MacBook Air–Windows in a box

imageMost commonly-used Windows programs have equivalents that run on OS X.  Office for Mac 2011 is one example which I recently installed on my wife Devvie’s MacBook Air (MBA).

However, not all Windows programs have OS X equivalents. Devvie, like me, teaches computer science at a local community college. Our computer programming classes use Visual Studio software. There is no Visual Studio for Mac. There is other reasonably equivalent OS X compatible software which she can use for her C++ classes. However, for her C# class, she needs to be running under Windows because C# (unlike unmanaged C++) requires the .NET Framework. Consequently, Devvie’s MBA needs to run Windows so she can run Visual Studio. Which meant that I, as Devvie’s  primary (and unpaid) source of tech support, had to do make this happen.

Dual Boot vs. Virtualization

To run Windows on the MBA, there are two options, dual boot and virtualization. Like life, trade-offs are involved between these two choices.

With virtualization, you can run both operating systems (here OS X and Windows) at the same time. Switching between OS X and Windows is as simple as switching between windows. With dual boot, such as Boot Camp, you can only use one operating system at a time. To switch, you have to reboot.

However, with virtualization, you have to divide RAM between the two operating systems, and RAM is a finite and important resource. With dual boot, you don’t have to divide RAM between the two operating systems.

Dual boot may be preferable when RAM is at a premium, such as high end graphic processing. No such needs involved here, and with 4 GB of RAM, there is enough for both operating systems. So I chose virtualization.

Virtualization choices

The primary virtualization software choices are Parallels, VMware Fusion and VirtualBox. I chose VirtualBox. It’s free. Also, my neighbor, who is very knowledgeable on tech matters (and most other matters), uses and recommended VirtualBox.

Installing VirtualBox

Installing VirtualBox was simple. You do need to decide the amount of RAM and hard drive space to devote to Windows. I increased the RAM from 512 MB to 1 GB based on my experiences with Visual Studio. That still left me an ample 3 GB of RAM for OS X. I increased the HDD space from 20 GB to 50 GB for similar reasons. Besides, that still left me almost 200 GB for the OS X side. My understanding is that you can later adjust the RAM and HDD allocations if needed.

Installing Windows

Installing Windows (7, 32 bit) also was easy. You do need a full install rather than upgrade DVD. I’ve read there are workarounds which enable you to use an upgrade DVD, but I wanted to keep it legal.

Installing Visual Studio

Also easy. Really no different than on a Windows machine.


For the Windows install DVD, I used SuperDrive, Apple’s DVD reader. It’s very compact. Even better, it draws its power from the USB connection – no power adapter!

Alas, as with much of my Mac experience, there is a learning curve. First, how to load the DVD into the SuperDrive? There’s no open button to pop out a tray to load the DVD. No problema. You just put the DVD into the opening at the front of the SuperDrive.

Of course, whatever goes in must eventually go out. As I’ve mentioned, there’s no open button. The instructions were to press the eject key on the keyboard. Err … my keyboard doesn’t have that key. Turns out that key was removed in a keyboard revise of last year. Grrrrrrr.

After consulting with Mr. Google, I tried some other solutions, both with the keyboard (Command + E) and menu (Eject). The keyboard shortcut didn’t do anything, and the Eject menu item was grayed out. Double grrrrrr.

After cursing Steve Jobs’ ancestors for several minutes, I realized I was “in Windows.” So, I opened Windows Explorer, highlighted the drive letter for the DVD, and chose Eject. Eureka!

What’s next?

Not sure. I am trying to keep the Windows programs as few as possible, and have Devvie use Mac programs (like Office for Mac 2011)wherever possible. I’m sure we will add software and widgets. But first, both of us need to learn more about this brave, new Mac world.

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