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Apple, the computer maker, today shocked its army of fans by unveiling software that will let its newest Macintosh machines run on Windows, the operating system developed by arch-rival Microsoft.
The watershed decision could help Apple to dramatically expand its share of the computer market.
The company has already seen sales of its computers boosted by the massive popularity of its iPod music player, dubbed the “halo effect” by analysts. But more than 90 per cent of home machines still run on Windows.
Shares in Apple rose as much as 6 per cent on the news, touching an intraday high of $65.60 in New York.
The company said a trial version of the software, called Boot Camp, will be available as a free download from http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/. The program will also be built into Leopard, the next version of Apple’s own operating system, which is due to be unveiled in August.
Boot Camp will work on the recently unveiled new generation of super-fast Apple computers, the first to use processors built by Intel, the world’s largest chip maker. Apple is eventually expected to build all of its computers to run on Intel chips.
However, users will have to buy their own copy of Windows first.
Michael Gartenberg, analyst for Jupiter Research, said: “This solves a lot of potential holdups to Macintosh adoption.”
While it had been possible to use Windows on Apple computers before now it involved “a clever hack that no sane end user would attempt,” he added.
However, Apple, mindful that many of its customers have been fierce critics of Microsoft products, sought to downplay the move. The company said it still considers its own operating software easier to use and more reliable than Windows.
Apple aficionados have long criticised Windows’ alleged shortcomings, especially on security issues. The operating systemâ€™s popularity has made it the prime target for hackers and other cybercriminals.
â€œApple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows,â€ Phil Schiller, Appleâ€™s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said today. â€œMany customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Appleâ€™s superior hardware now that we use Intel processors.â€
The market was more enthusiastic. Rick Sherlund, a Goldman Sachs analyst, said: â€œThis is another step in Appleâ€™s efforts to expand its total addressable market to include a more mainstream audience.â€
Apple did not say if there would be future updates to Boot Camp, or if the software would allow Mac computers to run Vista, Microsoftâ€™s recently delayed upgrade of the Windows operating system that is now set for release to consumers in January 2007.