'Windows' Macs Could Take Bite Out of Microsoft

For the legions of diehard Apple fans, the announcement that some Mac computers would be able to run Windows was nothing short of earth shattering.

"It's huge news for the Mac community. It's a real bombshell," said author Leander Kahney. "Hell has frozen over, black is white, two plus two equals five, the whole fabric of the universe has been ripped open."

The new Boot Camp software, which allows owners of the newest Mac computers to install Microsoft's Windows operating system, can be downloaded for free in a test form right now.

So far, the reaction from the Mac faithful has been mostly positive as images of Windows running on Mac computers -- some even crashing them -- pop up all over the Web.

Many fans believe it could be a way to turn PC users -- a mostly reviled group among Apple fans -- into their comrades.

Apple on the Attack?

"This is gonna turn everything on its head," one Mac fan said on the message boards of the CNet.com computer news site. "It could potentially double Apple's market share, especially as Windows users who buy the Mac will now experience Mac OS X firsthand. And when they do, they will forget about using Windows OS."

Analysts put Apple's share of the U.S. computer market at a little more than 3 percent in 2004, far short of industry leader Dell's roughly 33 percent share.

Kahney, who wrote both "The Cult of Mac" and "The Cult of iPod," sees the move as a bit of an about-face for Apple, from its policy of not preventing people from running Windows on Apple computers now to helping them do it.

"It's like they're saying, 'Let's take the fight to the enemy,'" he said. "It's a sign that Apple's becoming much more aggressive about increasing their share of the market."

For years, Mac junkies have argued that the hardware used in their machines is superior and that the Mac operating system is significantly more stable and less prone to malware attacks than Microsoft's Windows operating system.

But because PC owners may have invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in software designed for Windows-based machines over the years, making the move to Mac has always meant rebuying and relearning a whole new set of programs.

Not any more.

"For someone who's hesitant to make the switch to Mac and OS X, this is just another reason to make it more attractive," said Josh Pigford, chief editor of TheAppleBlog.com. "Now it's like you almost don't have a reason not to switch."

'Hip and Sexy' -- at an Added Cost

Experts warn that just because you can turn your Mac into a Windows computer doesn't mean it's easy -- or cheap.

"People are going to pay a premium for the Mac," said Kahney. "Not only are they paying for Apple's 'no compromise' hardware, they're going to have to shell out $150 for Windows as well."

But what may drive PC owners to abandon their computers for Macs has less to do with cost or efficiency than it does with sex appeal.

Over the years, Apple has built a reputation for making not just innovative products but products that stand out aesthetically from the crowd.

"If you use a Mac you're hip and sexy because of the iPod and the counterculture built around Mac," said Kahney. "It's not the machine you're forced to use at work by the bean counters."

Kahney and others say the Mac has long been associated with music and film, and its look makes it almost a fashion accessory.

PC users, on the other hand, are sometimes portrayed as not being bold or refined enough to see that the Apple is a superior machine.

Whether that's true is a matter of debate, but some say that Mac's appeal may depend partly on its status as a niche product, and that the computers will lose their hip status if they start to appear all over the place.

"Just look at the iPod. It's constantly under a microscope and gets picked on a lot -- some of which is valid -- but some of it's just the success of the thing," said James Kim, senior editor for CNet.com. "It's whoever's on top that ends up under attack."

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