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Going Off Script

Let's resume installing. At this point, I intend to leave the standard installation process and work more directly with the software. After the reboot, we're in the configuration phase of the script. I prefer to configure my installation manually because I don't use the version of Virtual PC that comes bundled with Windows XP or Windows 2000. (Those of you with the bundled software will be asked to put in the CD-ROM at set times in very nice order.)

You may be uncomfortable with leaving the script, or feeling a little threatened. What if Virtual PC is another one of those Mac OS X applications that's easy to install? But if you ever want to use advanced features, you'll need to cultivate a sense of adventure, so let's abandon the set script and consider the steps you'll use to install an unbundled OS such as Linux.

Cancel the canned setup program by clicking the Cancel button; then start the Virtual PC application. You put in the CD-ROM as instructed, and I'll restart the disk image file I have because I'm an MSDN subscriber (grrreat investment). Enter the product key and other required information. Figure 7 has my product key and name already entered as an example for readers worldwide (ha ha).

Figure 07

Figure 7 Enter your name and product key.

If your product key is okay, you'll get a confirmation note stating that you're eligible for support.

Creating a File System

Unlike dual-boot systems—which can cause raging nightmares—when you install Virtual PC, you won't have to reformat your hard drive, create oddball partitions, load a magic boot loader that loads reliably only 50% of the time, or choose an operating system to use at startup. Instead, you'll start the other system within the confines of Mac OS X, and it will be set up to run only as needed, totally under your control, via the Force Quit command in Mac OS X. This product won't hurt your careful Mac OS X installation; the alien operating system will be just another application and it will work in the least obtrusive way. But this all starts with creating a file system, which is contained in a file system image, which we'll create right now.

From Virtual PC's Window menu, choose Virtual Disk Assistant. Figure 8 shows the two simple choices you have at this point. The first option lets you examine and possibly repair existing drive images. We don't have any, so let's choose to create an empty hard disk image.

Figure 08

Figure 8 Choose to create an empty hard drive image.

Although the floppy disk has been dead to Mac users for years, many PC users still rely on the cheap storage for small tasks, which is why you can choose to create a hard disk image or create a floppy disk image (see Figure 9). Installing Windows XP or Linux requires more than a floppy in most configurations, so select the "Create hard disk image" radio button and click Next.

Figure 09

Figure 9 Creating a large, useful file system image.

Where will you store this disk image? I like the default location that Virtual PC uses. It will put the file system in your Documents file, in a folder named Virtual PC List—a good spot for several reasons:

  • Security, for starters. Your own home directory is a safe place to store your new, virtual XP system so that only you have access to it.
  • This location puts the virtual files square in the path of any backups you must do.
  • Virtual PC automatically looks in this spot for images before performing all operations. (You can choose a different location, but it's like doing an iMovie project outside of the Movies folder; when you want to open a project, it's a bother telling the application just where to find it.)

You're the boss. Save the image to a folder of your choosing, as demonstrated in Figure 10. After you've provided a location and a distinct name for the disk image, click Continue. As for me, there's no finer name for this disk image than XPSP2.

Figure 10

Figure 10 Place the disk image wherever you like.

Now we face the challenges! After all, a file system must be formatted correctly. Each partition must be labeled correctly to the disk controller. What's the difference between type determiner 82 and 83? Which FAT do I use, FAT32 or FAT16, and what's the difference? Do I want NTFS or Ext3? Ha—it's not that difficult with Virtual PC! This is a Mac product, and we Mac users expect some detail softening. Virtual PC doesn't disappoint. Figure 11 shows the scrollable list of supported operating systems; when you make a selection, most of those details are worked through by Virtual PC itself.

Think before selecting. Okay, maybe you have those seven old floppies for Windows 3, and that might be enough to make an application work. But do you really want to visit today's networks with today's viruses and auto-launch worms using software written during the first Bush's presidency? If you want to run old software, consider the impact and try to keep it off the network. Your information and your company's antivirus intranet security initiative will thank you later.

