Apple Computer has unveiled a public beta of software that allows its latest Intel-based machines to run Windows XP natively.

The software, known as Boot Camp, creates a hard-drive partition for Windows XP and lets users choose between the two operating systems at start-up time. It's available now as a free trial beta that works only for a limited time, and it will be included in the next major version of Mac OS X Version 10.5, or "Leopard," due out late this year.

"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows ... now that we use Intel processors," said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing. "We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch."

According to the Apple statement, Boot Camp simplifies Windows installation on an Intel-based Mac by providing a graphical step-by-step assistant application to dynamically create a second partition on the hard drive for Windows, to burn a CD with all the necessary Windows drivers, and to install Windows from a Windows XP installation CD.

After installation is complete, users can choose to run either Mac OS X or Windows when they restart their computers.

The software, which Apple released today with little fanfare, is available for free download immediately.

Because Apple is moving to Intel processors, Windows XP on new Macs runs just as it would on Windows PCs. It does not run in emulation mode using software such as Virtual PC, which exacts a serious speed toll on the operating system.

Apple announced last year that it is moving all of its hardware to Intel chips and began rolling out Intel-based computers in January. So far it has switched its iMac all-in-one desktop line, the 15-inch laptop - now called the MacBook Pro - and the Mac mini to Intel processors.

Boot Camp requires an Intel-based Mac with a USB keyboard and mouse, or a built-in keyboard and TrackPad; Mac OS X Version 10.4.6 or later; the latest firmware update; at least 10GB of free space on the start-up disk; a blank recordable CD or DVD; and single-disk version of Windows XP Home Edition or Professional with Service Pack 2 or later.

The company couldn't resist a few digs at Microsoft on its Boot Camp website. "Word to the Wise," it said: "Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it’ll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes."

Some Mac features won't work because of hardware incompatibilities, Apple said, including its remote control, wireless keyboard and mouse and the USB modem.