Ever since Apple released its Boot Camp software in April, thus enabling Intel Mac owners to run Windows on their Apple hardware, I've been working with various permutations of Windows on my 17-inch MacBook Pro. There was the Boot Camp-enabled Windows XP installation, the Parallels virtualised version of XP (no reboot needed) and now there's Vista RC1.
When Microsoft released a beta version of Vista last spring - the final version is due in early 2007 - I was one of those who downloaded it and installed it. At first, all I could do was run it on my year-old Sony Vaio. But that changed a week or two ago when Microsoft released a Pre-Release candidate 1 (RC1) of Vista, Build No. 5536, and then, more recently a full-fledged RC1, Version 5600.
I spotted a news item on a Mac site pointing out that with Boot Camp now updated to Version 1.1, and with an RC1 disk in hand, Mac owners could install Vista and get a real taste for what the competition is up to.
Who can resist a chance to surf the web with a beta version of something like Firefox, running on a beta version of Microsoft's next operating system, using a beta version of Apple's Boot Camp software? Not I.
I have to say at the outset that after more than a decade as a hard-core Apple fan, running Windows on a MacBook Pro is bit, well, weird. It's sort of like living your whole life as a BMW fan and waking one day to find yourself behind the wheel of a shiny new Chevy, or wearing sunglasses after dark. You can do it, but it just somehow seems wrong.
Still, in 2006, this is where we stand: Apple's hardware runs Windows, and does so quite well. In fact, the MacBook Pro I bought in May is better equipped to run Vista than the Sony Vaio I bought less than a year ago. At the time, the Vaio VGN-A790 was pretty much a top-of-the-line machine from Sony, with a 2-GHz Pentium M chip from Intel, 1GB of RAM, a 7,200-rpm hard drive and 256MB of dedicated video RAM. I have since doubled the RAM to 2GB.
Using the "Windows Experience Index", which is included with Vista and designed to give computer users a sense of how well their hardware runs the new operating system's "Aero" GUI, my Vaio scored a 3.6 (out of a possible score of 5). The lowest measure was for gaming graphics. Good thing I'm not a gamer.
My MacBook Pro features a 2.16-GHz dual-core Core Duo processor, a 7,200-rpm hard drive, 2GB of RAM and 256MB of dedicated video RAM. Using the Windows Experience Index, I found that the MacBook Pro got a score of 4.7, no doubt aided by the dual-core chip and better ATI video card. (Gaming graphics, for example, were rated at 4.7 on the MacBook Pro.)
In short, if you have a MacBook Pro, you're ready for Vista. Whether you actually want to install it will be up to you.
Up and running
Getting Vista RC1 up and running was relatively painless. After installing Boot Camp and creating a 20GB partition on my MacBook Pro's hard drive, I slipped in the Vista installation disk and pretty much let it install as I had on my Vaio. After that was done, I ejected the Vista disk and inserted the disk containing Mac drivers. Here's where I ran into some problems: The drivers failed to install. I'm not surprised, given that Apple provides drivers only for Windows XP Service Pack 2, but I figured I'd try anyway.
What this means is that Apple's traditional replacement for Windows' right-click (Crtl-click) doesn't work. I had to install a separate program - Apple Mouse - to successfully add that function. Adding Apple Mouse to the start-up folder means the small application starts up every time Vista does, so I have right-click functionality when I need it.
The failed Mac drivers installation also means I am unable to eject disks from the SuperDrive using the eject key on the MacBook Pro keyboard (though you can still do so using a menu in Vista). And no 'start-up disk' control panel - used to switch back and forth between operating systems on my MacBook Pro - is installed. That control panel, which works as billed in XP, mimics Apple's Start-up disk system preference, allowing you to choose which operating system to boot into. The result: if I want to use Mac OS X, I have to restart the computer, hold down the Option key and then select OS X. It's a little clunky, but it works.
Since installing Vista, I have found that my MacBook Pro runs hot. No doubt Microsoft hasn't worked on power management issues that might affect Apple hardware, which leaves me to wonder whether I'm slowly cooking the motherboard of my laptop. It's not hot enough to fry an egg on the aluminum case, but my laptop is noticeably warmer than when I use Mac OS X. I've also noticed that battery life is substantially reduced. Once again, energy management for Apple hardware is not likely at the top of Microsoft's list. Once Apple writes updated drivers to work with Vista, I'd expect these issues to be addressed.
Given the fact that Vista isn't even due out for a few more months, I might have to wait a while.
I should note that my MacBook Pro's sleep function works as it should. Close the lid, Vista goes to sleep - and the small LCD light even 'breathes' as it should, alternately glowing brighter and then dimming. Open the lid, and Vista's ready to go again almost instantaneously. That's a far cry from the troublesome sleep/hibernation implementation that never seems to work right in XP. And if you're booting from scratch, you'll notice that it takes Vista about twice as long to fire up as Mac OS X. From Mac start-up chime to Windows desktop - doesn't that sound strange? - takes 1:01 on my MacBook Pro. OS X is ready to go in less than half that time.
There's been a lot of talk in the past about whether Vista in some way copies features already found in Mac OS X. I can say for sure that using Vista feels awfully familiar, as if XP had been taken to the Apple garage and buffed to a high gloss. There's the sidebar, which uses 'gadgets' and functions differently than Apple's dock, which uses 'widgets'. There's Flip 3D, which appears to be Microsoft's take on Expose (and which I like). There's a 'ribbon' screen saver that looks a lot like Apple's 'flurry'. And then there's the Aqua, I mean Aero interface, with its translucent windows and sparkly glasslike buttons. Apple fans will absolutely note similarities. I'll have more to add about the software side of things in my next look at Vista.
Still, I can say at least this much about Vista: I've had fun using it so far. Yes, Vista is still a work in progress and there are some annoyances that go hand in hand with running Windows - the User Account Control window, for instance, pops up a lot. Why do I have to give an admin OK anytime I want to change the time and date? And what's with the plethora of control panels? By my count, there are 49! But so far there have been no show-stoppers. To paraphrase the praise usually reserved for Apple's Mac OS X, it just works. And on Apple hardware, it just works exceptionally well.
While there will no doubt be untold numbers of comparisons in the months ahead between Vista and Apple's upcoming Mac OS X 10.5, what I'm doing right now - speeding along with Microsoft's next operating system on an Apple laptop - would have been unheard of a year ago. Now, it could very well be a glimpse of the future.