The Ongoing Saga of WinMac – Back to Vista

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The Ongoing Saga of WinMac – Back to Vista

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For about a month now I’ve been running Windows Server 2008 on a Macbook Pro. My initial theory was that Win2k8 + Hyper-V + Macbook Pro would beat the pants off of any Vista system in terms of virtual machine performance. My experience running this configuration validates that theory – Win2k8 on this machine is F-A-S-T. And running Hyper-V was fantastic; I could finally work with my virtual machines as if I was on a native desktop. But, alas, there were a few major issues that forced me to give up on this experience and retreat back to the uncomfortable confines of Windows Vista.

To begin with, Win2k8 is simply *not* designed as a mobile OS. In fact, it’s blatantly obvious that Microsoft went out of their way to cripple Win2k8 so that it could not run effectively on a mobile platform. Simple things, like the Windows Mobility Center and the Transient Multi-Monitor service (which enables dynamic connection of external displays), are completely disabled with no tweaks, workarounds, or even outright hacks available to get them working again. Oh, the executables are there (at least in the case of WMC) but they won’t run. This is a major nightmare – and probably the biggest reason for abandoning the platform – as presentations are a vital part of what most of us do these days (and remember, the primary reason for this configuration was to do lots of demos). For some unknown reason, external projectors (not monitors, just projectors) refuse to work on this machine. Yes, I know it has something to do with EDID’s and that there are some dubious hardware dongles available to hack this back to working state, but come on – should I really have to go through all that hassle? I think not.

Another point of contention with Win2k8 is power management. Battery life just plain sucks. I don’t know what it’s doing or why, but I disabled every unnecessary or rarely used service I could possibly find and somehow Vista still gets an extra hour of juice (and that’s without even tweaking Vista) over Win2k8. WTF? Is there a super-secret battery-draining service running somewhere that exists for the sole purpose of reducing the amount of work I can get done on a trans-atlantic flight? It’s as if the Windows Server team sat down and decided amongst themselves that power management is completely irrelevant in this day and age. And before you flame me, I know it’s a server OS, I get that – but this is 2008 not 1995. We’ve all been running server OS’s on notebooks for at least ten years now. Isn’t it time that Microsoft woke up and realized that there is a portion of the population (and a pretty large one, judging by how many people present at the various MSFT conferences throughout the year) that MUST have a server OS on their notebook? It’s not like we’re asking for the earth to spin backwards – all that functionality is already in Vista ferchrissakes. Just give us the option to turn it on in Win2k8 even if it’s disabled by default. We’re big kids, we’ll suffer the consequences.

As for Hyper-V, it’s obvious that it’s not quite ready for prime time yet. Sure, it’s waaaaay faster than Virtual PC (and kudos to the virtualization team for that) but some things are just plain loopy. The virtual drivers, for example, are horrible – I could never get it to go full screen at 1440 x 900 (never had that problem with VMWare or Virtual PC). And not being able to capture a folder on the host file system? What in the heck is that all about? Even VPC can do that. The mouse was never fully functional, either – it kept losing track of whether it was supposed to be in integration mode or not. And why in the heck to I have to dance the Network Connections Configuration Polka just to get it to use my wireless connection – c’mon, bridging? Seriously? Are you kidding me? But the straw that really broke the proverbial camel’s back is the lack of support for host power states. The mere fact that I can’t use sleep or hibernate modes when the Hyper-V role is enabled (not with a running VM mind you, just with the role turned on) is completely ludicrous. If boot times were more acceptable I might be willing to overlook this but they’re not; despite every trick in the book I couldn’t get it to deliver an interactive desktop in less than four minutes (and this machine is no slouch – it’s one of the fastest non-gaming notebooks on the planet). In my job I have to go from meeting to meeting to meeting quite often (not to mention working in airports and getting on and off planes on a regular basis); not being able to resume from a standby state in just a few seconds is a deal-breaker.

So the moral of this story is that the Win2k8 + Hyper-V experiment has been a failure. Not a complete disaster – Win2k8 *is* snappier than Vista once it gets going and I do like the management functions and performance of Hyper-V – but a failure nonetheless. So I’m now back to running Visa x64 and VMWare Workstation for my SharePoint virtual images. It’s not ideal but at least VMW has near-desktop performance on high-end hardware and all the mobile features of Vista make it much easier on road warriors like me. Along the way I discovered that replacing hard drives on a Macbook Pro is not for the faint of heart and that even the most expensive hardware can suffer from quality control issues (some dolt in Taiwan or wherever decided that my hard drive didn’t need all four shock-absorbing rubber mounts and that it would hunky dory if my CD eject key sticks out at an odd angle – thanks whoever-you-are). And I came to appreciate some of the things that Vista, despite its many shortcomings, does very well – mobility, power management, and boot performance to name a few. I’ll happily use Win2k8 as the guest OS on my MOSS demo and development VM’s, I just won’t be trying to shoehorn it into something it’s not – a productive and efficient mobile OS – ever again.