Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Love-Hate Relationship with Macs and PCs

This is an update of previous blogs about my working with both a Mac and a PC. Previous posts were on July 26, 2009, June 3, 2009, and April 25, 2008.

This past summer, my son decided to wipe his laptop and put Windows 7 RC on it.  Seeing that his experience went well, I decided to try Win 7 RC on my 15” MacBook Pro. At the time, my main computer was my Vista quad core desktop, which ran great and did not need to be changed to 7, and I had XP running in a virtual window on my Mac (using VMWare Fusion), and it was definitely my second computer. I had heard that running Windows in Boot Camp worked better than running it virtually, so I decided to install Win 7 RC in Boot Camp – and WOW!, I loved it so much it quickly became my main computer. 

The primary advantage over my desktop of running Win 7 RC in Boot Camp was that I had more screen real estate – both the MBPro screen and my 22” wide screen monitor.  Whereas, the desktop only gave my the 22” monitor.  The MBPro might have been a tiny bit faster, as well.  I only went over to the Mac-side of the MBPro when I needed to use iTunes for something.

When the final release of Windows 7 went on sale for $50 a piece, I ordered five copies (I actually still need two more).  My son installed it on his desktop without any problem, and I installed it (32bit version) on an old HP laptop, also with no problem. So I then installed the 64bit version on my desktop doing an in-place upgrade of the Vista 64bit system – which went off without a glitch. I also got the Snow Leopard family pack, and upgraded a Mac Mini, a MacBook, and finally, my precious MacBook Pro. All of which went well.

SO – Now to getting Windows 7 (final version) on my MacBookPro.  Three days later and I am still struggling with the decisions I made in getting this to work.

Initially I wanted Win 7 64bit so it would make use of the 4GB Ram that I have on the MBPro.  The problem is that the Win 7 64bit cd-rom is not installable on the MBPro.  Looking online, I found that my version of the MBPro (purchased in Dec 2007) has a very old cd drive firmware that Apple never bothered to update, even though they easily could have.  There are work-arounds for Win 7 RC that are available online, but none that I could find for the final version of Win 7.  I did not know this until after I had wiped the old Boot Camp.

So, I could have installed Win 7 32bit, but I really wanted 64bit! I then read that the new VMWare Fusion 3 could install Win 7 64bit in a virtual machine in Snow Leopard.  So I paid $20 to upgrade to Fusion 3. I then deleted the Boot Camp partition and installed Win 7 64bit as a virtual computer in VMWare.

One problem I had was that the Win 7 upgrade disks look for an existing copy of Windows on the computer as a way of confirming that this is an upgrade installation.  Well, Boot Camp wipes the old Windows drive partition before allowing you to install a new one, and VMWare Fusion starts a new virtual computer, again leaving no earlier version of Windows to be seen. The way I got around this in VMWare Fusion was to first install Win 7 RC 64bit (beta version), which does not have this limitation. Then I upgraded that version using the Win 7 64bit final version cd. That worked – and I was happy!

One really nice feature of this setup is that I can keep all my document files on the Mac-side of the computer, and access them as if they were on the Windows virtual machine.  So I setup my Dropbox account (click here to learn more about Dropbox) to share files between my desktop and the Mac-side of my MBPro (previously, it was going to the Win-side).

When this is all working, it can work really well.  However, sometimes it does not work well.  The Mac-side usually works fine, though it does slow down occastionally. The Windows 7 virtual computer is much less stable. It has been hanging – badly at times – and I have had to reboot it several time in the last couple of days. 

I wonder if this is because of the significant amount of file transfer activity that has been taking place, mostly in the background. I am hoping that this issue will resolve itself once Dropbox is done synchronizing files between my computers!  For now, though, my desktop computer is once again my main workhorse. And I am still wondering if there is a way to get Windows 7 64bit in Boot Camp on my “ancient” 1.5 year old Mac …

(BTW – I really like Windows 7 much more than Snow Leopard, in part because I have some important software in Windows format only, but also because I find it much more colorful and fun to use. Snow Leopard may be more stable, but I personally find it “boring”.)

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