Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Boot Camp

Boot Camp is a set of tools to make dual booting an Intel Mac with Windows XP or Vista easy. The main reason you might want to dual boot as opposed to running Windows in emulation is for the extra performance from running natively. You might need this for gaming or a demanding application like CAD or photoshop where running in a virtual is just too slow.

You must have a CD or DVD with the full version of Windows XP or Vista. An upgrade disk will not work.

Update firmware

Before beginning the process, Apple recommends updating the firmware on your Mac to the latest version. If you are applying all software updates, then you are probably already at the latest revision. If you are not sure, run the Software Update command from the Apple menu.

Boot Camp Assistant

The next step is to run the Boot Camp Assistant program in the Utilities application folder. The first button in the assistant prompts you to print the installation and setup guide. I highly recommend you take that advice. I didn't and (temporarily) ended up with a Mac that would not boot. The guide is 25 pages long and covers all the details to get Windows installed. For that reason, I'll just cover the juicy bits and tell you the mistakes I made along the way.

The assistant provides a disk partitioning tool that lets you carve out part of your disk for Windows. I allocated 12 GB and proceeded to installation.

Installing Windows

I don't own Vista, so the rest of this article applies to Windows XP Pro SP2.

The installation of Windows works exactly like it does on any PC. When you get to the part where you have to choose what partition to install Windows on, select the one labeled [BOOTCAMP]. Also, it is important to have Windows format the partition (as either NTFS or FAT32), or it will not be able to boot back into the partition after copying its files to disk. The mistake I made was not formatting the disk. Even though the Windows installer could copy files to the disk, it was not able to boot back into the partition, leaving my Mac temporarily out of order.

I was able to get back into OS X by holding down the mouse button during boot, which ejected the Windows CD. Then I printed the installation guide, where I learned about the formatting requirement.

Installing Windows drivers

After Windows is installed, the next step is to install all the drivers for the Apple hardware. This was one of the best thought out parts of the process shows Apple's superior focus on human interface design. All you have to do is insert the OS X DVD while in Windows and it will start the driver installation wizard. Apple includes drivers for the video, audio, built-in camera, wireless airport, bluetooth, and more. It was the most painless Windows installation I have ever done.

Booting between OS X and Windows

To boot into OS X from Windows, you have two options. The first is to right click on the Boot Camp tray icon that gets installed during the driver procedure and select the option to boot back into OS X. You can also choose to make OS X the default boot option in the Windows Boot Camp control panel applet.

To boot into Windows from OS X, go to System Preferences / Start Up Disk and select the Windows partition as the default.

Finally, you can select which operating system to start at boot time by holding down the Option button.

Keyboard quirks on a Macbook

The differences in Apple and Windows keyboards is a source of minor annoyance. The keys are mapped in a reasonably intelligent way, but there are enough differences between the systems that some Windows features are awkard to use.

For example, to perform a right click, you hold two fingers on the trackpad and click the mouse button -- not a natural maneuver. The installation guide has a table that shows which keys and combinations map to Windows equivalents. Fortunately, most applications have some ability to map keys to make using them more comfortable.

Getting rid of Windows

Finally, the Boot Camp Assistant program has an option that lets you delete the Windows partition and restore the space set aside for use with OS X again. So, experimenting with a dual boot set up is not a one way ticket. Easy to try, easy to undo.