Old Stuff


October 2007
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My adventures with Boot Camp in Mac-Land

Back in June, I decided it was time to upgrade my laptop. The new Macbook Pro had just launched and encouraged by the good reviews I’d read about Boot Camp, Apple’s experimental system for installing Windows on Intel-based Mac’s, I thought I’d see if I can get the best of both worlds.

Before I go on, here are some MacMyths I’d encountered:

  1. Apple is expensive
  2. Apple build quality is superb
  3. Apple design is superb
  4. Apple software is far better, visually and ergonomically and by design
  5. Apple Macs are only any good for media
  6. Mac’s ‘just work’
  7. There is just ‘something’ about Apple stuff…

15 inch Macbook Pro (c) Apple. Just like mine. I selected the 15″ Model, on two counts: Budget and weight.

 My previous laptops had been Vaio’s or Toshibas, and equivalent spec models were similarly priced or slightly more expensive – bang goes myth #1.

Having got myself to the Apple store in Regents Street, London
(not a prospect I relished – my previous visits had indicated that getting any help might involve a wait) I walked in through the door and strolled over to where the laptops were setup. None of them were running Windows – here’s a tip for you, Apple: if you really want to switch sell to Windows users, get a couple running XP and Vista. It would really help. 

Apple Store, London

No sooner had I managed to get hold of a Macbook Pro of the model I was interested in, to have a quick play with (which can be hard – most people using them seem to want to browse the net, play games, check email etc – god forbid that you might actually want to evaluate one or something), than I was pounced on by an assistant. Blimey, have I got ‘I want to buy a Mac’ written across my forehead?
The young guy was very helpful and seemed most knowledgable and answered all my questions about the machine, boot camp et al with ease. Deep breath – here goes £1599! He took me straight to the head of the queue to pay and that was it, I was on my way home with my new Mac. First impressions: It does look quite good, but I’m not sure about the ally case – it seems to just lurve fingerprints. I also notice that the backlight is quite uneven along the bottom edge, one of the keys on the keyboard is a bit skewif and the lid when closed is actually slightly curved up at the ends. Oh, and the whole thing gets really hot when on battery. So much for MacMyth no.2, Apple build quality.

The initial setup was fairly painless, and all went according to plan – follow the prompts, really. Then came the interesting part – Boot Camp. At the time, it was version 1.3, which I downloaded from the Apple site. Installation was a breeze, the only hitch coming when I couldn’t find the Icon to run it afterwards – it’s in Applications/Utilities. Ran it, it prompted me through making a Windows driver disk, which contains XP/Vista drivers for all the custom Mac hardware. I read through the instructions thouroghly (honestly – sometimes you’ve just got to RTFM).

The most important thing was (having decided on XP) that:

  • You need a full licenced copy of your own (tick)
  • You need a single disk version with SP2 slipstreamed (tick)
  • You need the latest firware for your Mac (I downloaded and installed – tick)

You also need to decide what amount of your disk you are giving to Windows and if you want the Mac OS X side to have write access to the windows disk – if yes, you need to use Fat32 and that means 32gb or less. So, 32gb it is.

After BC creates your driver disk, it asks you to insert your windows install disk and it will then reboot. Windows install proceeds exactly as you would expect and the only bit to watch out for is making sure you install windows on the right partition – fairly easy in my case as there are only two and the one I want is 32gb, the other one is much larger (total disc size 149gb formatted). After the usual Windows first-time startup fullah-mulla, you insert the Windows Boot camp disc you created in OS X and it installs automagically. Reboot and that’s it, working Windows.

Macbook Pro device list in WindowsAt first sight, not much to show you that it isn’t any old laptop running windows, but a quick look in the device manager shows otherwise…

Lots of items here with Apple as the manufacturer against them. Also, when you install the BC disk in Windows you get a little icon in your task bar that looks like a little grey diamond. Right-clicking on it will bring up a menu that allows you to reboot into OS X or change some of the hardware settings like brightness – though one great feature of BC is that it makes all the speacial keys on your Macbook’s keyboard work, like the brightness, volume, keyboard backlight controls and the eject button (as of BC 1.4) – which is why you have to have a single disc installer of Windows, ‘coz there’s no way to swap disks during installation.

Just for the hell of it, I reboot into OS X and look around – I can see the windows partition and since it’s FAT32 I can read and write to it fine.

So it’s all rosy in my Apple garden then (groan – any more puns like that and you’ll be for it – Ed.) but wait… what’s that sound I hear? It’s the sound of disaster rapidly approaching. But more on that in a moment.

Right, now some of the issues that BC doesn’t solve:

  1. You can’t see the OS X disk from Windows.
  2. One-button trackpad.
  3. The Clock on the OS X side always ends up wrong by an hour (fast).
  4. Battery management isn’t as good as in OS X (though not a huge difference).
  5. The keyboard is all wrong compared to the PC – and using the language bar to swap doesn’t seem to work all that well (keeps reverting to the Apple layout). Really irritating when you look up and realise that the email addresses you just typed all have ” instead of @ in them.

Now, some of the solutions I have found (or are provided) for the issues I mentioned above.

