MacBook Air and Windows Vista
Now that we are through with the brief introduction of the new Apple notebook, let’s see what the Microsoft operating systems fans will have to face if they decide to go with the MacBook Air beauty. You see right away that Windows Vista is a foreign environment for this computer system. As you may have already guessed, the notebook comes with Mac OS X preinstalled and it is not a trivial task to replace it with Windows Vista, because there is no DVD drive in this computer.
Even the brand name BootCamp utility that should create a second folder with Windows on the system hard drive cannot help: it also requires a system restart followed by booting from an installation Windows DVD disk. Remote Disc utility that allows using optical drives of other computer systems on the local network and thus should make up for the absence of DVD ROM drive is also of no help in this case. It works only with Mac OS X and allows booting from an installation optical disk only if it is the disk with Mac OS X distributive.
That is why the bad news is that you need an external DVD ROM drive connected to the USB port in order to install Windows Vista on your new MacBook Air. The same is true for the installation of an alternative operating system using BootCamp, which is also written on Apple’s official web-site.
The good news in this case is the fact that you don’t need to buy brand name MacBook Air SuperDrive to install Windows. The notebook can work just fine with third-party external DVD ROM drives, too. However, our experience proves that not any drive will do. For example, we checked out three devices, and although all three of them were recognized by the OS, the notebook agreed to boot only from one of them: Plextor PX-608CU. The other two external drives from LG didn’t work right with MacBook Air.
Since we intended to install Windows Vista as the primary and not the secondary operating system, we faced one more problem. Standard Vista installer refused to delete the Mac OS X partition on the hard drive. I believe that those users who decide to install Microsoft OS together with Mac OS X using BootCamp will not have this problem, because it creates an NTFS partition for Windows installation. If you decide that two operating systems on a 60-80GB hard drive is too much luxury for you, you will have to repeat the same trick we described in our MacBook Pro Review in order to install Windows successfully. Namely, before installing Windows Vista you will have to launch Windows XP installer that will remove HFS+ file system from the hard drive without any hesitation.
After the troubles we had to go through during the installation procedure, no driver issues seem something absolutely fantastic. Although Windows Vista distributive and Windows Update service do not have all the drivers your MacBook Air might need, Apple decided to take care of their users here. One of the disks that come with the notebook contains all the drivers you might need for Windows OS. By the way, together with the drivers you will also install a small Boot Camp Control Panel utility that allows changing some system parameters. For example, display brightness or functional keys work mode.
Now that you’ve done all that, the Microsoft OS is officially installed. According to our experience, Windows Vista doesn’t have any evident compatibility issues with MacBook Air. Moreover, although you have a completely new operating system installed, a lot of brand name features of this system keep working just fine.
Even the price of MacBook Air – its touchpad – works in Windows exactly the same way as it does in Mac OS X. it recognizes all the specific finger moves, although their interpretation depends on the particular application you are working with. Even the availability of only one key doesn’t cause you any trouble: right click emulation works perfectly fine, too.
The keyboard also gave us no causes for concern. You barely notice that it lacks some of the traditional notebook keys. The only thing you may sometimes be frustrated with is the absence of the traditional Del key: you need to press Fn+BackSpace instead.
However, it would be not quite fair to say that MacBook Air has absolutely no ergonomic issues when working in Windows Vista. For example, the screen brightness adjustment doesn’t work here. Although the operating system should use brightness adjustment to extend the battery life and the notebook knows to adjust screen brightness in Mac OS X depending on the ambient lighting conditions, none of them can actually do it under Windows Vista. Therefore, the only way to change the screen brightness in Windows Vista is to adjust it manually in Boot Camp Control Panel.
Keyboard highlighting also doesn’t work right. Sometimes it turns on, off or changes brightness absolutely chaotically, without any link to the actual lighting conditions. It must be the driver issue, so we hope it may be resolved in the future. However, you should keep in mind that Apple doesn’t post new drivers for Windows Vista on their web-site, so you will need to put some effort into locating the appropriate driver update in the World Wide Web.
Also, Apple software developers didn’t bother to enable Remote Disc function for Windows. That is why those who decide to go with this OS will either have to live without optical media at all or will have to go for an external DVD ROM drive.