Sunday, June 28, 2009

Things I hate about my Mac

It's not quite a year since I moved to Mac. My reasoning was simple. A Mac IS a PC, so I'm not choosing either/or, I am saying, I will buy a PC, will I also choose to have a Mac at the same time ? My Mac has 20 gig of RAM and 8 cores. It's a pretty sweet box. I generally love using the Mac, too, there just seems to be little things where the OS seems to work with you, instead of against you.

The whole point of my blog is to point out things that I've found to not work as I'd expect, in all aspects of my computing life, especially where I know the solution, and hopefully I can feature in the search results of people trying to solve the same problems I have solved. What I'm basically writing about today, is VMWare Fusion and Boot Camp. VMWare Fusion is a piece of software that lets me install virtual machines on my Mac, and to basically run OSX and have windows running in a window. This is how I've used my Mac for most of it's life, which means I can use Safari, Pages, XCode, etc. as needed, but still go over to Windows when I need to write some Windows code, open a newer format Office file, etc. This has not been without issue, VMWare loses it's internet connection frequently, and while I've been given step by step instructions for what to type into the console to reset it, I am new enough to Mac that I am still working my way up to power userhood, I don't fully follow what it is that I'm doing, so I needed to keep looking it up. The support also takes the form of a public forum and it took me a while to work out that the people who were incredibly rude to me ( I assume for being a Windows user ), were actually not employees of VMWare. This made me feel better, because I know some people who work at VMWare, and I've found them to be really great folks, in real life. I must say, the guy who told me how to get around the internet dropout issue, also did not work for VMWare.

The main reason I use VMWare and not Parallels, is that the question I asked when buying was "who has the best 3D support ?". As my apps are all WPF, I need good DirectX support. VMWare also works with Boot Camp drives, so I had tried to set up a boot camp partition in the past, but had failed in my efforts to do so, so I had kept using an old PC for final testing, 3D was definitely sluggish under VMWare.

As I was going to the US in May, I took my Mac in to the Mac store, and told them I'd buy a hard drive from them, if they set up Boot Camp for me with Windows XP. I made clear that I am well capable of doing such things, given the time to work it out, but my one attempt at Boot Camp had not worked out, and I plain do not have the time to dedicate a day to making this thing work. While I was away, I emailed to check progress, they told me the XP CD I had given them was broken. I assured them this was not the case, and gave them some suggestions ( they claimed the CD was not booting ).

I got back, and picked up my Mac. When I tried to start it, it would tell me that there was no bootable media. As you can imagine, this upset me. Now, all my source code is backed up off site, but it's invariably the case, even with a Time Machine, that some data is lost when a HDD dies. To cut a long story short, my Mac was returned to me in a state where it kept trying to boot from my Windows CD, and would not boot from anything else. Once I worked this out, I found that the machine would indeed claim that my boot CD was corrupt.

I managed to convince the Mac to boot back to OSX ( I confess I don't recall how, this took place over 2 days and was a whole lot of stress ). So, I reformatted my new hard drive, and tried to install again. Same error. I verified the CD again. Fast forward a few hours of me doing this, and variations on the theme, and we get to my first point. I had asked the Mac store to create three partitions, I hoped to create a multi boot hard drive that booted XP ( for my day to day life ), Vista ( for testing only ) and Windows 7. It turns out that you can only install an OS for Boot Camp, on a drive that has only one partition. Once I formatted with one partition, the whole process worked effortlessly, with the CD I had given the Mac store. I called them and explained all this, for the benefit of the next person to walk through their doors and ask for some help.

So, I next tried to repartition my drive after windows was installed. This utterly broke my machine again, and I had to reinstall Windows again. For a time, my Windows would boot, but I could not recover the space I had moved to other partitions. At the same time, Acronis True Image could no longer back up my drives, as it could not recognise them. I wrote to their tech support, and they responded to say 'We understand you cannot back up from your drives. If this is true, let us know and we will mark this issue as closed'. I sent an angry reply, and by the time they followed up two weeks later, I had moved to Ghost, which is a great piece of software, and which worked when True Image would not. So, my second point is, buy Ghost, not True Image.

Apparently, the Boot Camp instructions tell you to never use repartitioning software, this was the point at which I realised that what I asked the Apple people to do for me, and they agreed, was in fact utterly impossible. Of course, I've heard these people tell prospective clients that Macs never have viruses, so I should have known better than to think they were experts.

I tend to update my Mac once every few months, I don't really keep track of when things come out, I just update as I think of it. So, I recently ran the update, and got told that there was an OSX update. I installed this, and then found that VMWare no longer worked, I would start a WPF app and immediately be told that the 3D was broken. It turns out that ATI video cards combined with the new OSX update, doesn't work with VMWAre. VMWare say that they knew this was the case in advance ( but chose not to email their clients to tell us ), and that they blame ATI and Apple ( despite Parallels apparently working fine with this update ). I've followed up on this on the VMWare forums, as far as I can tell, no VMWare employee has responded to me, but some guy who likes to insult me has basically blamed ATI and said that I should never install any update without doing a full system backup first. This is probably good advice. I just didn't see it coming that VMWare was so fragile, or that they wouldn't bother to tell their clients that their system is about to break.

So, my days of running Windows and Mac at once are over for now. I also found that running a Boot Camp partition in VMWare is not wise, it seemed to mess it up a bit, in fact, at one stage, my XP was so confused, that it would just reboot over and over, it took three hours of going between safe mode and normal to get my PC back. I would love to set up a shared drive to put data on, that is visible to boot camp and VMWare, once this ATI issue is resolved. I am assuming when it is fixed, they won't bother to email their clients to tell them. I suspect that the end result will be that I'll fall out of love with VMWare, get used to using boot camp, and just not use VMWare again. Which is a shame, it was very cool when it worked.


  1. Very cool - aren't computers fun when they mess up?

  2. I have the same setup as you: running Windows XP in VMWare on a Mac.
    I'm glad I did not run into the problems you describe. My Mac is running pretty stable now. The only inconvenience I experience is that VMware takes up a lot of resources, so my computer is slower than a native Windows would be.
    I never used Boot camp: part of the fun of a Mac is OS X, isn't it?
    I program Winforms in VB.NET.