Running Windows on a Mac (Part 2): The good, the bad and the ugly

By , ITworld |  Software, Apple, Boot Camp

If you're toying with the idea of getting a MacBook Air, Pro or an iMac and run Windows 7 on it full-time, it's good to be aware of where this unholy pairing shines and especially where it fails. In part 1 of this series, I discussed the performance impact you're going to get running Windows 7, as compared to Mac OS X Lion (spoiler alert: battery life suffers a bit, performance-wise it's "ok"). In this second installment in the series, I'll shine a light on the ups, downs, quirks and downright ugliness that you'll encounter when running Windows 7 on your Mac.

Running Windows on a Mac, part 1: Lion vs. Win7 performance shootout
Running Windows on a Mac, part 3: The complete how-to


The good

I've been a Mac + Windows user for four years, and believe it or not there's a lot of good to be said about this combination. Here's why running Windows on a Mac is a great experience and why these reasons alone might be enough to make you deal with some of the compromises (you'll read about later on).

Near-perfect build quality

Let's get the obvious fact out of the way: Apple's desktop and laptop lineup sports some of the best build-quality on the planet. No doubt about it. The unibody construction on the Mac Mini, Mac Pro, iMac, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro isn't just beautiful, it's extremely durable and portable: The MacBook Air, for example, is currently the thinnest laptop on sale (though, the ultrabook competition is just around the corner) while stil being highly durable. It represents the state of the art in terms of portability. Even the 17" MacBook Pro is thinner and lighter than the majority of 15" or 17" laptops built by the likes of Asus, HP (oh...wait) or Acer.

What's also highly annoying about Windows laptops (to me, at least) is the hardware clutter such as constantly flashing LEDs, pseudo-futuristic design elements or unnecessary buttons (e.g. buttons that launch OEM software that no one ever uses). What the Mac hardware offers me as a Windows user is a clutter-free and non-distracting design. Plus, Mac displays are top notch compared to similarly sized (and priced) displays.

Bottom line, I don't think that there's a Windows laptop or desktop built that matches Macs. To me, this outweighs most -- if not all -- of the potential downsides that come with running Windows on a Mac. I need portability and durability -– and if that means I have to cope with a couple of bugs or sacrifice a bit of battery life, so be it.

(Mostly) current-gen hardware

Up until now, Macs regularly came with CPUs or graphics that were at least one generation old. Gladly, that's not the really the case anymore: Intel's Sandy Bridge processors now run across almost all current Apple hardware, even on the MacBook Air, so you don't have to deal with the (now ancient) C2D processors anymore. And while the graphics aren't as high-end as they could be, the latest AMD Radeon 6000 and NVIDIA chips prove to be more than enough for day-to-day usage.


The bad

Yes, you'll encounter some quirks while running Windows 7 on a MacBook or an iMac, but most of them can be fixed and, in some cases, won't even be noticed after a couple of days.

Trackpad mania

Windows users will loathe the MacBook's trackpad when using it for the first time. No hardware buttons, no designated scroll area. Let me assure you: you'll come to love the trackpad. The two-finger scroll works better than on most Windows laptops you've used and you can decide whether you want to use "press" or "tap" to click; there's also an option to use the bottom-right of the trackpad as a right-click, which emulates the right-click button.

What's still quirky about it is that the multi-touch gestures, which work perfectly on the OS X side, won't really work on Windows 7. You can pinch-to-zoom in pictures or on websites, but it's choppy and way too sensitive. Additionally, the trackpad drivers of Boot Camp (even version 4.0) don't allow you to set pointer speeds and often falsely detect trackpad input when typing or when just moving the cursor around (which causes accidental drag & drop actions). Gladly, there's a workaround by Vladimir Plenskiy called Trackpad++. This updated driver and software combo improves pointer speeds, enables accelerated scrolling and improves about half a dozen other quirks.

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