Windows 8.1 on the 2008 MacBook

Windows 8.1 on 2008 MacBook

For a while now I’ve been wanting to get myself a new PC, but I haven’t found one that really captures my attention. I tried looking at Vizio, Apple and Samsung – but nothing seemed worthy of the investment. Plus I must admit I have been holding out to see if Microsoft brings an Ultrabook to the Surface family.

Most of the time I actually use my Surface RT for doing every day stuff, but there are some things that are much faster using a larger keyboard, a proper track pad and the ability to be used on the lap. I have been using my 2008 MacBook running Windows 7 for these tasks, as well as pretty much all of the development I do for my personal projects.

Last week – when trying to get the MacBook to boot from a VHD file – I managed to mess up the boot configuration, and two of the three operating systems (OSX, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1) didn’t work at all – the only one that worked didn’t really provide me any way to fix the issue.

So for the first time in what seems like forever, I actually burnt a DVD and got a copy of the Windows 8.1 Preview installed fresh on the NTFS partition. This worked much better than the Windows 8 Preview I had previously tried, and I decided to try and get things up and running properly by following a guide (slightly modified to get the new version of Boot Camp) and lots of hacking around.

To my amazement, not only did all the Apple specific drivers (the backlit keyboard, multi-touch track pad etc.) all work for the x64 version of Windows, but the operating system itself felt a lot faster than Windows 7. It also seemed the Apple’s Boot Camp software wasn’t hammering the CPU as much as it used it.

Thanks to some of the changes in Windows 8.1 – like being able to use Snap view on lower resolutions – I’m actually able to complete most of the tasks I wanted a new computer for. Sure there are a few down points:

  • No hypervisor – meaning I can’t run the Windows Phone Emulator.
  • No touch screen – yes I have tried to swipe content on the screen by mistake!
  • Not very speedy – hey it’s a 2008 machine, it’s not going to be fast.
  • Hacky configurationthe third party drivers sometimes feel like they’re held together with luck. And they are.

But these negatives aside, I’m actually able to get most of my development tasks complete on the new operating system, and I’m going to upgrade to the final version of Windows 8.1 when it comes out in the fall. This means I don’t need to buy a new computer right away, and I’m going to try to get at least another year out of this one.

Windows 8.1 on 2008 MacBook

I still hope that Microsoft will enter the Ultrabook market, and if they do I’m sure I’ll be glad that I waited. But for now I’m going to try to continue to use this 2008 MacBook as long as I can.

My hat goes off to Apple – this has definitely been the best machine I have ever owned.

Update

I no longer own this MacBook anymore as I’ve upgraded to a Surface. It’s a little difficult for me to answer further questions around running Windows on it.

Good luck!

iPad is all about the apps

Apple iPad mini

I recently acquired an iPad mini for a reasonable price. I had been thinking for a while that if I had any iOS device it would have to be an iPad – simply for the apps. Having an iPhone would involve a major investment into an ecosystem that I have no interest of using. The iPhone is great for both the Apple and Google ecosystems, however am invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, and I already have my computing needs pretty much set.

Here are the devices I tend to use on a daily basis:

  • Surface – main computer
  • Laptop – development
  • Lumia – portable device
  • Xbox – entertainment

In addition to these, I do also have a couple of extra ‘dedicated’ devices:

  • Nintendo DS – Pokémon
  • Kindle – reading

So where does the iPad fit in? I see it as one of these extra devices, in the same league as the DS and the Kindle. What’s this devices dedicated purpose? Running apps that Windows doesn’t have*.

  • iPad – apps

Here are some examples of the apps I’ve installed so far, that don’t exist on Windows:

What am I specifically not using it for? No email, calendar or contacts – this is already on my Windows machines. No music or photos – I already use Xbox and SkyDrive for this stuff. No social networking – I get notifications for Facebook and Twitter on my Windows machines already. I simply do not need another device with these features.

Do I think I have too many devices now? Well no, not really. I’m ok with the amount of stuff I have – though I’m always looking to reduce things. To me, having an iPad is significantly more useful than having something like a microwave.

* Interestingly, since getting the iPad I’ve already been thinking about a time when I don’t need to have it, and all the apps I want are on Windows. That’s the dream.

Extending the Surface Power Supply

The power supply that comes with the Microsoft Surface for Windows RT is a little short. I’m unsure if it is comparable with other tablets – as it is my first – however I find it a pain to plug in to the wall and use on the other side of the sofa.

Thankfully, it is no major issue as the Surface PSU takes a standard figure 8 cable, which can easily be added to extend it out.

