Apple's development of software that lets Intel-based Macintosh systems run Windows XP natively has met with the approval of several Mac-friendly IT managers, who said this week that the embrace of Microsoft's operating system will make it easier to deploy Apple hardware.

Until now, Mac users who needed to run some Windows applications have had to do so in emulation mode using tools such as Microsoft's Virtual PC, which exacts a serious performance toll. But Apple's Boot Camp software, which was released for public beta testing with little fanfare, enables Windows XP to run on the new Macs just as it does on desktop and laptop PCs.

Boot Camp creates a hard-drive partition for Windows XP and lets users choose between it and Apple's Mac OS X operating system each time they start their computers. The dual-booting capability “definitely makes the Mac more attractive,” said Micah Lamb, a microcomputer support specialist in the IT services department at Baylor University, Texas.

Lamb said that Baylor has routinely had end users who preferred Apple's hardware to PCs but needed Windows to run applications central to their jobs. Boot Camp will let them have it both ways, he said.

In addition, the new software essentially makes the Mac two computers in one, Lamb said. “You can buy a traditional Wintel box and run Windows only, or you can buy a new 'Mactel' box and run both Windows and Mac OS X.”

John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System in Boston, said the medical school has about 4,000 Macs and a roughly equal number of Windows-based machines.

Now students and faculty members can choose “the best tools for their specific needs,” Halamka said. Users who have tried the beta release of Boot Camp have reported that it makes Windows XP applications run “blazingly fast” on a Mac, he said.

Not everyone is sold on Boot Camp, though.

“It's not as neat and clean as it might sound,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. “They've filled a hole here, but it's more of an experimental thing. I don't think it'll change the game that much.”

Depending on how users format Windows XP on their Macs, they may or may not be able to read and write data between the Windows and Mac OS X partitions, Kay said. And businesses still have to buy a Windows XP license from Microsoft for each system that Boot Camp runs on, he noted.

“The proof of the pudding will be to see how good it really is -- how stable and supportable, and how scalable,” said Alastair Behenna, CIO at Harvey Nash, a London-based workforce recruiting and IT services firm.

Harvey Nash runs Macs as well as PCs, and Behenna said he sees no compelling reasons to move more toward Apple's hardware at this point. But he added that he will watch the development of Boot Camp.

Apple itself said that some Mac features won't work with Windows XP because of hardware incompatibilities. That includes its USB modem and its remote control, wireless keyboard and mouse.

Boot Camp is available now as a free download and will be included in the next major release of the Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard. The release is expected late this year.

In a statement, Microsoft said it is “pleased that Apple customers are excited about running [Windows], and that Apple is responding to meet the demand.”

James Niccolai of the IDG News Service contributed to this story.