for someone to sell a cheap little utility that allows WIndows and Linux to plug into .Mac syncing.)

The only OS Parallels Workstation doesn't support as a guest is, ironically, Mac OS X. That's still one-per-machine. But I think I can live with that limitation. However, if Apple were to make this work in Leopard, well, that would be a heck of a selling point for that upgrade.

I'm also envisioning this reaction from people... ''This is so bad! Now people won't make Mac OS X software anymore. They'll just tell you to run Windows!''.

To be blunt, any company making Mac OS X software that did this is being run by fools. To do such a thing would not suddenly increase sales of the Windows version. It would increase the competition's sales, but that company would be dead to almost 30 million customers. Not a terribly brilliant strategy. I can almost see it happening for ISVs with no Mac version at all. But if that's their answer, they didn't want any Mac customers anyway. There's simply no other way to describe that strategy other than, well... dumb.

Most companies making money on a regular basis are not dumb, at least not that dumb. Because of that, I'm not worried about that particular issue.

Oh, yes, one more thing. As of March 29, you can now get Nessus 3.0.2, the non-open source but still-free version of Tenable's excellent vulnerability checker. It's in beta, but it looks good, with a real Cocoa-riffic UI and everything. I'm quite happy to get it.

It's much more elegant to use than the X11 version. It has a proper installer, so it's easy to deploy. Nessus isn't for the casual user, but for those of us trying to get a handle on our networks' vulnerabilities, it's a lifesaver of a tool.

So it's been a big week, as big as any week in the Mac market for 2006. I can tell you that if we're getting this kind of stuff now, this year's Apple WWDC is going to be a heck of a show.






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