  1. There is a program called MacDrive 7, $49.95 from Mediafour that gives you access to the Mac partitions from Windows. Works really well, a little slow on big files but simple and reliable.
  2. The Macbook trackpad knows the difference between 1 and 2 fingers on the pad. two fingers=right click. Smart! and fine for apps, though no good for right-click drag. A USB 2-button mouse works fine though.
  3. Can’t fix the clock, you have to manually reset it when you go into OS X. Bugger.
  4. Battery life is still in the 3.5 to 4 hours bracket in normal use – more than enough for me to get to work and back.
  5. Keyboard – still a problem. I have a Mac full size USB keyboard which I use when I’m in my office, other wise it’s just get used to it.

Some of the good stuff: It works. Really well. I have installed lots of apps and games and they have all worked fine. Apps like MS Office 2003 and 2007, Ghost, Cubase 4, Reason 3, Photoshop, Carrara 5 & 6, Hexagon 2.2 (more stable than the OS X version by a country mile). Games like Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Civilisation IV all work great (and look pretty bona in 1440×900 I must add). External hardware, so long as there is a Windows driver – Edirol FA66 Firewire Pro sound interface, HP 5200 AIO, Freecom external 400Gb Hd’s, USB keyboards, mice and several different makes of monitor, all fine. Also the PcExpress 7.2 mbps mobile broadband card from Vodafone and my Blackberry all super. In fact, nothing I have wanted to do has been a problem. Oh, and switching between XP and OS X is simple, reboot, and hold down the cmd key (that’s the one with the sort of curly-cornered square on it) until a nice grey screen with a picture of all bootable drives appears on it, and then select the one you want. Easy. You can set a default too.

I know what some of you are saying. Well, you would if anyone actually reads this. “What about that impending disaster you mentioned a while back?” (at last -Ed.) Well, I’d had my Macbook about a week, and I went to boot into OS X and it took a loooong while – normally OS X boots in about 25-30 seconds. When it did, it wouldn’t let me log in. So I re-booted.

Disaster! I get  a black screen full of Unix-like stuff with lots of scary bits about being unable to open this that and the other. Strangely, the Windows partion carries on working fine through all this. Anyway, a bit of digging online tells me that I need to get out my Mac install discs and boot from them, and run the disk utility that you access direct from the DVD.

Sure enough it finds some errors and can’t fix them. I’m going abroad the next day and want to take my Macbook with me, so I reformat the drive and re-install – after all, I hadn’t done much beyond the basic install. All seems well and the machine performs flawlessly while I’m away.

Now, we fast forward from June to now. During that time I’ve been using the laptop daily, it’s been getting some admiring glances at work from all the Sony/Tosh/Dell/HP brigade, and this is when I’ve been finding out how well BC works. I’ve been using mostly Windows on client premises as that’s what they use, but I do get to use OS X for media and music. I have to say there is much to like in OS X - like plug in an external monitor and it just works, extending the desktop seamlessly. Connecting to wireless networks is a doddle too – I had to grin when I was in a room full of consultants with Windows laptops that wouldn’t connect to the WiFi hotspot, wheras the Mac just found it, I typed in the password and badaboom! connected. So MacMyths 4 & 6 – spot on.

Then last Tuesday – yes you guessed it – the harddrive goes again, Hard disc, not like mine at all as this one still works - you can tell the LED is onexactly the same. Again, Windows carries on working but the OS X partition dies. Again, disk utility can do nothing, b-tree catalog is screwed. Fortunately, because I’m not THAT stupid, I’ve been backing up critical files daily. So, I happen to be near the Apple Store in Regents Street, so I pop in. There are animations saying ‘Click the concierge Icon on any Mac in this store to see a Genius today!’ So I do. And after filling in some forms I get told ‘ First available slot – Thursday at 1400′. What!!? What happened to ‘Today!’ Note to Apple no.2: You really need to brush up on your expectation management.

Duly I return on Thursday, and queue up for my slot. I’m seen at 1410, so that’s not bad. A quite but efficient guy who I shall refer to as “Hasslefrei” looks at my Mac, does all the things I’ve already done, and then agrees that the hard drive is screwed (he used a more technical term which I forget). He advises me that I should have brought it in when it first failed, they’d have just swapped it if it’s in the first 30 days. Note to me No.1: First sign of trouble, get it back there. I’ll remember that.

He tells me that it will be 2 days for the parts and probably 3 days for the repair, excpect a call sometime next week. This is when I play my trump card, the insider knowledge ploy. 

“Do you know Mick Olsen?” I enquire (names changed to protect the innocent).

“Oh, he’s one of the senior managers here, isn’t he?”

“Ah!” I say. “It’s true then.”

“What is?”

“Well, his brother, known as ‘The Olsen’ to us, is a good friend of mine and he told me a while back that Mick was doing well here. Can’t say I really believed him, but now I know.”

If this impressed Hasslefrei he didn’t show it. Anyway, I felt a bit deflated by this lack of a response so I signed my forms and shuffled off home. I live about an hour away from central London, and when I got home, sans Mac, I felt quite down. Not least because I need that laptop to work! I’d been home about 15 minutes when my mobile rang. “Hello Sir, this is the Apple Store in Regents Street. Your Macbook is ready for collection.”

Wow! now that’s what I call service! Note to Apple No.3: That’s much better on the expectation management front, ta. I wonder if it was the Olsen effect?

TO BE Continued……

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