Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hello new Macbook Air! I'd like you to meet Windows 8

I decided to document my experience installing Windows 8 on a Macbook Air just in case anyone out there is thinking of trying to do the same thing themselves.

I know what you're thinking. Why in the world would I want to put Windows on a Mac? Well, because I can. I'd been wanting to give Mac's Bootcamp feature a try and now I had an excuse.

The actual install itself was fairly straightforward, but I had to do a little bit of research to determine what my options were in advance. The best option for me involved an external apple super drive and a 16GB memory stick.  Inside the external super drive was a DVD disk containing the ISO file of the Windows 8 install disk.  I don't understand why you need the Windows 8 install in the form of an ISO file, but there you have it.  The memory stick is to store the driver files that Windows will need to recognize the Mac hardware.

The next part was really simple.  I just opened up Bootcamp Assistant, told it were the ISO file was, told it were the Windows install files would go, let it format the memory stick, and then choose a partition size for Windows 8.  I went with a 45 GB partition.  Then the process began.  It took just under an hour.  The thing that made me nervous about the process is that you really couldn't see what was happening behind the scenes. 

I'm glad I chose to do this at home, where I have Internet access, because Bootcamp Assistant needs Internet access to get the driver files that it needs from Apple. Caveat - Apple doesn't officially support Windows 8 yet, so it likely used Windows 7 drivers.

Once it was finished, it booted in to Windows 8.  I thought that was pretty cool.  The first thing I noticed was that when you shut the Macbook Air off it will boot back in to Windows 8 automatically, which may not be what you want.  Of course you can select whichever operating system you want to boot into by holding the option button while you power up.  I'm pretty sure there is a setting to make it boot into the Mac OS by default, but I haven't got around to it yet.

The second thing I noticed is how annoyingly different Windows 8 is from its predecessors.  The third thing I noticed is that Windows 8 did not seem to know what to make of the Macbook Air's track pad.  I did a little bit of research and discovered that the Windows 7 drivers are problematic.  One suggested fix which I tried, involves hacking an MSI file on the Windows install disk, which was on my memory stick.  Running that hacked MSI file seemed to install all the proper drivers for the Mac hardware that didn't get installed during the actual Windows install. It also fixed the fact that I couldn't find the boot camp control panel in Windows 8. But I couldn't open the boot camp control panel. Fortunately, I found out how to hack the registry to make the track pad work the way I want it to. This doesn't solve my total issue, but the thing is working the way I need it to for now.

For some strange reason windows 8 did not activate automatically, and seemed to fail every time I tried to activate manually.  Again, more research revealed that I could force the activation by running a special command that included the product key in an elevated command prompt window.  Getting to an elevated command prompt window proved challenging.  But the command worked.  This appears to be a problem specific to Windows 8 enterprise edition.

So, after some fiddling, I managed to get Windows 8 installed on my Macbook Air. Now I can take some time to learn this new OS and see how it works.

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