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Hands-on: Run Windows Vista Home on a Mac

I was hoping to find an answer. And then last night it came in the form of a dream.

Vista and Boot Camp

For a reference on what Vista can offer on a Mac without installing virtualization software, I installed the latest available beta from Boot Camp on my 2.66GHz Mac Pro with 2GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon X1900 graphics card with 512MB of RAM. Next, I created the CD with the Mac drivers and proceeded to install Windows Vista Home Premium and Office 2007 on Boot Camp. Everything went smoothly until I tried to install the CD with the Mac drivers. Far from being installed, I found the following message:

Error -1603 Fatal Error During Installation Consult Windows Installer Help (Msi.chm) or MSDXJ for More Information.

Although in my dream I came to the conclusion that there would be ways to manually install these drivers, I told myself that I could leave it for later.

With Boot Camp on my Mac Pro, Vista and Office 2007 they performed perfectly. The three vowels and a consonant corresponding to the transparency effect, in the Aqua style (also known as Aero) was in evidence. Right-clicking my Microsoft mouse worked as expected, Vista recognized my AirPort network, and my HP LaseJet 1300n printer appeared when I tried to print a Word document. QuickTime version 7 installed successfully on Windows and played the movies I accessed from Apple’s own QuickTime site. Windows Media Player was able to rip a CD and play the resulting files reasonably well (although there were occasional slowdowns when the Mac’s processor was at peak performance). Ultimately, I felt like I was using a real PC, alive and kicking (and fast).

Living in a parallel world

One of the reasons I initially installed Vista on top of Boot Camp in my dream was to take advantage of the Parallels beta capability, allowing me to use a Boot Camp installation instead of requiring your own Windows installation. However, the installation process did not work correctly in the case of Vista (although it did if the Boot Camp partition had been Windows XP).

There was only the alternative of installing Vista Home Premium directly in Parallels, just what the EULA of Vista prohibits. Although my dream did not turn into a sudden nightmare, the truth is that I went through some difficult times.

To get straight to the point, Vista Home Premium installed perfectly. Once it was up and running, I verified that the Aero effect had disappeared. Parallels cannot emulate the type of graphics card required for it to work. I then instructed Vista to install the latest available updates, something that has been a problem for others who have previously tried.

No problem. Vista downloaded the updates, installed them, rebooted, and everything continued to work. The Office installation also worked as expected. I first installed Office XP Standard so that the update could verify that I had a legitimate copy of Office. Next I installed the Office Standard 2007 update. I ran the Office applications and they worked. The performance was not similar to that obtained with Vista and Office in Boot Camp, but not worse than that obtained when running the Mac version of Office, say, in one of the latest iBooks.

When things started to get complicated it was with the reproduction of multimedia files. I ripped the same audio CD with Windows Media Player as 192 kbps MP3 files and the playback was poor, the tracks played slowly and with permanent interruptions. I tried some audio tracks included with Vista and they also showed the same problem. Turning off Vista and increasing the amount of memory allocated in Parallels (1.5 GB) didn’t help much either.

Totally awake

This morning I woke up to a bittersweet mix of joy and disappointment. I like having Windows on my Mac. It’s useful for running the latest versions of Office, and the ability to toggle between Mac and Windows is also helpful for audio and other media manipulation work. I’m happy because, at least according to my dream, Windows Home Premium runs acceptably fast under Parallels just like the latest version of Office does, regardless of what the EULA might indicate. But I’m upset that it doesn’t work as well as XP.

Fortunately, the EULA does not prevent me from running Vista over Boot Camp. When it comes to Vista and Microsoft, a Mac with Boot Camp is like any other PC. But Boot Camp is not suitable for fast moving files between operating systems. My hope is that Microsoft backs down to its EULA. At the same time, I also hope that Parallels will continue to explore to make Vista perform as well as possible in virtualization.