Boot Camp presents a whole new concept to the computing world, and users are starting to get to grips with Macs that run Windows natively. Digit checked out the new MacBook for early indications as to how successful the system will be.

No sooner had Apple released the MacBook, Boot Camp emerged, and running Windows on a Mac became a reality.
The Intel-based 13.3-inch MacBook replaces both the iBook and the 12-inch PowerBook. Thanks to a new beta software called Boot Camp, the MacBook can run Windows XP as well as Mac OS X.

The MacBook isn’t the most feature-rich model in Apple’s new Intel-based laptop line, but it’s probably the coolest, particularly in black.

The 13.3-inch MacBook is still quite bulky, but for a notebook that packs as much as it does, it’s reasonably compact, thin (1.08-inch) and light (5.2 pounds).

Bookish charm

And it does pack a lot of stuff: that glossy, bright display, a 2.0-GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive with shock protection, a (single-layer) DVD burner, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, FireWire, a built-in iSight Webcam, and a remote that lets you sit back and use the Front Row media software.

The only thing that seems like a significant cost-saving measure is the use of integrated graphics rather than a discrete adaptor. So far, though, the MacBook seems snappy in both OS X and Windows, without the lag time that integrated graphics sometimes inflict.

Speaking of display technology, this is the first Mac portable with a glossy screen, something that the Windows world has had for a while now. Some of these screens look too glossy, but the MacBook’s display looks good, though there are some reflections at certain angles.

Human touch

Some of the best things about the MacBook don’t relate to specs as such. This black version’s matte case is extremely good-looking -- it’s plastic, unlike the aluminum housing on a PowerBook, but if anything, it’s classier and looks more professional. People that trade in a 12-inch PowerBook for a black MacBook won’t feel like they’re slumming it, even if the MacBook is a mere “consumer model.”

At first glance, the keyboard looks weird. The keys aren’t sculpted, and there’s what looks like a lot of space between them. However, in use, it feels fine. The ports and connectors are neatly lined up on the left-hand side of the case, which opens and closes without a latch.

The unusually compact power adaptor has Apple’s MagSafe connector that helps you avoid knocking the notebook off a table if the cord gets yanked. In short, this thoughtfully designed, well-built laptop makes most Windows machines look clunky and compromised.

But then this is a Windows machine, or can be with the addition of Boot Camp and a full copy of Windows XP SP2. My install took only slightly more effort and time than a typical Windows install, and XP seems to be running brilliantly so far. Too bad that Apple doesn’t provide a driver for the integrated Webcam, though.

Dual challenge

Dual-booting two operating systems isn’t perfect. Parallels’ virtualization software lets you run XP in a window within OS X, so that might be worth trying. Even so, Boot Camp is a huge advance over Virtual PC, and being able to hit the road with a real Windows laptop and a Mac that happen to be the same machine is a great deal.

One other obvious question about the MacBook: Is it a bargain or a big-ticket item? The MacBook starts at £749, but it’s hard to do a perfect price comparison between a Mac and a Windows-based equivalent. HP’s dv1000 isn’t a precise match -- it has a bigger 14-inch screen -- but you can custom-configure one with specs that are roughly comparable -- and the price works out just about in the Mac’s favour.

Of course, adding Windows to the black MacBook adds a few quid to the price. Then again, you can’t add OS X to the HP at any price. Overall, this Mac seems to be a decent deal considering it’s anything but a stripped-down loss leader.

Windows free

One of the pleasing things about the Windows install on the MacBook is that it’s unadorned by the irritating applets, marketing pitches, and icon clutter that dog most big-name Windows PCs (and which Apple doesn’t burden you with when you buy a Mac).

Already, though, it’s clear that keeping your XP installation free of annoyances will be tough. We installed Triton, the current version of AOL Instant Messenger. A little while later, we got the Active Update popup from my System Tray.

This is irritating, and typical of the way things work in the Windows world. You’ll be glad of a Mac that does Windows, but XP is going to bring along hassles that just don’t exist in OS X.

Which brings up another question: Will you spend the majority of your time with this notebook as a Mac person or a Windows one? You’ll have to try the MacBook to find out.