Convergence has come to the software world. This week Apple pulled a feature planned for inclusion in the next generation of Mac OS X (code-named Leopard) and offered it up to the public like an early Christmas present. Boot Camp
is a free software download
that allows your Intel-based Mac to dual-boot into both Mac OS X 10.4.6 and Windows XP SP2 (and there are early reports that some have installed Linux, as well). That's right, for the first time you don't have to choose between buying an Apple Mac or a Dell or a Gateway; the Apple Intel-based Macs give you operating system variety like never before. And early results suggest that running Windows-based apps on a Mac chassis could give you superior results (at least with graphics-intense apps, such as Photoshop)
, but Apple has acknowledged that not all Mac hardware is supported, including Bluetooth keyboards and mice.
But for many longtime Mac fans, maintaining PC security will be a whole new process. It's not that Macs are impervious to security threats and viruses--they're not
(see the most recent security updates here
). It's more that Mac users have gotten away for years without worrying much about firewalls and antivirus protection--and now, if you dual-boot into Windows XP SP2, you'll need third-party protection.
Safe, for now
For the first time, you don't have to choose between buying an Apple Mac or a Dell or a Gateway; the Apple Intel-based Macs give you operating system variety like never before.
In theory, Windows-based viruses and exploits won't be able to infect your Mac OS X, but this hasn't yet been tested. The Mac OS X system can both read and write to Windows File Allocation Table (FAT) volumes, but if the Windows partition is larger than 32GB, the volume must be Windows NT File System (NTFS), which the Mac OS X system can only read, not write to. The Windows system can't read or write to the Mac partition. However, third-party software may eliminate some of these barriers. And while there have been dual-platform viruses in the past, they've been strictly proof-of-concept and, therefore, not a true threat to users at home. The availability of dual-system Macs may change that.
Boot Camp remains in beta. That means Apple offers online support, but you won't be able to find any live technical support via telephone should anything go wrong. And in releasing the Boot Camp beta, Apple made it clear that it will not support the Windows operating system running on Intel-Mac systems. That shouldn't be a problem, since you'll need to purchase a full-blown copy of Windows XP SP2, and Microsoft does offer limited support for its users.
A basic Windows security primer
There are risks associated with every operating system--no software is immune to security vulnerabilities.
That said, here's a quick primer to help Mac fans stay safe in a Windows XP Boot Camp world. And it's also a good refresher course for PC users. Automatic Update
Now that you've loaded Windows XP SP2 on your Intel-Mac, you should make sure that Automatic Update is enabled (it should be, but it can't hurt to check). Automatic Update checks with Microsoft and makes sure that the Windows XP operating system has all the latest security patches. From Start, click Control Panel, then Security Center. If the Security Center reports that Automatic Updates is disabled, follow these steps
to turn it on. Note: You have various options regarding installation--some may want updates to occur behind the scenes, but others will want to initiate the update themselves (since it often requires a system reboot). Firewalls 101
While Windows Firewall, which comes bundled with Windows XP SP2, is a fine basic firewall, I recommend you download the much more robust, free ZoneAlarm firewall
instead. It's light on resources and, after a brief training period, is all but invisible (except when rogue apps try to access the Internet, of course). Antispyware 101
Be aware that the very definition of spyware is murky at best, including everything from adware to rootkits
these days. That's why I recommend running at least two antispyware apps to be sure you get everything. Microsoft's free Windows Defender
offers good, basic protection from keystroke loggers and remote access Trojan horses. But see our latest antispyware roundup
for a list of free and paid antispyware app recommendations. Antivirus 101
Oddly, Windows XP SP2 does not bundle its own antivirus protection (Microsoft is saving that for Windows Live OneCare
), so you will need to install some protection ASAP. See our latest antivirus test results page
for both free and paid-app recommendations.
The point here is not to scare Mac users out of trying Windows (or Windows users from buying an Intel-based Mac) but to encourage everyone to become a good Internet citizen. There are risks associated with every operating system--no software is immune to security vulnerabilities. But with Windows clearly dominating the world market, the criminal hackers have had a head start in attacking Windows-based systems. There may yet be equity ahead. And when that happens, I'll post how Windows users can remain safe on Macs (or Linux). Are you likely to buy an Intel-based Mac for the opportunity to run Apple and Microsoft apps on one machine? Why or why not?