Windows Vista and Boot Camp 1.2 Review

For those readers unfamiliar with Boot Camp, this Apple program partitions a hard drive (splits it in two) and dedicates a set amount of space over for a Windows installation; it then copies a number of Windows drivers to a CD (which you install in Windows when you’ve finished setting it up), these enable Windows to access the Mac specific hardware (iSight, trackpads, the graphics card etc). Finally it makes it easier to install a copy of Windows XP or Vista on your Mac. Once installed you can hold down the Alt key during startup and choose whether to boot into OS X or Vista.

Boot Camp is still in Beta, with a full release planned for inclusion in OS X 10.5 Leopard. For the time being though you can download a copy of Boot Camp for free from Apple (www.apple.com/macosx/bootcam). The big new feature in version 1.2 is support for Vista, although there are a number of other new functions: updated drivers, Apple Software Update (which works the same as Software Update in OS X), support for the Remote and improved keyboard support.

So what’s Vista like running on a Mac. Unsurprisingly it’s a lot like run Vista on a PC – only the hardware looks nicer. Hats off to Apple, it’s really developed Boot Camp into an exceptionally functional program for driving Windows on a Mac.

Without wanting to get into a Mac versus PC debate too much (after all, Intel Mac owners can have both and other people can discuss the finer details), we’d have to say that Vista is a hell of a lot like OS X 10.4 Tiger. You’ve got Gadgets for Widgets; Windows Flip 3D for Expose; and Windows Search for Spotlight. New features such as Windows Mail, Calendar and Contacts will feel familiar. And the much celebrated Vista Aero interface gives the traditional Windows look a new see-through style – a bit like Aqua in OS X Tiger.

While all of this will be great for PC users migrating from a copy of Windows XP, it does make the whole experience something of an anti-climax for Mac users. On top of that, we can’t help but notice that underneath the pretty exterior a lot of the basic problems of Windows XP remain: navigation is still convoluted, networking is still a nightmare (it managed to break our Netgear N1 router within 30 seconds of starting up), and the Control Panel is simply dreadful, it still multi-tasks like a juggler who throws all the balls into the air at once and tries to catch them all at the same time. Add to this the new security feature that asks you to approve something every 30 seconds and you’ll soon be reaching for the Off button.

Mind you, just to prove this isn’t an exercise in Microsoft bashing, we’ll say it here and now: ¨Windows Media Center dumps all over Front Row from a great height.¨ We also found using Windows Media Player a much nicer experience than we expected and there are some pretty good ideas such as ReadyBoost, which uses an external USB flash key to speed up the system. Apple take note: Microsoft has nicked plenty of your ideas – so why not return the favour and swipe ReadyBoost for Leopard. Only give it a cooler name.

Fundamentally though, both operating systems do roughly the same sort of thing: let you search the web, read emails, manage contacts and plan your life with calendars, manage your digital photos, music and video plus run external programs, and with the exception of Apple’s own software – most major programs appear on both systems. The point being though that you’re probably doing all of this in Tiger and repeating it all in Vista with a slightly different interface is just a needless chore.

So why would you want two operating systems on one computer? Well, within hours of setup we were playing the very latest version of Command & Conquer 3, which looked amazing on our test MacBook Pro – far better than any of the games we’ve seen recently for the Mac. We also installed the latest version of Office Professional 2007, which this very review is being written on. Here’s a review of that in a nutshell: ‘does the same sort of thing with a new and confusing interface’. We were also looking forward to testing out the programs that won’t work on a Mac, such as E4’s Video On Demand feature – although this sadly didn’t work on Vista anyway, being Windows XP only at the moment.

There is one genuinely big drawback to running Vista on a Mac though, and that’s the substantial space it takes up on your hard drive. Vista itself is a 10GB install, and as soon as you drop a couple of programs on the system you’re up to 15GB. We found that to run Vista in anywhere near a normal environment we needed to partition 30GB of our main hard drive to one side – that’s a lot of hard drive space to lose. If you’re the proud owner of a Mac Pro then you can install a second drive and dedicate one to OS X and the second to Vista, but MacBook and iMac owners should to prepare to lose a big chunk of their single hard drive space.

There’s also the rather niggling fact that OS X and Windows Vista really don’t like talking to each other. OS X makes the effort, at least enabling you to search the Vista portion of the hard drive and read files (although writing them is out of the question). Vista pretends that OS X simply doesn’t exist – neither being able to read or write from that portion of the hard drive. It’s annoying if, for example, you’ve got your iTunes collection on the Mac side and wouldn’t mind accessing it from Vista.

There’s also the rather substantial matter of the price. We tested the Ultimate version here, which costs a whopping £369 (although Amazon has it discounted already to £310.98). The Home Premium Edition (£219) or Home Basic Edition (£179) would make more sense for most people, but a particularly outrageous clause in Microsoft’s EULA (end user license agreement) forbids owners of these versions to run them in simulated environments, which rules out use inside Parallels. Speaking of the EULA, there’s some pretty stringent rules and you have to activate the software with Microsoft – and it phones Redmond periodically to ask permission to keep working. Microsoft can deactivate it at any time. It’s all in vain because there are cracked versions all over BitTorrent, and if Apple is listening: ¨please for the love of God don’t do anything this stupid with Leopard or any future operating system¨.

OUR VERDICT

It’s actually pretty nice to have Vista on tap alongside OS X 10.4 Tiger. Running Windows on a Mac is an expensive game though and you need to have to splash out the £319 or so to own the Ultimate Edition if you plan on using virtualization software alongside Boot Camp. Factor in the cost of some decent anti-virus software and a second hard drive as well, partly so you can share files from Vista to OS X, but also to make up for the huge wedge that installing Vista takes out of your Mac’s internal drive. Windows is good for gaming and there are people who’ll find a serious work use for having Windows Vista around (web designers are finding it particularly handy to test out sites on both systems, for example). Mind you, Vista does little that OS X 10.4 Tiger doesn’t do, and once you’ve played around with it: you’re unlikely to use it that much. If you just want to run the odd game and Windows-specific program it’s a lot cheaper to invest in an old copy of Windows XP instead.

Editor's Note: The June 2007 issue of Macworld (on sale 26 April 2007) will have more detailed information on running Vista on a Mac, including a six page guide to the various ways of installing Vista using Boot Camp, Parallels and WMWare.

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