The Joys Of Dual-Booting

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On April 6th, 2006, Apple changed the world. With several of its product lines transitioned over to Intel processors, the computer maker surprised the world by releasing a little product named Boot Camp into public beta testing. Boot Camp allows Windows XP SP2 to be installed alongside the standard Mac operating system, OS X, on Intel-based Macs.

The shockwave from this announcement was felt around the world. While some of the most fervent Mac faithful have rejected the notion of installing Windows on their machines, many Mac users see Boot Camp as a way to run that one required application that only runs on Windows, instead of having to have a separate machine. And many Windows users, myself included, see this as a door finally swinging open, allowing us access to the two most popular operating systems on one single machine.

A Word Of Explanation

There continues to be a bit of confusion over what Boot Camp is and isn't. It is not an emulation of Windows XP within the Mac operating system. It is a dual-boot option for Apple hardware that takes advantage of the fact that the firmware on Intel-based Apple products has been upgraded to allow support for Windows XP. While dual-booting is new to the Mac universe, it's a rather familiar experience in the PC world. Anyone who has installed Linux alongside Windows on his or her PC will find Boot Camp similar.

I've been a Windows user since version 3.0, but, like many, I've been Mac-curious for some time now -- especially after I had the opportunity to edit some home video on a borrowed iBook a few years back. So I took the announcement of Boot Camp as a sign that it was time for me to buy an Apple laptop but still keep one foot in the Windows world. I chose a MacBook Pro with a 15-inch widescreen display, 2.0Ghz Intel Core Duo processor, and 1GB of RAM. I also bought a separate Windows XP license and a CD with Service Pack 2 already rolled into it. And, of course, I downloaded Boot Camp.

The Joys Of Dual-Booting

•  Installation

•  Making It All Play Nicely

•  Everyday Dual-Booting

Since then I've been living a dual-boot life. Some things have gone smoothly, while others took a little tweaking to get right. But after a month of having it all in one machine, I wonder how I ever survived with only one operating system.

Editor's Note: If you're thinking of moving to a Mac, be sure to check out the comprehensive "Switching To The Mac: A Guide For Windows Users."

Installing Boot Camp And Windows XP
Installation of Boot Camp is pretty straightforward, but it does require your Mac's software and firmware to be up-to-date. With the prerequisites met, just let the installer go. Next, run the Boot Camp Assistant, which sets up the new Windows partition, creates a CD of the required hardware drivers, and then reboots the machine to start installation from a Windows XP Service Pack 2 CD. Installation continues as normal -- the only change from a standard Windows install is running the newly created driver CD to enable the Apple hardware.

My only big dilemma during the Windows installation was deciding how to format the new Windows partition. Formatting the space as FAT32 allows the Mac OS full read/write access to the Windows drive, while creating the drive as an NTFS partition allows only read access from OS X. NTFS, however, provides better security and stability than FAT32. In the end, I chose reliability over convenience and formatted the drive in NTFS.

Once you've got both operating systems installed on your Mac, switching between the two OSes can be done in one of two ways. The first is available from the Windows Control Panel and the Mac's System Preferences. Both options let you set the default system to run at boot time.

Once you've got both OSes loaded, choose which one will start by default... Click image to enlarge.

...Or choose an OS on the fly. Courtesy of Apple; click image to enlarge.

Alternatively, you can hold down the Alt key while starting the machine. This lets you quickly bypass the default OS and choose which operating system to load.

The Alt key method doesn't change your default boot selection, so it works well for the one-off times when the other system is needed.

Making It All Play Nicely
There are a few rough patches that need to be smoothed out when you put OS X and Windows on the same machine. For instance, even though the Mac side can at least read the Windows drive, Windows has no idea what to make of the Mac partition.

Fortunately, a product called MacDrive from Mediafour fills in this hole. Simply put, it allows Windows to read and write to Mac-formatted discs, including the Mac partition on the shared hard drive. With MacDrive installed, I have been able to save data that needs to be shared between the two operating systems on the Mac drive and easily access it from Windows. This certainly beats the alternatives of using flash drives or network shares to access data in both systems.

MacDrive fills an enormous need by letting Windows read and write to Mac-formatted discs. Click image to enlarge.

However, a few words of warning are in order. To use MacDrive, you have to be logged in as an administrative user on the Windows machine. It also gives full access to the Mac partition, so it is possible and actually pretty easy to delete system files required for OS X to boot. Last, but certainly not least, MacDrive exposes your Mac files to Windows malware. While these bugs don't directly affect the Mac world, having them on your system could allow you to send tainted files to others. At a minimum, I would recommend installing one of the more popular anti-virus scanners on the Windows side, and be sure that all files that get transferred to the Mac partition get scanned.

There were a couple of other quirks that had to be overcome to make Windows work as well as I needed it to on my MacBook Pro. The first has its roots in the earliest days of the Macintosh: the single mouse button. Although OS X supports two-button mice, it requires only a one-button mouse, which is what Macs have traditionally shipped with. In Windows, however, the legendary right-click is nearly impossible to live without. The quick solution for desktops is to simply buy a two-button mouse, but that solution is not always feasible with a notebook.

The Joys Of Dual-Booting

•  Installation

•  Making It All Play Nicely

•  Everyday Dual-Booting

Apple was gracious enough to allow a right-click function in OS X by holding the Ctrl key down while clicking, but the beta Windows drivers for the MacBook Pro touchpad do not support this in XP. A quick look through the discussion forums on Apple's site turned up a couple of applications that work around this issue, as well as enabling other keys that were not enabled by default.

