Unable to resist I got myself a shiny, slim new MacBook Air (MBA). While I am used to Mac OS X, I wanted it to run Vista so I can also take it to image work. My MBA has a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and a 64GB solid state drive and I bought a SuperDrive. Here's how I installed Vista and why I did it 3 (three) times.

Doing it right the first time helps but I wanted to try different options and see which works best for me. The MBA arrived a couple of days ago but I have not had the time to play with it other than unpacking (the Apple "unboxing" experience is far superior to any other. Instead of sharing similar images again, here are some unboxing images from UNEASYsilence.

The first installation of Vista was in a virtual machine using VMware Fusion

image I won't bore you with the details of the Fusion installation. There are many good descriptions available on the web and the install really is uneventful. After installation, creating a new virtual machine, selecting Windows and Windows Vista from the drop down menus and off you go. Insert the Vista install DVD into the SuperDrive, boot the VM and the rest is plain Windows install. After the installation and a reboot of the VM, don't forget to install the VMware tools and drivers.

What I like about this installation:

  • Leopard is still fully available.
  • Windows applications can run seamless on the Mac OS desktop.
  • Both operating systems (OS) running side-by-side smoothly and perform well. Due to limited hard disk space I did not try to run beefier applications like Visual Studio 2008 in the VM though.
  • Most of the time I ran Windows full screen on a "second" desktop using Spaces. This feels even more like you are running 2 totally separate machines side-by-side on the same hardware. This was certainly the best experience of all.

What I do not like about this installation:

  • The SSD drive has only limited capacity. I (still) load lots of data onto my hard disk. On Vista I need many different applications for my daily work. Both operating systems use already a large portion of the disk space.
  • I could not get Vista to run Aero Glass. Fusion claims the hardware does not support Glass in a VM. I did some digging on the web but eventually I gave up. I love the transparency feature of the Vista UI. Without transparency the user experience lacks a key feature. You may think differently about this but for me it was the deciding factor against this version, I wanted Aero Glass.

Second installation attempt, this time using Boot Camp

image Boot Camp allows you to repartition the disk and use the second partition to install Windows Vista or another operating system. After using the Boot Camp assistant in the Mac OS to partition the disk (I split the disk about 50:50) the user is asked to insert the Vista install disk. The UI indicates the OS will reboot if you press Ok to confirm the reboot dialog. That did not work for me. After confirming the dialog box for about 3 or 4 times the system finally shut down and rebooted from the Vista installation DVD in the DVD drive. Again, from there on it is a simple Vista installation. During the final step of the installation I left the desk. When I returned, Leopard had booted up. Turns out the installation does not change the boot order. Mac OS X is the default OS.

When rebooting your MacBook just press and hold the Option key and you will be presented with (in my case) three options, Mac OS X, Windows and network boot. I'll talk about that in a bit. Selecting Windows boots up Vista and all what is left is installing the Boot Camp utilities and device drivers from the first Leopard installation disk. After a final reboot, you're good to go.

What I like about this installation:

  • Leopard is still fully available on the first partition
  • Vista is running on bare metal and not in a VM
  • Aero Glass is available
  • Vista is smoking fast!

What I do not like about this installation:

  • The SSD drive has only limited capacity and having two partitions basically cuts your already limited hard disk space in half. There are ways around it and tools available to make Vista see and use a Mac OS drive and vice versa. See MacFUSE and MacWindows and others.

During the third installation I removed the Mac OS partition completely.

image Eventually I settled for this option. It is not the best solution and YMMV quite a bit depending on your needs but I will stay with this configuration for now J. Removing the Mac OS completely is easy. I booted from first Leopard install disk, launched the Disk Utility and removed the 2 partitions I had from the previous install. When creating the new partition, make sure you select MBR as the partition type in the advanced section of the tools partitioning dialog. Pressing the F12 key while rebooting until the DVD ejects was the only way to remove the Mac OS DVD from the SuperDrive. Inserting the Vista DVD, rebooting, installing Vista. Easy. After the final reboot you have a MBA running only Vista. Don't forget to install the drivers from the first Leopard install DVD.

What I like about this installation:

  • Vista is running on bare metal and not in a VM
  • Aero Glass is available
  • Vista is smoking fast!
  • The full hard disk is available for Vista & apps & data

What I do not like about this installation:

  • Leopard is not available anymore. Turns out that I still want to run the Mac OS from time to time. Since there is currently no legal way to install Leopard client in a virtual machine, you lose the Mac OS. I found an easy way around it. Some time ago I bought a 16GB SD card for my digital camera. Room enough to hold a Leopard installation and leave some space for additional apps and files. Since the MBA has only one USB port, I got myself a cheap USB SD card adapter. SD card/USB and the Remote Disk feature allowed to install a trimmed down version (no additional languages, no printer drivers) of OS X on the 16GB SD card. It shows up in the boot options dialog during reboot and boots the Mac OS nicely. I have to admit the SD card boot and overall performance is not too good but it works for what I need it for. Again, YMMV!
  • Remote Disk does not work as described. It's true; you don't need Remote Disk to use this variant of getting Vista onto a MBA but I wanted Leopard on my SD card. In my home network I use WPA to protect my private "airwaves". Turns out that I had to turn off wireless security completely to make Remote Disk work between my PC and the MBA.

All three options allow you to install the 32-bit and the 64-bit version of Vista. I was actually not telling the whole truth when I mentioned only 3 installs. It was actually 4 times. Curious about the 64-bit performance and the driver support I installed the 64-bit version once before installing the 32-bit version of Vista. The Boot Camp DVD (which is the first Leopard install DVD) has all drivers for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. Really sweet. And the performance rocks, too.

Having played (installing Office and all the other nice tools, migrating my data using FolderShare, editing, writing this blog post …) with the third installation for a while now, I wonder if option 2 (Boot Camp) might have been the better option after all. I could have installed Leopard with minimal options and use the SD card for some of the not so often used files. It would give me a way faster Mac OS and the USB port will not be occupied by default when running Leopard. Isn't the MBA a device for the connected world anyways? Why don't I host my data in the cloud? But that's a completely different story.