This is very similar to the cable I got with my Apple MacBook from 2008. Though it has to be said, Apple have done a better job overall, because they included both the shorter and longer cables in the box with the machine. Microsoft do not.

Computers for 2012 and beyond

Because I got all my computers around the same time, they seem to have aged at same time. This year I plan on replacing all of the general purpose computers in one fell swoop that should keep me going until then next generation.

Here’s what I had at the start of the year:

  • Desktop – a 2008 beasty Dell XPS with two graphics cards and lots of fans
  • MacBook – a 2008 MacBook running Windows 7
  • Phone – a Windows Phone
  • Tablet PC – a 2007 Toshiba Tablet PC running Windows 7 that didn’t get much use

Here’s what I have planned for the end of the year:

  • Xbox – a living room entertainment system, mostly for music and video
  • Laptop – a Windows 8 laptop, probably around the 13 inch mark
  • Phone – a Windows Phone
  • Tablet – a Windows RT* tablet

I hadn’t really used my Toshiba Tablet PC a great deal in the last couple of years, mostly due to the fact I started using Windows 7 full time on my MacBook and the Tablet PC was only really used for drawing with the Wacom screen. Thankfully, I’ve already handed this computer on to a friend of mine who will no doubt make much better use of its capabilities.

Replacing what was essentially a laptop with a general purpose tablet will definitely be beneficial. As well as enabling new forms of mobility I haven’t really had before (yes, I’m totally jealous of my fellow astronomers with their iPads), it will also sync with my Windows laptop so that all the Metro-style applications are ready to go on either machine. I’ll probably go for whatever tablet most takes my fancy before the Windows 8 launch, but to be considered they’d have to be capable of having mobile broadband, GPS and sensors including accelerometer and compass enabling some of the more exciting Metro-style apps that are expected.

Picking a Windows 8 laptop might be a little bit harder, as I have been spoilt by the excellent craftsmanship in the MacBook. I know that manufacturers like HP and Dell should be capable of making such a machine, but deciding which one is a lot harder than simply choosing another Apple. But – Apple are not going to be an option, unless they include all the new Windows 8 goodness like touchscreen and sensors mentioned above – and going by Apple’s history of ‘quality’ Windows drivers, I’m not holding my breath.

As for right now – the Xbox has been a good replacement from my old, loud desktop computer. People who know me will know that I don’t watch television, so getting a TV screen and an Xbox in the living room is not probably not going to make me start wasting vast amounts of time by sitting in front of the screen, it’s more about simplifying what I was doing on my desktop computer: Surfing the web, doing emails, listening to music and watching video. Surfing the web and doing email can be done on either a laptop or a tablet just as well as on the desktop, so it made much more sense for the entertainment uses to take primary focus.

The Xbox is more than capable of looking after the music and video in my flat, and I’ll write up some of my thoughts about this shortly.

As with everything, I’m always trying to simplify. This solution is definitely simpler than previous setups, thought we’ll see if the numbers will eventually go down. I wouldn’t be shocked to be rocking a tablet/laptop hybrid with a docking station in a few years, reducing the number of computers even further.

* Windows RT is the name of what was previously known as WOA or Windows on Arm. Not to be confused with the WinRT development platform. Or something.

Windows 8 on a MacBook (for now)

Last week Peter Bright at Ars Technica wrote a very interesting article about trying to find his ideal laptop. His goal is to find “a 13″ MacBook Air that isn’t made by Apple” – sounds relatively simple. What he’s asking for is something that a lot of people want, but none of the major PC manufacturers are able to pull it off.

The key thing here is that since the unibody MacBook, Apple make the best PCs. This is why a couple of years ago I bought myself a MacBook to run Windows.

Sure running Windows on a MacBook is a little ‘quirky’ but Apple make what I think is the best PC hardware, and I live in a Windows world – this was the best option for me. However I’m not so sure that this will be the best option when I eventually replace this machine for something better.

I’d like to see an ultrabook* like the MacBook Air which embraces Windows 8 features like touch screen and Wacom pen input – stuff that Apple simply doesn’t have on their MacBook line, and maybe never will.

Hopefully Peter and I will get our ideal laptops sooner rather than later, but for now I’ll be rocking Windows 8 on my MacBook.

Update

Due to the Boot Camp drivers not performing very well, I eventually ended up rolling back to Windows 7 by restoring the entire operating system from the Windows.old folder.

* For now I think I’ll be sticking to Intel rather than ARM.