Count me among the most surprised individuals on the face of the earth over this development — Apple has just released new software called “Boot Camp” that will allow Intel Macs to run Windows XP in a dual boot configuration. This is a common sense move for Apple. Maybe that’s why it’s so shocking to me.

Apple has rarely ever shown common sense when dealing with its relationship to Microsoft Windows. Usually, Apple allows its repugnance of Windows to get in the way of interoperability or platform-convergence opportunities such as this. As such, I give Apple credit for making a wise move here. This will likely make Apple’s Intel Macs more appealing to many buyers — including corporate ones — and it will save some Mac users from having to buy a separate Windows machine if they need to run some Windows apps for business.

So how does it work? The best part is that this is not a virtualization environment but Windows XP can in fact run natively on the Apple hardware (man, it sounds really strange to say that). The Boot Camp technology will officially be released as part of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) later this year. However, Apple has released a Public Beta of the Boot Camp software, which is available as an 83 MB download from the Apple Web site.

You’ll need OS X Tiger 10.4.6 to run Boot Camp and a copy of the full version of Windows XP (Home or Pro) with Service Pack 2. The Boot Camp software burns a CD from OS X that contains the drivers (graphics, audio, networking, wireless, Bluetooth, and others) for Windows — which greatly simplifies any installation — and it sets up the partitioning of the hard drive for Windows, as shown in this screenshot (from the Apple site):

After rebooting, installing Windows XP, and rebooting again, the user will simply hold down the Option key and the following screen will pop up, allowing the user to choose between booting into Mac OS X or Windows XP:

From the looks of it, Apple has done this right. TechRepublic will attempt to test this in the coming weeks and report on how well it works in the real world.

The only other question I had was why Apple was suddenly having a change of heart about interoperability. Here is the answer that came from Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, Philip Schiller, “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. We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch.”

Wow, Apple is actually making some common sense moves to win back lost market share. Go figure.