Dual Boot for Show, Virtualization for a Pro?

I would be really surprised if Apple turned Boot Camp into a virtualization tool between now and the release of Leopard. (Of course I was really surprised when Boot Camp was first announced, so what do I know?) It seems a little funny that folks think Apple would go down that road. From a code standpoint one doesn’t have any real relation to the other. A boot loader isn’t a foundation for virtualization code. Secondly, this would seem to run contrary to a pretty convincing meme that John Gruber got rolling after the Boot Camp announcement: Boot Camp could make Windows the new Classic. (Ironically, Gruber himself seems to think that Apple will build virtualization into Leopard.)

I think there’s really something to this Classic thought. In order for Windows-on-Mac to become the new Classic though there has to be some significant downside or differentiation. Something that encourages the transition to OS X. In the original Classic that downside was performance. (Oh, there were others, but that was the one that slapped you in the face the most.) For Boot Camp it’s rebooting. This imposes a more-or-less iron psychological wall between the two OSs and makes it pretty darn clear that Windows is the ghetto. You don’t want to run programs in there, but you can if you have to. Near full-speed virtualization hosted inside of OS X might muddy these waters.

Perhaps not, you think? Maybe virtualization could turn the Mac into the premier platform for running both Mac and Windows apps? That would put Apple in the extremely awkward position of devoting significant amounts of time and money to supporting Windows, something I don’t think they’re exactly raring to do. (Actually, they’ve made their attitude on this pretty clear). It may seem like an obvious tautology, but you can bet that Apple still prefers you run Mac apps on your Mac and isn’t about to let those Windows kids swim right in their own OS pool.

Okay, so that’s why I don’t think they’ll do it. Now here’s why I’d love it if they did.

I’m a Web developer. I keep Virtual PC around solely for the purpose of testing sites in Windows browsers. And I test a lot. Update code. Refresh browser. Lather, rinse, repeat. To say nothing of the fact that it’s quite nice to have Windows running in a tidy little security sandbox where you can slap it around when you need to. (This blog post over at decaffeinated.org lists these and some other nice side benefits of this scenario.) Virtualization would be like giving this setup a sweet pair of running shoes. Indeed, with Virtual PC being AWOL on the new Mactel hardware and the nascent capabilities of the Intel chips just starting to become apparent, it seems that third-party developers like Parallels are clueing into this potential.

I won’t even get too far into the whole, This means they’re gonna dump OS X for Windows nonsense. (Why on Earth would they want to compete directly in a commodity hardware market with razor-thin margins? Nothing would make me sell my shares of Apple stock faster.)

Then there’s the whole, What if people buy an Intel Mac and only run Windows? gem. Seriously. Let’s think about this. If that’s really the case those are people you never would have sold that machine to before. Now that you’ve got Boot Camp you’ve made a sale, whereas before you had no chance. That’s damn good business. Furthermore, even if only a small fraction of this particular group gets curious and starts booting into OS X full-time those are still converts made from a formerly unreachable audience. As Gruber points out, Apple has seen the competition and seems to have little worry about losing OS X users to Windows on a dual boot machine. The potential upside is huge, the risk minimal.

Of course when all is said and done all I really care about is this: How well does Half Life 2 run?