Breaking Microsoft’s Grip

A brave new world shimmers on the horizon for many who are fed up with Microsoft’s grip on the computer industry. By the time Microsoft gets its act together with better system software, the Intel-based Mac will likely be dual-booting Mac OS X and earlier versions of Windows.

First, Microsoft has clearly stumbled with Vista, the new version of Windows, which is now reported to be delayed until January 2007 (see “Cloud Over Redmond” by Ina Fried of CNet News.com). Analysts are talking sound bites about how the Vista delay will help Apple sell more Intel Macs

Apple is already strong in areas where Microsoft has promised to deliver key improvements with Vista: security, and features such as video and photo editing and search, analysts said… “There are two critical PC-buying windows for computers: back-to-school and the holiday season,” Piper Jaffray’s Munster said. “Microsoft is going to be on the sidelines for both of those this year. That has to benefit Apple.”

Second, a groundswell of interest in the Intel Mac platform has sparked efforts to put legacy Windows applications — either through Windows emulation or by booting Windows itself — on the Intel Macs. At this point, the Intel-based Macs can run nearly any version of Windows except the forthcoming Vista.

Why not Vista? Dan Warne’s article in apcmag.com, “Microsoft Bombshell: no EFI support for Vista” points out that Microsoft’s lack of support for Intel’s new Extensible Firmware Interface will be…

… a shock for owners of Intel Macs who had hoped they would be able to dual-boot between Windows Vista and OS X. Intel Macs only support booting via EFI….

Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) is the modern and flexible successor to the 20-year-old PC BIOS. It is responsible for initialising hardware in the PC, and importantly, device drivers are stored in the EFI flash memory rather than being loaded by the operating system. It is a major change for the PC industry and both PC makers and Microsoft have been slow to make the switch. Because the Apple Intel Mac platform is entirely new, it does not have any legacy support concerns. It was hoped that 2006 would be the year PC makers would make the switch. Microsoft’s lack of Windows support is a huge blow to Intel’s hopes, and removes most of the incentive for PC makers to implement it in the short term.

A comment to this article from “Geoffrey” provides a good summary of a Mac owner’s point of view — a view I agree with:

We all know how plagued Windows is with malware, instability and security problems. There are plenty of Mac owners who have a need to run some Windows apps that can’t run under VirtualPC (funnily enough, mostly games), and there’s another crowd of Windows PC owners looking longingly at the Mac’s stability and who would jump at the chance to have a dual-boot machine that ran their occasional Windows apps and games, and could be booted into secure Mac OS X for everything else. There is much frantic activity going on to ‘crack’ Intel OS X so it can run on a generic PC, but the EFI issue is causing problems there, as well.

A comment from “Scott” brings an industry perspective:

I think the even bigger and more important issue is that Microsoft continues to hold computer technology back for it’s own purposes. Since Microsoft has a monopoly on the operating system for most computers, they are the ones that set the standards. To say that they are not going to introduce a feature because there aren’t enough machines that utilize it is really saying they aren’t going to waste resources on innovation. Since a machine with EFI can’t boot Windows, that means that manufacturers aren’t going to use EFI until Windows will support it. Microsoft has to be the leader.

Microsoft not only holds the industry back (for whatever purposes), it will continue to do so by delaying Vista. Microsoft is not likely to introduce any major improvements to system software until January, 2007.

Which is what makes the Intel Mac more attractive. Today you can get at least two different solutions to run Windows itself, or just Windows applications, on an Intel Mac. OpenOSX WinTel and Q are different offerings that allow host operating systems (and applications) such as Windows XP to run in a protected, virtual environment in a window on Mac OS X. Both are essentially Cocoa graphical user interfaces that control the included underlying Open Source “Qemu” x86 virtualization/emulation software. According to the OpenOSX site, OpenOSX has been tested with Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, Windows XP Professional, and Ubuntu Linux 5.1.0. It also comes with Red Hat Linux, Debian Linux, and FreeBSD operating systems. Q is a completely rewritten Cocoa port of Qemu, built directly on OS X, making use of Apple’s Coreimage, Coreaudio, and OpenGL technologies.

Rumors are swirling that Apple will soon release a version of OS X for the Intel Mac that includes a tightly integrated WINE emulator, which provides a compatibility layer for running Windows programs that does not require Windows or any Microsoft code. Unfortunately most Windows emulation methods don’t provide support for 3D graphics, which means Windows gamers are out of luck.

But if you are serious about reliving the glories of the old days of PC gaming on your Mac, try DOSBox, a Disk Operating System (DOS) and Intel x86 PC emulator, complete with sound, graphics, mouse and modem emulation — it does 286/386 realmode/protected mode, Directory FileSystem/XMS/EMS, Tandy/Hercules/CGA/EGA/VGA/VESA graphics, and a SoundBlaster/Gravis Ultra Sound card for excellent sound compatibility with older DOS games. The site claims you can run Leisure Suit Larry 6 and Fuzzy’s World of Miniature Space Golf on a Mac G3, and that a G4 offers near-Pentium performance.

And for a DIY approach to getting Windows XP on an Intel Mac, follow the “Instructions on how to install Windows” from UNEASYsilence, or check out the video tutorial. You need an original Microsoft Windows XP PRO SP2 CD-ROM. Good luck!

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Breaking Microsoft’s Grip — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Get Off Microsoft » Blog Archive » Why Will Microsoft Fail?

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