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The Basics of Boot Camp

There’s no other major item most of us own that is as confusing, unpredictable and unreliable as our personal computers. Everybody has questions about them, and we aim to help.

Here are a few questions about computers I’ve received recently from people like you, and my answers. I have edited and restated the questions a bit, for readability. This week my mailbox contained questions about Apple’s new software, Boot Camp, that allows users to run Windows on a Mac.

If you have a question, send it to me at mossberg@wsj.com, and I may select it to be answered here in Mossberg’s Mailbox.

Now that Apple has made it easy to run Windows on a Mac, does this mean the opposite is possible? Can I also run the Macintosh operating system on a Dell or H-P or any other Windows machine? If not now, when?

No. Apple is happy to allow Windows on Macs because the company believes adding the Windows capability will sell more Macs. But it is opposed to allowing its OS X Tiger operating system to run on other companies’ computers, because it believes this will reduce Mac sales. Unlike Microsoft, Apple is in the computer business, not the business of selling the operating system by itself. It has rejected requests from other PC makers to license OS X, and has designed the Intel version of OS X to run only on Apple hardware.

Some hackers have claimed they got OS X running on Windows PCs, but not in any way that provides complete functionality or which is replicable by average, nontechie users.

If anyone does come up with an easy method, Apple is likely to alter OS X to defeat it. Of course, the company has changed course before, so anything is possible. But, for now, OS X works only on Apple hardware.

I know that with Apple’s Boot Camp, the Mac and Windows operating systems occupy their own distinct “partitions” on the machine’s hard disk. But can they view and use each other’s data files?

A: Yes, but it takes careful setup plus add-on software. Here’s how to do it.

When you run Boot Camp, you should make sure that the Windows partition you create on your hard disk is under 32 gigabytes. Then, when you install Windows, you should choose to format the Windows partition as “FAT32,” not “NTFS.” The FAT32 choice will allow your Mac to read and write to the Windows portion of the hard disk.

If you pick NTFS, the Mac will be able to read Windows files, but not write them. Note: You can’t choose FAT32 if the Windows segment of your hard disk exceeds 32 gigabytes.

After that, when you start up in Mac OS X, you’ll see the Windows drive and be able to access it from the Mac side. But, when you boot up in Windows, you won’t see, and can’t access, the Mac drive.

After the whole system is running fine, you should install a product called MacDrive on the Windows side. MacDrive, which costs $50 from a company called Mediafour, allows Windows PCs to access Mac disks.

The company says that MacDrive works on Boot Camp-equipped Macs. For more information, see: www.mediafour.com/bootcamp.

Will Boot Camp work on my iMac G5, or my PowerBook G4?

No, it works only on the very latest crop of Mac models, which began appearing this year, including the newest iMac and Mac Mini and the new MacBook Pro.

They are powered by Intel processors. If your Mac was bought before January 2006, or if its name includes the words G4, G5, iBook or PowerBook, it won’t work with Boot Camp.

Can I upgrade my older Mac to the Intel chips so I can run Windows on it?

No. Apple hasn’t made this kind of upgrade available. And, even if another company did, it would likely involve replacing most of the computer’s guts, not just one chip, and would likely cost almost as much as buying a new computer.

After I run Boot Camp, can I install my copy of Windows 2000? Can I use a copy of Windows I got with my Dell, or that I got from work?

No. Boot Camp works only with fresh copies of Windows XP, purchased at retail, that include the “SP2″ update from Microsoft in the box. It won’t work with upgrade versions of XP, or with copies that came with another PC, or that you got from friends or the office. And it won’t work with Windows 2000, or any other pre-XP version of Windows. You also can’t use Windows XP and then add the SP2 update later.


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