“Warning: Flying Pig Sighted”
and “Hell Freezes Over” were among the many astonished headlines on
computer-publication articles and online posts about two recent events that
have shaken the computer world.
Microsoft, Apple, and the Linux
community—long-time adversaries offering largely incompatible computing
platforms—decided to put aside some of their differences for the sake of
computer users, and the changes are creating a new set of decisions that savvy
computer users, and those responsible for them, should examine.
Apple got things rolling last year
when it announced it was moving to Intel chips, which have traditionally been
used to power most Windows PCs. Then in April of this year it announced the
free download of Boot Camp software (<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp) to let
Windows XP run on Intel-based Macs.
Meanwhile, also in April,
Microsoft announced it would begin providing technical support to some users of
Linux, the open-source operating system that competes with Windows.
Specifically, Microsoft will support Linux running on Microsoft Virtual Server.
Microsoft also created a Web site,
Port 25 (port25.technet.com),
to facilitate communication with Microsoft customers who use Linux and other
Both Apple and Microsoft are
making these moves for strategic rather than altruistic reasons. But users will
have more options, and that is a good thing.
With only about a 2 percent share
of the personal computer market, Apple has been trying unsuccessfully for years
to persuade users of Windows PCs to switch to more user-friendly and reliable,
although more pricey, Macs.
The Mac’s unique selling
proposition has always been that it’s different, and by extension, Mac users
are different and more discriminating. Now Mac users will be able to run
Windows as well as the Mac operating system on their beloved Macs, along with
the many Windows-only programs.
Apple has tried in the past to become
more of a standard, allowing other companies for a brief time to make Mac
clones. This latest gambit appears, finally, to be an acknowledgment that since
Windows is the standard for better or worse, Mac users can have their cake and
eat it too.
Apple is hoping that more people
in business, educational, and home settings will now opt for Macs rather than
Running Windows on a Mac isn’t
risk free, however. There are security issues and hardware requirements. The
computer news and information site CNET has put together an FAQ to address
these concerns, at this Web page: <span
As testimony to how fast things
move in the computer and computer-publishing industry, about a week after the
release of Apple’s Boot Camp, the book publisher O’Reilly released a book on
installing and running it (www.oreilly.com/catalog/bootcamp). The book is in the
form of a $7.99 PDF download.
Like Apple, Microsoft is also
acting on competitive pressures, but whereas Apple is going after Goliath,
Microsoft is trying to protect its flank. It feels threatened by open-source
software such as Linux, which is open for anybody to try to improve instead of
being proprietary. Linux and programs that run under it are also typically much
less expensive than Windows and Windows programs.
Despite opening up to it,
Microsoft doesn’t like Linux. With its “Get the Facts” campaign (<span
it disseminates information trying to dissuade people from using Linux.
Its new effort still promotes the
use of Microsoft products, specifically those that can manage Linux.
Commendably, Microsoft also wants to help Microsoft and Linux products run
smoothly on the same network.
All this means that there’s less
reason than ever to stick with Windows just because it’s the standard. The Mac
isn’t only for educational users and people in the art and design communities.
You can run thousands of Mac business programs, and now, with Boot Camp, you
can run many Windows programs on a Mac as well.
Linux also deserves a serious look
for business users running networks, small business users, and home users.
Linux online (www.linux.org)
offers comprehensive information and resources about it and its distributions
and application programs, and Linux distributions—from Red Hat (<span
and Novell (www.novell.com/linux),
for instance—have largely overcome the greater challenges of installing
and using it.
Since Microsoft has delayed the
release of Windows Vista, the next version of its Windows operating system,
until next year (see www.microsoft.com/Windowsvista),
it’s still not clear what improvements Vista will have over Windows XP, or over
the Mac or Linux. But it is clear that new options make computing, and the
choices surrounding it, more interesting than ever.
Reid Goldsborough is a
syndicated columnist and author of the book <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or members.home.net/reidgold.