Figure 11

Figure 11 Determining your operating system and disk image.

I've elected to run XP, which leads me to the next question. How do I want this file system to behave? Do I want to just reserve a fixed amount of drive space for XP? Do I want a dynamically expanding file system, one that can grow to consume all the space on my hard disk? Giving a fixed allotment seems wasteful, but allowing my XP system to consume all the space seems like a problem as well. A nice compromise is to select the Advanced Options check box and then select a dynamically expanding disk image with a limit (see Figure 12).

How much is enough? Now, let's not get stingy here. All operating systems grow, thanks to updates and new applications. A Tiger, for example, is bigger than a Panther, which is bigger than a Jaguar. I recommend biting the bullet and setting the limit at 4.5GB. When you've done this, click the Create Disk button to create the file system.

Figure 12

Figure 12 Creating the disk image.

If all went well, you'll see the success message shown in Figure 13. Click the Done button to finish creating the file system.

Figure 13

Figure 13 Finishing the disk image.

We now have a disk image ready for our new install, we have Virtual PC installed, and we're ready to install XP. Right?

Wrong. First, we need to create a PC and associate a disk image with it. Begin by clicking the New button (see Figure 14).

Figure 14

Figure 14 No Virtual PC, but starting a new one.

Once you click New, you can choose from three methods for setting up your new PC, as shown in Figure 15. Because we're installing a fresh copy of Windows XP Professional, click the "Install your own operating system" radio button.

Figure 15

Figure 15 Let the installation begin!

As Figure 16 points out, we must first create a virtual PC before we can install operating system software. Click Continue to create your virtual machine.

Figure 16

Figure 16 Creating the PC.

Now, let's consider the drive layout again. From the Operating System drop-down menu, choose Windows XP Professional and then select the "FAT32 (recommended)" radio button, as shown in Figure 17. (I know from past experience installing XP that I'll get to format the drive as NTFS later in the XP installation, which is what I must have for NTFS security and performance. Accept no substitutes.)

Figure 17

Figure 17 Formatting the disk image with defaults.

Next, we need to name the Virtual PC and choose a location for the machine, as shown in Figure 18. Click the Change Location button if you've decided to use a nonstandard location.

Figure 18

Figure 18 Naming and storing your new PC.

Okay, maybe you're not excited, but I am. It's time to start the new PC on my iBook! I'm pretty stoked. Figure 19 advises clicking the Start PC button and installing away.

Figure 19

Figure 19 Beginning my XP installation.

So here it is: the moment of truth. I'm going to insert a Windows XP Professional CD into my iBook G4 and install XP. It won't be the fearful mix of matter and antimatter posited on several Star Trek episodes, leading directly to the end of the world. I'm not going to see the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse galloping down from heaven. It's just going to work. Right?

Figure 20 shows that I've successfully installed Windows XP on my Mac. Amazing!

Figure 20

Figure 20 Frankenstein lives!

But folks, that ain't all, as Figure 21 shows.

Figure 21

Figure 21 The lion shall lie down with the lamb.

What are those icons on the bottom of the window? Doesn't this emulated PC take a lot of system power? Is there any way to tune it? How do I exchange data between the iMac, the emulated PC, and that communal shared PC in the office library?

All of these questions and more will be answered in my follow-up article on advanced Virtual PC features and Windows/Mac OS X integration and performance tuning.

One last thing: As you go through these exercises, you may notice a small error. We created a virtual disk image. We then installed a Virtual PC instance for XP, and this installation asked many of the same questions we answered when we created the virtual disk image. Was XPSP2 even used?

It wasn't. So why cover all those steps in this first article?

Many people like to isolate data and apps on one disk and operating system files on a second, for performance reasons. If you're one of those people, I've shown you how to create a separate disk image you might use. How do you assign it to the virtual machine? We'll get to that in the next article. For now, you have all the baseline understanding needed to design and install the perfect WinTel machine—on your Mac.

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