Tools Of The Trade: Apple's Boot Camp software

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Apple's decision last year to switch to the Intel processor was as momentous for the company as the launch of the iPod. But recently, and to rather less fanfare, it made an announcement that could be even more significant: its computers would run Microsoft Windows.

Once Apple started to use Intel chips - also found in most Windows PCs - it was inevitable that someone, somewhere, would find a way of running Windows on Apple computers. So the company has stepped in and developed software that does just that.

Anyone with an Intel-based Macintosh can download Apple's Boot Camp software from the company's website. As long as you have a full, up- to-date copy of Windows XP (with Service Pack 2), installing it is straightforward.

The first step is to create a CD-Rom with Windows drivers for Apple-specific hardware such as the keyboard and mouse. Next, Boot Camp divides the hard drive into two, one for the Mac and one for Windows. Users can choose how much space to give to each platform, although 5GB is the minimum practical for XP.

It is then just a question of following the Boot Camp installer's prompts and inserting a Windows master disk when asked. Once the process is complete, the machine will reboot in Windows. Install the Mac drivers from the CD-Rom and the Mac is ready to run any Windows software.

Unlike emulation software, such as Microsoft's Virtual PC, Boot Camp does not allow both operating systems to run side by side. But the benefits, in terms of genuine Windows performance and far better compatibility, will offset this for almost all users.

Performance in Windows on an Intel-based Mac Mini running a Core Duo processor was extremely impressive. The Intel Macs hold their own against PCs with similar specifications. In some respects, such as the number of built-in features, they beat them.

Not all the Mac's features will work under Windows XP: Apple has kept the remote control, the built-in video cameras on some models and the FrontRow entertainment software firmly on the Mac platform. But for anyone who wants a Mac for home or multimedia applications, and to run PC software too, Boot Camp is an effective solution.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5.

PROS: runs Windows applications like a native.

CONS: only works with a full copy of Windows XP.

COST: free.