It was sort of a way of restoring balance. A few months ago I installed Mac OS 10 on a Windows netbook. So, karmically, I had to install Windows on my MacBook.
The way I did it involves two great freebies and a potential threat to everything we know and love as Mac users.
The first great freebie is a virtualisation app from Sun called VirtualBox (download it from www.virtualbox.org). Intel-based Macs have had the ability to boot Windows for three years, thanks to Boot Camp. And virtualisation apps like Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion made Windows compatibility much simpler by creating a ‘virtual’ PC that lives in a big file on your hard drive. When you need to run a Windows app, you can boot up your phantom PC in its own window. There’s no need to shut down, restart, and remember which key it is that you’re supposed to hold down to launch Boot Camp.
VirtualBox goes one better by doing all of that for free. True, the others are so tightly integrated that your Windows software just seems like badly written Mac apps, while VirtualBox just puts a PC screen inside a window, and it’s clearly slower than the rest... But, hell, I can have more fun with a slow Windows installation and an extra £80 in cash than I can with Parallels and VMware. That’s enough to buy a case of beer, Hellboy on Blu-ray, and a huge bag of illegal fireworks. That’s a certain way to make Windows more exciting.
Windows is also more exciting when you can get it free. Microsoft borrowed Apple’s Mac OS X 10.0 release strategy and made the final release candidate of their next major OS available for free to anybody with a web browser. About 23 per cent of Windows users would have trouble anyway, but still, giving away Windows 7 was a lovely gesture.
And probably a necessary one. Windows Vista was a disaster on a scale that was so very huge, and so very public.
Vista turned out to be the Hitler of operating systems. It managed to turn the whole world against that name forever. Calling Windows 7 Vista 2.0 is technically correct, but about as good a business decision as continuing to operate the Hitlerland Slip-N-Splash Water Park, Promoting Family Fun In Nashua, New Hampshire Since 1892.
Head on over to www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7 for the 2GB download, but hop to it: Microsoft is pulling the Release Candidate on 15 August. The RC will run to early 2010.
VirtualBox and Windows 7 make a great combo. The virtualisation software has a slick, simple wizard that walks you through the creation of as many virtual PCs as you want, and installing Windows 7 is as simple as pointing the wizard at the .ISO image that you downloaded from Microsoft. You’ll find that VirtualBox is a great place to run apps that are still Windows-only, and to see what Microsoft has up its sleeve.
Which finally brings us to the Threat To Everything We Know And Love. Your reaction to Windows 7 might be along the same lines as mine.
“Damn… it doesn’t suck."
It’s actually quite nice. Microsoft seems to have finally done with Windows XP what Apple did with Mac OS 9.2, and what Eric Clapton did after Cream broke up. They enhanced the elements that were working fine, rethought the things that never worked, added enough new stuff to excite everyone about the future of the franchise, and held onto those key elements that defined its identity.
It’s not Leopard and it isn’t ‘Layla’, but, damn, Windows 7 is a clear improvement and a big step forward. The differences are obvious within the first five minutes.
I wish I could say the same about Snow Leopard. Apple’s been preparing us for 10.6 since before the release of 10.5: after six mega-updates in a row, the next Mac OS X will have very little by way of revolutionary new features.
Apple’s £20 upgrade price underscores that attitude. There’s nothing like Spotlight, Automator or Time Machine, so the incentive to upgrade has to come from the price.
This could be a problem. Within the same few months, Apple and Microsoft will spend millions of dollars promoting their major new OS releases. Consumers will see a Windows that’s prettier and slicker than the one they’ve known for years. They’ll immediately see a new Dock-like application and document manager, a cleaner Start menu, more powerful Search, a nifty window management system… PC users will get a clear vision of being happier and more productive with Windows 7 than they are currently with XP or Hitler.
Then they’ll get a demo of Snow Leopard.
I’m excited by the 10.6 demos. These core technologies aren’t exciting in and of themselves, no more so than a piece of real estate that’s been cleared, graded, and had a four-foot-thick reinforced concrete slab poured. But it sets the mind to speculating what’ll be possible once this new infrastructure is in place and what their plans are for the next step afterward.
The thing is, the public doesn’t react to products that set the stage for another product to come in a year’s time. You could put “OpenCL application acceleration!” on a t-shirt, but if the “I’m a Mac” guy boasts about that feature in the new commercials, the PC guy will just ask him what the hell he’s talking about. And the audience will be on his side, too.
The improvements in Windows 7 are all immediate and obvious crowd-pleasers. It’s a big opportunity for Microsoft to claim that Apple’s been focusing so much attention on iPhone development that the Mac OS has trod water for a year. And just look at what Microsoft has accomplished in that time!
Apple could never lose to Microsoft when it comes to innovation and the fundamental understanding of how The Humans interact with technology. But it could lose the perception game in 2010, and rewind the gains in market share they’ve won in the past couple of years.
A while back, I predicted that 2008 would be a year of terrific vulnerability for Microsoft and opportunity for just about everybody else. Now 2010 has the same earmarks. Only it’s Apple in the dunking booth and Microsoft with the basket full of baseballs.