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Apple gives Boot Camp the boot, banishes native Windows support from Arm-compatible Macs

Virtualization an option, Rosetta x86 Windows emulation doubtful

Apple has confirmed its forthcoming Mac hardware using Arm-compatible Apple-designed processors will do away with Boot Camp, the iGiant's tool for booting Microsoft Windows directly on Macs.

In a video interview with Apple pundit John Gruber, Apple senior veep of software engineering Craig Federighi explained, "We couldn't direct-boot those machines to an x86 version of Windows, which is what today's Boot Camp does. But we're not direct-booting an alternate operating system. Purely virtualization is the root. These hypervisors can be very efficient, so the need to direct-boot shouldn't really be the concern."

Boot Camp officially debuted in 2007 with Mac OS X Leopard (10.5), the year after the Mac moved from PowerPC chips to Intel x86 processors. It allows Mac users to launch Windows from a hard drive partition and natively run Windows applications.

On forthcoming Arm-compatible Macs, those committed to running Windows, either natively on Arm or via x86 emulation, will not have any obvious options, in terms of official support from Cupertino. Apple's Rosetta 2 x86 translation layer doesn't work with "Virtual Machine apps that virtualize x86_64 computer platforms," the tech titan's documentation stated.

During this year's WWDC virtual keynote presentation, Andreas Wendker, veep of tools and frameworks engineering, demonstrated a forthcoming version of Parallels Desktop for Mac on a Mac powered by Apple's homegrown silicon, running a Debian Arm GNU/Linux virtual machine on the hypervisor. But a virtualized version of Windows, whether built for Arm or via x86 translation, was conspicuously absent.

In the comment section of the Parallels blog, the omission of a Windows demo prompted multiple customers to ask whether Windows will be supported on Apple's silicon when the hardware is expected to debut around the end of the year.

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Parallels communications manager Beatrice Vogel replied to each inquiry by pointing forum participants back to the blog post that said nothing about Windows support. In other words, the hypervisor maker repeatedly ducked the question. The Register asked Parallels about this, and John Uppendahl, veep of communications, in an email referred back to that same blog post, adding: "Parallels does not have additional details to share or announce at this time."

We've asked Apple to comment, fully expecting to hear nothing. So far, we've not been disappointed.

VMware Fusion product manager Michael Roy, meanwhile, took to Twitter to ask people what they want, and many of the respondents in the thread made it clear that the ability to run x86 Windows and applications is essential for their business. Absent that capability, several suggested, they would not consider an Apple Arm-based Mac.

Federighi said the mention of virtualization during the WWDC keynote was a nod to interest in the topic among developers.

"We have created a new version of our Virtualization framework that makes it even easier to do virtualization on all Macs, including these new Macs," he said, hinting that he'd had plenty of feedback on the subject already.

There's no data yet on how virtualized software will perform on the unreleased Apple-designed chips; Boot Camp tends to be the better solution for performance-intensive Windows applications like games, and may outperform native macOS builds of titles due to DirectX support. For business-oriented apps, it depends on the workload and how its processed.

Microsoft offers a version of Windows 10 that runs on Arm silicon. The Redmond giant has said it only licenses Windows 10 on Arm to its vendor partners and has declined to elaborate further.

Expect to hear more about this toward the end of the year. In the meantime, we imagine there's nothing stopping you building an x86 emulator for your Arm-compatible Mac and trying to boot Windows, or other operating systems, in it. ®

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