The best of the bunch is a freeware app called Input Remapper. When I installed it, Input Remapper not only set up a shortcut key to handle right-clicking, but it also enabled the Page Up/Page Down, Home/End, and volume- and brightness-control keys -- all of which had been going dead when I switched into Windows. It even re-enabled Print Screen functionality, making screenshots possible again.

The other issue of note revolves around the system clock. Apple and Microsoft interpret the system clock differently, and as such, the clock gets thrown off when switching between operating systems. In my case, the clock was off by five hours whenever I switched between the two. This is probably the simplest issue to resolve, as it just requires forcing each operating system to sync with a network time server.

By default, OS X compares the system time with Apple's time server and updates at startup, assuming the system is connected to the Internet. I have also had to manually update it by going into System Preferences and choosing Date/Time. Windows XP does a similar automatic process, but unfortunately does an automatic check just once a week. To manually update the time in Windows, right-click the time showing in the Taskbar and select Adjust Date/Time from the pop-up menu. Select the Internet Time, check the box marked "Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server," select a server from the drop-down menu, and click "Update Now."

After manually fixing the time several times, I did a few Web searches and found several tools that would automatically check and update the clock. I prefer Time Sychronizer from Softnik, but there are plenty of others available to meet specific needs.

Fortunately, these issues are only annoyances. The hope is that Apple will resolve them by the time Boot Camp is officially launched with the next version of OS X, known as Leopard, in early 2007. In the meantime, these workarounds are doing the trick.
Business Casual In The Office
As the newness wore off after a couple of days of dual-booting, the real -- and long-term -- habits started forming. During the day, my MacBook Pro is almost strictly business, running Windows and serving up the tools of the trade for my systems administrator job. Even with all of the required firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spam applications loaded, the machine still has Windows running smoothly.

I installed the standard corporate load of Microsoft Office and other business applications easily, and they run without a hitch. Because the Mac hardware is actually running Windows and not using any kind of emulation, both Windows and Mac applications run at full speed. I am able to quickly sync my PDA with my Outlook contact data, either with its USB cable or wirelessly using the Mac's built-in Bluetooth functionality.

The Joys Of Dual-Booting

•  Installation

•  Making It All Play Nicely

•  Everyday Dual-Booting

In other words, thanks to Boot Camp, my new Apple laptop very quickly took over for my previous Windows-only laptop, and did so almost completely without glitches.

My So-Called iLife
When I leave the office, my laptop magically sheds its corporate facade and the fun nature of the Mac comes out. While Windows is the corporate side of my computer use, OS X has clearly become the personal side. This is in large part due to the bundled set of applications collectively known as iLife. The iLife suite includes iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD, as well as the familiar iTunes music player.

All updates to the iLife suite, as well as the firmware updates for my iPod, are automatically downloaded as part of the Software Update feature of OS X. The operating system takes care of keeping my music player current, instead of the manual process in Windows of checking the support site and downloading updates.

What's more, all Intel Macs now ship with the Front Row and the Apple Remote. Front Row transforms your Mac into a media hub, putting all of your music, videos, photos, and even DVD player functions in one place and controllable from across the room with the Apple Remote.

As you would expect from their names, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD handle digital photos, editing home movies, and creating your own video DVDs. All three of these applications, while essentially stripped-down versions of the professional tools Apple sells, blow away any and all Windows apps for handling these tasks. In fact, I have actually put the Windows software I had purchased for editing videos and burning DVDs on the shelf, and have entirely switched over to the Mac for these tasks.

When Rebooting Is A Pain
Even though switching between the two operating systems is pretty simple, it can still get tedious to jump back and forth just to open a spreadsheet or Word document, for example. In the end, I installed Microsoft Office on both operating systems, which makes the process of opening e-mail attachments and simply getting work done that much easier. Of course, the easy way is not always the cheapest way -- in this case it cost me the price of two copies of Office.

Obviously, in order to work effectively on both sides of the machine, other common applications have to be duplicated. For instance, most of us need access to e-mail and the Web whenever our computers are running, no matter which OS we're in.

Unless you're content to work exclusively with Web-based e-mail, setting up mail clients on both sides is a necessity. In my case, corporate standards made the choice for me. Because of the Exchange server back at the office, I use Microsoft Outlook while in Windows and Microsoft Entourage while in OS X. Both Outlook and Entourage synchronize with the corporate Exchange server, so not only my e-mail, but also my contacts and calendar are kept in tune.

While Safari, OS X's default Web browser, works perfectly fine for every Web page I have tried to load on it, using two browsers means having two sets of bookmarks and stored passwords to maintain. I found the perfect solution to this dilemma in Google's Browser Sync extension for Mozilla's Firefox browser. I can run Firefox in both Windows and OS X, and the extension synchronizes my bookmarks and settings -- including cookies and saved passwords -- between both versions of Firefox.

The All-In-One Solution
Even in its current beta form, Apple's Boot Camp works like a champ to bring the true Windows environment to Mac machines. Users wanting to run both systems are no longer required to own two machines. Apple is opening the door to a whole new group of previously untapped customers: those who want Apple hardware but need Windows applications and those who want the biggest choice of applications. If the final release straightens out a few quirky driver issues, Apple will have a real winner on its hands.

Boot Camp beta
Apple Computer:
Price: Free
Summary: Although still in beta release, Boot Camp delivers on the promise of a dual personality on a single machine.

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