Changing operating systems is a painful process: leaving what you know behind for a new and potentially fruitful land, sacrificing some things for others. The grass is, as they say, always greener on the other side; the fruits of Mac OS X look appealing on Windows and vice versa. Each major operating system has its own quirks, flaws and plus points aplenty, whether they be broad application support (Windows) or, in my opinion, design (OS X).
The majority of the PC-using world – of which the population is hundreds of millions – still use Windows, especially at work or educational institutions. Microsoft is still doing incredibly well financially in large part because people use Windows. Because of this, many Mac users have to install Windows onto their laptop or desktop in order to be compatible with the outside world but retain the Mac hardware.
When looking to install Windows on your Mac there are several options, only one of which – Boot Camp – I will explore in detail here. Software such as Parallels and VMware Fusion enable a Mac to "run" Windows simultaneously, on top of OS X and, in Parallels’ case, integrate the two seamlessly. With the dual-system mode in Parallels enabled, Windows programs, right down to Solitaire, appear to run natively inside OS X.
Unfortunately, both of these products are expensive – £64.99 ($100) for Parallels, £52 ($75) for Fusion – and there are massive trade-offs for performance, especially on lower-end MacBooks or older machines. I personally use a MacBook Air (mid-2013) with 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 CPU – a fairly powerful machine – but you can forget gaming using the Windows version of Steam if Parallels is being used. Luckily, Apple has thought of this and includes Boot Camp in OS X.
Boot Camp essentially lets the user create a partition on the hard drive upon which a new operating system can be installed. All the user needs is a copy of Windows, either on a disk or as an ISO file, and more than 30GB free on their hard drive. Set up is simple with the only issue I encountered being the formatting of the partitioned drive, requiring a download from Seagate that allowed it to be formatted in the NTFS format.
Once I had this sussed, I restarted my Mac, held down the ‘alt’ key (from where I assumed the Mac had switched off, although I’m not sure how accurate you need to be within the Restart), selected the drive entitled "Windows" and my copy of Windows 8.1 booted up perfectly, even speedily.
When booted, the Mac behaves like a Windows PC – it becomes, in effect, a Windows PC. There can be a few oddities – the trackpad functions far less well in Windows and Wi-Fi failed to work until I found the relevant drivers on Apple’s Help site – but for all intents and purposes my MacBook is now a dual-booting PC, running the best of Microsoft and Apple.
I could install Steam and get to work in Grand Theft Auto or Battlefield, or run Office or any Windows-only application that I like. Windows 8.1 could benefit from touchscreen input now and then – as many column inches have been spilt explaining – but Windows 10 looks as though it is bringing back the focus to those PCs with a keyboard and mouse, or trackpad in this case, which should solve some of these issues. The bottom line is that the experience, by and large, is the same as it would be on a PC solely running Windows.
Reasons for Windows on a Mac
But why would you want to run Windows on a Mac? The first reason, as previously mentioned, is simply because Windows still has such a prominent user base within the working world, and there are times when a piece of Windows-only software is needed – but as soon as you get home you want to flick back over to OS X.
The second is that, in my opinion and the opinions of many others, Apple hardware is simply superior. In every review for any Mac, be it laptop or desktop, hardware is always praised as a plus point. From the design to the trackpad – a feature that many other manufacturers are yet to nail, leading Microsoft to make alternations to the way "precision touch" devices work on Windows – Apple laptops and desktops seem to rank the highest in all reviews and measurements. It would seem that pairing Apple’s hardware with Microsoft’s operating system is ideal. System Preference even allows changing of the default startup disk so your Mac can boot straight to Windows every time, if you so desire.
There are downsides to this. If you have a smaller hard drive – the two lower-end MacBook Airs come with just a 128GB SSD, for example – then allocating a precious 30GB to another OS is going to be painful, especially as that leaves very little room to actually install programs on Windows so usability could be impaired.
Performance and battery issues
There are also performance and battery life issues with Windows that are not there in OS X. When Ars Technica reviewed the new Retina MacBook running Windows in Boot Camp, they found that "battery life is usually worse in Windows, something generally attributed to Apple’s tighter integration between hardware and software," and this is reflected in my own tests.
The dual-booting can also be seen as a nice supplement. There is no way to load OS X onto a Windows machine – legally, at least – and so in order to get Apple’s operating system you have to buy a Mac. But, when Windows is installed, you really have two PCs in one. Pound-for-pound, high-end Windows hardware is often as expensive, or even more expensive, than the equivalent MacBook – but there’s only one you can run both Windows and OS X on.
There is very little downside to grabbing a copy of Windows and simply following the instructions supplied by Apple to set up a Windows PC within your Mac. If you need to run Windows-only apps, or you’re attracted to OS X or the design of a Mac, then fear not: Apple has you covered.