Microsoft Windows. Whether you use it daily or prefer to live on the Macintosh side of the OS street, it’s a huge part of modern computing environments, and the release of the new Windows 8 has proven that the company still has some interesting tricks up its sleeve. The interface is completely new, it boots dramatically faster, runs faster on even slower hardware, and has a ton of new features and capabilities.
If you want to cover all the operating systems, however, you might have already made the switch from Windows to Mac OS X, keeping a toe in the old world by using the powerful VMware Fusion program to run Windows 7 (or any other release of Windows) in a “virtual machine”. Works great, actually!
The question is, can you run Windows 8 in VMware Fusion and will it run quickly so it’s usable, or will it be such a dog that it’ll prove unusably slow?
The answer is that yes, you can indeed install Windows 8 within Fusion and even better, it works really well and is indeed speed, even faster than Win7 performs. Whether you should, and whether you’ll enjoy the new Win8 user experience, well, that’s another story…
Let’s start at the beginning. I did this install on a new retina MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM, the very latest version of VMware Fusion and the commercial boxed release of Windows 8 Pro, as purchased from Amazon.com. There are digital-only downloads of the OS, but that’s a slightly different install process, though I bet you can figure out what needs to change based on what I present here.
First step is to make sure you have a valid copy of Windows 8 including the necessary license key. You’ll need it for the installation.
Launch Fusion. You’ll see something like this:
As is obvious, I already have a copy of Windows 7 installed and I allocated 17GB for it. That’s the OS I actually use. At this point I’m going to give Win8 a bit less space (after all, this MacBook Pro only has a 256GB SSD drive, so space is a precious commodity), but we’ll get to that a bit later.
At this juncture, all I need to do is click on the ~ez_ldquo+ez_rdquo~ Add button on the top left:
Lots of options, but for a new installation of Windows 8 we simply select “New…” to proceed, which produces this pop-up window:
If your Mac has a SuperDrive or other optical reader, slip the Microsoft install DVD in. If necessary, plug in an external SuperDrive as I did with my MacBook Pro, then put in the DVD. After a few seconds VMware Fusion will recognize not only that a disk has been added, but that it’s actually a Win8 install disk:
Notice that I’m installing the x64 (64-bit) version of the OS here. Truth be told, I find it astonishing that Microsoft makes users try to figure out the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit processor and guess that the vast majority of people pick the wrong one when they do an install. Since I’m on the most modern of processors, I always pick the 64-bit version. Since Fusion is an emulated environment, the 64-bit will work for you too, even if you’re on an older Mac system.
Continue by clicking… can you guess? … “Continue”.
Since I am constantly testing software and utilities in my virtual machines, I always opt for “more isolated” to ensure that problems, viruses, malware, etc are trapped just in the VM, but you might want to have things be “more seamless” so you can easily access Mac documents from Win8, and vice versa.
Once you’ve decided, click on “Continue” again and you’ll be asked to enter your license key, specify a starting account and password, and other configuration settings that will automatically passed to the Win8 install process without further intervention. Enter it all – including entering the license code oh-so-carefully, and click “Continue” again.
Now you’re presented with a summary of the default installation configuration:
60GB? 2GB of RAM? Not so much. I encourage you to tweak both of these settings by clicking on “Customize Settings” before you actually run the installation. Note, btw, that you can increase the size of your virtual drive at any time once the OS is installed, but you can never shrink it down and reclaim space. So starting small and getting bigger as needed is the strategy of choice, for sure.
Fusion will pop up the standard – complicated – window full of settings and options:
To change the allocated disk size for the virtual machine, click on “Hard Disk” in the second row. Now you can use the slider to tweak it for your preferred setting:
As you can see I dropped it down from 60GB to 12GB. Still should be plenty for an OS and a few apps for testing purposes and, as I mentioned earlier, it’s also something that can be increased later if necessary.
Done? Close the windows and you’re ready to actually fire up Win8 and start the actual install process!
Simply double-click on the new “Windows 8” virtual machine and it’ll do all the work from this point (because you entered your default login and license code earlier, remember?) starting by copying files into memory:
While the install proceeds, Windows displays some useful tips to help you get started with Windows 8 because there’s no toolbar along the bottom, no “START” button on the lower left:
Once the OS install proceeds far enough, VMware Fusion automatically installs its own support drivers and utilities into the VM too. Really, incredibly easy:
Finally, we’re ready to see what Windows 8 has to offer, with its default boot screen:
Log in — if you set a password to your account — and move the cursor to a corner, and here’s what you’ll see:
That’s pretty different, isn’t it? Windows 8 is definitely a brave new world for Windows users and even for us die-hard Mac OS fans. After a moment it’ll show you the Start, um, screen. No menu any more, just this touch-pad friendly UI:
From this point you’re on your own with Windows 8, but as you can see, it’s surprisingly easy to install into VMware Fusion. They’ve done a great job with integration and the tools mean that you can resize the window, modify RAM and disk settings (etc), and it all works smoothly with the new operating system.
Give it a whirl and good luck to everyone with the new system!