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Switch….back?!?

By Brian | April 12, 2006 | Share on Facebook

It’s hard not to laugh at this:

Apple Computer’s new software for installing Windows XP on an Intel Mac could leave the computer unable to boot back into OS X, users reported.

In installing Boot Camp, the hard drive is partitioned for OS X and XP. Installing the latter went without a hitch, but the machine would no longer boot back to the Mac operating system, according to users.

To be fair: they can get back by reformatting their hard drives and starting over. Also, this is a beta product, so we must expect such things. And, it should be said, the software is getting good reviews in lots cases – this is just a bug that some voluntary beta testers came across, and one that Apple is addressing right away.

Continuing on my thread from earlier posts, though, I’m more concerned about whether or not this dual boot machine is a “pure” XP machine and a “pure” OS X machine when it’s all working properly. If it’s native Windows within the hard drive partition, but not down to the hardware, it might start sputtering when it gets to things like corporate ESD (electronic software delivery) systems that push (Windows) software to desktops over the network.

If Apple’s goal is to enter the PC hardware market (a big assumption, but one I’ve been making all along), then a couple of problems at the outset could leave network administrators wary, and kill the whole deal. They need to put out some technical white papers on what they’ve done to make the geeks comfortable…

Topics: Tech Talk | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Switch….back?!?”

  1. Jeff Porten says at April 14th, 2006 at 5:34 pm :
    We already know that Boot Camp Windows isn’t a stock model; Apple installs a Startup Disk control panel to allow for switching back to Mac OS.

    I find it very interesting that your news sources reported this bug to you before mine did to me. Not that mainstream tech media are looking for Apple to fall over, of course.

    I’m confused by what you mean by “down to the hardware”. Windows doesn’t go “down to the hardware” — it’s software, riding on top of BIOS and EFI. Are you talking about drivers?

  2. Brian says at April 15th, 2006 at 1:34 am :
    Don’t overreact, Jeff. It’s just a bug in a piece of beta software, not a knock on Apple. As I said, the vast majority of reviews have been very positive, and Apple’s immediatley addressing this bug. Also, the source, Internetweek, is hugely favorable to Apple most of the time. I get their daily e-mail newsletter (which is where this came from), and they’re always talking about big, bad Microsoft.

    As for “down to the hardware,” I mean does Windows on a Mac interact with the hardware the way Windows an a Dell does? I understand there are several layers between the OS and the CPU, but the extent to which some architecture layer is interpreting Windows calls and translating them for the hardware (differently than a standard Wintel PC), is going to be huge for corporate network administrators considering buying a few thousand of them for their users.

    This first caught my eye when I heard the dual-boot was accomplished via disk partitioning, and that the Mac OS partition was always the main partition. I don’t think that matters in and of itself, but if it’s architected such that everything passes through the Mac OS to run, it’s eventually going to hit problems with sophisticated Windows client software (e.g., the kind that does heavyweight things with registry settings, user/administrator rights, automatic restarts, VPN connections, etc.) If this is the real mccoy, it’s big news. If it’s a very sophisticated emulator, it may or may not be good enough.

    (Incidentally, this is why I think virtualization is dead on arrival. Sure, it lets you cut & paste between Windows and Mac applications, and that’s great for the home user that wants to run some apps in one environment and some in the other. But I don’t know anyone like that. Home users that have to run some apps in Windows, but want to run everything in OS X are going to need their Windows apps to run exactly like they do at work (or whatever is forcing them to use it). Once you move past Word & Excel and into custom-built apps, virtualization is going to start to fall down).

  3. Mike Starr says at April 15th, 2006 at 10:18 am :
    I think you are touching on 3 different and distinct things: dual-boot, emulation, and virtualization.

    My understanding is Boot Camp provides dual-boot – each time you boot, you do so into either OSX or XP, and there is no emulation or virtualization going on. When you choose XP, it’s running “raw” on the hardware, in exactly the same manner as on any other Intel PC. When you boot into XP, OSX isn’t running, and vice versa. (Of course the other thing Apple provides w/Boot Camp provides is the set of drivers XP needs to recognize the Apple hardware – in exactly the same way that every other PC hardware vendor provides drivers for their PCs and peripherals.)

    Emulation is different – this would be OSX running (not just dormant on the hard disk as when booting XP via Boot Camp), with a layer translating Win32 calls into OSX instructions. (This is what WINE provides for Linux, and like you said, this is where compatibility gets spotty when you go beyond widely used (and thus widely tested) apps. In this case, Windows itself isn’t actually running, but the underlying OS gains the ability to run some programs written for Windows.

    I think virtualization is different than the other two in that it allows multiple OSes to be running simultaneously (unlike the other two options), essentially multitasking OSes in the way we’re accustomed to multasking applications. From what I’ve heard application compatibility is extremely high (when using offerings like VMWare), unlike when using emulation.

  4. Brian says at April 15th, 2006 at 12:16 pm :
    Well put, Mike. I agree that this is how things are supposed to work. My original question stemmed from the report that booting into XP from Boot Camp (in certain circumstances) made OS X unusable. This suggests (but doesn’t prove) that the two environments are not entirely separate, in that actions taken in one environment could affect bytes in the other.

    As for emulation vs. virtualization, I hadn’t made the distinction that you’re making. If they could have two OSes running simultaneously without creating headaches for network administrators, that would clearly be the best of both worlds. Check this article out, though, (hat tip: Jeff Porten) as an example of the current vs. expected state of VMWare and other virtualization techniques.

    Now that the horse is out of the barn, I’m sure we’re headed down the slippery slope toward multiple technical solutions to this problem (not to mention a more efficient way to mix metaphors). Assuming the goal is corporate acceptance of the Apple hardware (a big assumption), the yardstick for each solution will be how close it comes to the Wintel environments that are currently supported by today’s networks.

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