Here’s some new ammunition for those who think Apple’s move to Intel processors is about building computers that can run both Mac and Windows applications.

Apple’s U.S. patent application 0050246554 (“System and method for creating tamper-resistant code”) describes scenarios in which the user would choose a “first operating system” and a “second operating system” from a set that includes Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, and Linux.

There’s also mention of a virtual machine, and the option to choose between “Macintosh computer” and “Windows PC.”

I realize that patent applications try to anticipate every possibility, but this is a very plausible strategy for Apple’s Intel machines: embrace and extend what its competitors’ computers can do.

When Windows Vista ships, Microsoft will encourage users to upgrade. Many home computers will be unable to meet Vista’s minimum system requirements. (For example, Vista will need a dedicated video card, not just “integrated video,” but many current PCs do not even have an AGP slot.)

Apple has more than a year to come up with a competitively priced computer capable of running both Mac and Windows applications. It could run both systems at once, or — as the patent seems to suggest — run one system natively and the other in a virtual machine. (Users could choose which OS should be the dominant or “first” operating system.)

Michael Dell should be concerned. So should HP, Gateway, Lenovo/IBM, and every other Windows PC maker. Apple controls OS X, and does not license it to others. Therefore, only Apple can build a personal computer capable of running Windows and Mac OS X.

Microsoft’s OEM partners could ask Microsoft not to license Windows to Apple, or to offer them better license terms, but would Microsoft go for it? I suspect the company’s consent agreement with the DoJ would make this difficult if not impossible to do.

Very interesting. Stay tuned…

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