A Unibody MacBook, VMware Fusion, and Windows 7 Beta

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A couple of days ago I installed Windows 7 beta (32-bit, Ultimate version) on my 13″ unibody MacBook, and I thought I’d recount my installation experience in case some of you are curious how the other half (OK, the other 95 percent) live.

Alas, this exercise afforded little opportunity to dazzle anyone with my technical acumen. I have no stories of incompatible hardware (even my five-year old HP printer is fine), no BSODs, no failed installations. Heck, I can’t even brag about hitting up Microsoft’s knowledge base and then going to the four corners of the Internet to download various drivers to make it all work. 

Make no mistake, I was still in the Windows world, and got a reminder of that pretty quickly, which I’ll explain shortly, but the bottom line is this was about as uneventful an installation of Windows as you could ask for. 
 Here’s how I installed: 

  • Hit the MS web site and download the beta. It comes in the form of an ISO image file. As an aside, MS warns you that it may take “many hours” to download the file — it’s 2.44 GB. Ha! They laughed at me when I ponied up extra dollars each month for Cox Cable’s special premium high-speed connection. The fools! Who’s laughing now? Thirty-seven minutes for the download.
  • In VMware 2.01 create a new virtual machine. My existing VM is Windows XP, which Windows 7 will not upgrade, but I didn’t want this beta software on the existing machine anyway. Hey, it’s beta folks, the beauty of VM is you can have a new “PC” whenever you want it. For the new machine I chose Windows 2008 Server as the “base.” I used the ISO file as the installation media. 

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  • I did not choose the Easy Install option. I suspected a scripted easy installation might not work until VMware has a bona-fide Windows 7 option. Since I was using Windows 2008 Server as a surrogate, I figured I’d just handle the install prompts myself. 

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  • Replied to the usual prompts, and the installation took off. It was done in under 40 minutes. 
  • Installed the VMware Tools. 

That’s really it. After this was done I changed the desktop to 1280 x 800 and ran it full screen. Internet, sound, trackpad, graphics, all just worked. I didn’t even have to configure my printer, it was just there as my default. Smooth.

For those who didn’t know, Microsoft has unbundled the basic mail, chat, photo, etc. software from Windows 7. Therefore the installation is pretty spartan. So the first thing you should do is download the Windows Live Essential apps to fill that gap. I’ve been running these in beta on XP for quite a while, and they were taken out of beta status just a couple weeks ago. 

It was at this point I hit my first snag. I used VMware to share my Mac’s Pictures folder, and then pointed Windows Live Photo Gallery to that share. It created a couple picture thumbnails, and then froze. I could force quit the app, but every time I opend it it would try to process the share, and freeze. 

So I removed the share, thinking the app would balk at it being missing and I could just get rid of the reference. Nope, it still tried to handle the share and would freeze. Bummer. 

OK, I uninstall the app and re-install it. Sadly, it remembered the share and still froze. 

So I dug into the Registry to see if I could find where the string for this share was stored within the photo app so I could delete it manually. It was at this point I really remembered I was in WIndows. Put simply, the registry blows. Anyway, my searches turned up negative so I needed to take another tack. 

I re-established the share and decided to try using the brief delay between the app opening and when it tries to process the share to delete it via the app’s interface. I couldn’t quite right-click the share and hit Delete fast enough on the first two tries, but on the third I got it. Now all is well. 

While the registry serves as a Windows reminder, I don’t really blame anyone for this issue. Is it the VMware share? Is it Win 7? Is it the photo app? It doesn’t matter much since right now VMware does not claim support for Win 7, and I’m sure it’s not yet a tested config for Microsoft either. For what it’s worth, I’m using another VM share for a folder between the Mac and the VM machine in Windows Explorer with no problems, so it may be the photo app. 

The only other glitch I had was that after a few hours that first evening, I lost sound. I tried rebooting and a couple other things, but it was getting late and I resolved to tackle it the next day. However, the next day (yesterday) it was working again, and has been since. 

So what’s it been like in use? My short time so far with Win 7 has been positive. I do not have the Aero “see-through” windows or previews (the VM graphics do not support them), but even lacking those the interface is decent. Hovering over an app in the dock taskbar pops up the names of the windows (or tabs in IE), and overall response seems to be close to my XP SP3 VM. 

As I get more familiar with Win 7 in comparison with Mac OS X and Win XP I’ll likely post more bits and pieces of my experiences. For now, however, I’m off to a good start.

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