Tech Blech

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boot Camp Revisited

I've been using Boot Camp to run Windows XP on my Macbook since Mac OS X version 4 ("Tiger"). The first version drivers were crap and it was difficult to get XP installed correctly. But once XP was installed, I was able to run my development tools on it as well as on any native Intel PC.

That all improved quite a bit in version 10.5 ("Leopard"). I was able to update the drivers on my XP installation, and that was a big improvement.

Things went along well for about 2 years. Then, the machine started exhibiting problems. The fan would suddenly come on, and then XP would reboot itself without asking me--just once each day after I turned the machine on. I feared hardware--was it the RAM I had added, perhaps? But finding no cause, I just lived with the issue until just after the 3-year warranty ran out on the machine.

As soon as the warranty expired, XP crashed and I could no longer boot into it. And from Mac OS X, I was unable to use boot camp to remove the XP partition to start over. During a work crisis, needing my XP machine, I had to buy a new Windows laptop and set the MacBook aside for the time being.

A few weeks later, with work settling down, I went back to the Macbook to figure out how to make it run XP again. I upgraded to the latest Mac OS X ("Snow Leopard") but boot camp still refused to run. So I reinstalled the OS from scratch, but apparently I was still left with the original partitions. Mac OS X did not provide me a way to blow away and recreate the partitions during install. I was feeling seriously offended at this point. Was my investment in a dual-boot machine to be for nothing?

After much reading of forum posts, it seemed likely that a large file had located itself somewhere in the middle or near the end of the drive, and Mac OS X could not defragment the partitions, or even delete them. Eventually, I muddled through. I bought an external disk, managed to copy Mac OS X onto it and make it bootable. Running from the USB disk, I was then able to use a disk utility to blow away and recreate the partition for Mac OS X on the main drive. Then I copied the Mac OS back onto the main drive. All this was facilitated by a great free Mac utility called SuperDuper, which I do very much appreciate. Having gone through these contortions, I was at last able to reinstall Windows XP. It all took staggering amounts of time, during which I considered just junking the Macbook.

For those who claim that Mac's are so superior to Windows, I post this. I can't see a speck of difference in the hassle factor of either operating system; sooner or later, arcane knowledge and extreme patience is required. How do non-geeks ever cope?

The good thing about having both OS's around is competition--the two companies do push each other to do better things. In the latest version of Mac OS, for example, networking is a breeze and I can read my Windows drives and the printer just installed without trauma. Yay! Why couldn't I have had that 3 years ago, Apple?

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