The Experience of Boot Camp and Windows XP on a Mac
The 17" MacBookPro was a delightful machine to borrow, although a little unwieldy to carry around. It came with Boot Camp and Windows XP installed. This was my first real experience with Windows: I switched to Macs just before Windows 3.1 arrived.
This machine was set to boot up in Windows by default. We switch to OS X by pressing the Option key at Startup and selecting the system. Once in OS X we can change the default: I left it set to Windows.
A week as a novice with a modern operating system is not enough to make definitive statements about the benefits or otherwise, so I enlisted the help of colleagues and students. It came as the bare operating system that XP is (unlike a new Mac which has plenty of bundled software), but was better behaved than I had expected.
Certain features could not be used and some were listed on Apple's Boot Camp pages. One example was the iSight camera. I also found that the normal key combination would not work for the second mouse button. The only way to get this essential feature was to use a mouse. Screen shots were also not available (no suitable key on a Mac) so I resorted to a camera. Other items not working were the system clock, which stopped every time the computer was turned off, and the infamous Control, Alt, Delete keys. Apple is aware of these drawbacks and is working on fixes. A few days after I returned the MacBookPro, the OS X (10.4.7) update included a fix for the mouse button problem among other changes.
With the basic XP installation I flexed my muscles trying to find where everything was hidden, starting the few programs that were available. At an early stage, it connected to my home network without any problem, although that changed during the week. On first startup, it recognised the WiFi on my own PowerBook, although the firewall on that is installed in such a way that connection was not possible, unless I turned the firewall off. Using an Ethernet connection had me online quickly. Subsequently, a colleague set up XP for the office network. Changing it back to my home settings was not easy. My own XP inexperience here, and the ease with which I switch networks on the Mac worked against me.
At work a (legal) copy of Microsoft Office was installed which obviously enhanced productivity. I am familiar with Word and Excel and was surprised at how fast both opened: just a couple of seconds. The interface was crisp and clear. On the wide screen of the MacBookPro, the working experience was luxurious. The 17" MacBookPro received a double "ooh" from my students: when I took it out of the bag, and then when the boot up screen showed it was Windows XP. At the end of class, some of the keen students had a few minutes looking around and made positive noises.
At home, I downloaded an online multiplayer game: Dark Story. As the ADSL was not cooperating, I saved individual parts, rather than the complete download. The software reassembled these parts and installed this game with no hitches and then, once started, linked to the site to download and install the latest patches. Once complete, I was able to start the game and there were no problems. I did not actually get to play it as the instructions were in Thai and an account was needed. I felt, however, that this demonstrated how demanding software, like games, can be installed on this type of hybrid system.
Although the installation on this machine was fault free, others have not been so fortunate. A beta installation presupposes some risks of course, and it is not possible to second guess the condition of another user's computer (updating OS X for example is a non-event for me while others have problems). Apple has provided a Boot Camp forum on the discussions web site and that is lively.
While the MacBookPro was in my hands, Apple also changed the page on running Windows on Macs and instead of Boot Camp, mentioned that "Third-party software solutions such as Parallels Desktop for Mac help make it possible." Parallels is available for download from the Apple site (Note: I am unable to find this now, so try the Parallels site.).
Also, Crossover, a development out of CodeWeavers of the Open Source "Wine", allows Windows applications to run on an Intel Mac, without Windows being installed. This is due for release in late July.
Running this Mac for a few days showed me that it is possible to use both OS X and Windows XP on one computer. Boot Camp, even though it is still in beta makes Windows quite usable in ordinary user situations. I have not tried the Parallels solution, although most reports vary between the positive and the enthusastic.
See also: Stand By Your Beds: Boot Camp and running Windows on a Mac.
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