CUPERTINO, California (AP) -- Apple Computer Inc.unveiled on Wednesday software to help owners of its new Intel-based Macs run not only its own operating system but also Microsoft Corp.'s rival Windows XP system.
Wall Street is betting the move will help Apple grow its current worldwide market share beyond the current range of 3 percent to 4 percent by attracting more business and home users.
"It makes the Mac the most versatile computer on the market," said Tim Bajarin, a tech industry consultant at Creative Strategies.
Apple's new "Boot Camp" software, a "beta" test version available as a free download, lets computer users with a Windows XP installation disk load that system on the Mac. Users could then switch between the two operating systems -- using only one at a time -- by rebooting, a process that could take a few minutes.
Bajarin said the move should lure Windows users who "had their eye on a Mac but knew they could not run their favorite Windows programs on an Apple-based computer."
When Apple introduced its first computer based on Intel Corp. chips in January, the company said it had no intention of selling or supporting Windows on its machines, though it has not done anything to preclude people from doing it themselves.
Apple said Wednesday that stance remains true, yet the new software will ease Windows installation "by providing a simple graphical step-by-step assistant application."
"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware now that we use Intel processors," Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement.
Indeed, for months, hackers have been diligently working on programs to let users of Intel-based Macs switch between the two competing operating systems.
Apple turned to Intel chips, the same ones used to power most PCs using Windows, after saying its previous suppliers, IBM Corp. and Motorola Corp.'s spinoff Freescale Semiconductor Inc., couldn't meet Apple's needs for faster, more energy-efficient chips.
But the Intel-based Macs continued to run Apple's own proprietary operating system.
Because Windows is much more dominant, Mac users don't have access to many software programs written only for Windows. The switch to Intel chips lets users load Windows onto a Mac computer, without the need for emulation software that slows performance. But until Wednesday, the user needed some technical expertise to pull it off.
American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu described the announcement as a "significant game changer."
The Boot Camp software makes it easier to install Windows and lets users run either Mac OS X or Windows when they restart their computer.
A final version of Boot Camp will be available as a feature in the upcoming Mac OS X version 10.5, code-named "Leopard." Apple said it will preview Leopard in August, but it hasn't yet disclosed a release date or price for the upgrade.