Windows Vista on a MacBook — progress report

Following-up to my musings yesterday on Vista and a MacBook: The short version: it dun’ work.

Longer version: Boot Camp is wonderful. Vista installation is fairly smooth and simple. But installing drivers in Vista… ugh ugh ugh. It doesn’t like one of the drivers on Apple’s CD, but the ‘yes, I know it’s unsigned, please do it anyway’ dialogues don’t tell you which driver they’re for! Seriously. So when it craps out after a few, displays a meaningless error code dialogue, rolls back the install, and then (five minutes later) bluescreens, there’s not a lot I can do.

Unfortunately, Apple’s driver disc is all rolled up into one nice big InstallShield package, with which there’s no interaction. While it does extract the individual drivers, the ‘it’s all gone wrong, rolling back’ exit deletes most of them again. Though, curiously, it leaves behind the drivers for the hardware I haven’t got (Nvidia and ATI graphics cards, for example).

So at the moment I have Vista in 800×600 (stretched), with no graphics acceleration. Ugh. Oh, and for all the moaning we Mac-heads do about bouncing ruddy dock icons, at least there’s some indication that something is happening. Driver disc autorun takes about seven minutes before opening a window (!), during which time there is no sign that anything’s going on. Nor is there any visual indication that the system has registered an application icon double-click (cf. Mac OS’s zooming rectangle, and OS X’s translucent flying icon thing). So it’s very easy to end up with three install processes on the go, which doubtless doesn’t help.

Somehow – and despite Vista claiming to roll back the installs – I now do have wireless networking enabled. So I may be able to find drivers online somewhere – it’s all standard PC hardware, after all. But I’m not sure I can be bothered. Oh, and those infamous User Access Control dialogues? They’re hilariously bad, giving little indication of what’s about to be done. Click the ‘tell me more’ button, and you’re presented with a few lines of config.wibble\serial number\blah gibberish. Hopeless, frankly. I’ve seen more civilised spyware.

On the one hand, I’m not too discouraged by all this; it’s a test release, and I know that the driver disc is intended for XP SP2. However, hardware heterogeneity has clearly led to a driver nightmare situation for Windows users, and it’s not getting any simpler. Drivers have been an ongoing disaster zone on my Windows XP box, and I suppose I was hoping that Vista could somehow wave a magic wand and solve all the problems. That’s crazy talk, obviously.

But… see what happened here? By defining a strict subset of PC hardware, Apple have been able to at least start addressing one of the fundamental problems of Windows. Which is that it simply doesn’t work ‘out of the box.’ That’s bizarre, but actually rather clever. If I bought a Dell, Toshiba, Sony, whatever now, would I have any assurance that it will run well with Vista? Where will I get suitable drivers – by scrabbling around online and trying to work out if I have a C-Media 5650 or 5650pi or…? I don’t think so.

Or I can spend about the same amount of money on a Mac, and cross my fingers that Apple will roll everything up neatly for me, by around the time Vista ships. Which seems plausible, given that this current driver disc allegedly does work just fine with XP SP2.

I’m slightly gobsmacked by this. The MacBook, right now, doesn’t work with Vista. But I have bizarrely greater confidence that it will, eventually, than I do that my bona-fide, currently-running-XP PC will ever stand a chance. That’s… oh, my brain hurts.

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