Recycled Computing

Windows Woes: A Lesson from Boot Camp

- 2009.09.21

It's not like it's the fault of Big Brother Microsoft. To be completely honest, it's mostly my fault, but still it's a tale of woe.

First of all, the college that my son attends demands that students use a PC laptop or a MacBook or MacBook Pro using Windows Vista or XP installed using Boot Camp. It seems the college runs a Novell intranet, and it only works on Windows - no emulators need apply.

From a Restore Disc

My son has a MacBook, so I thought it would be no problem using the restore disc from the Dell XPS 200 to put Windows on the MacBook.

Experienced Windows users are already shaking their heads. "John, John, you silly naive, newbie waif. It is not going to be that easy. You will have to bow down and cross Microsoft's (PBOGH)* palm with silver. No matter what you do. There is no escape, Apple Fanboy."

They were right, of course, but first I had to suffer.

The installation with Boot Camp went fine. Windows ran pretty well. I figured that as long as I didn't register the software, I would be okay.


Silly Fanboy, tricks are for Windows, not for silly users. My son went to college, and thirty days passed. Surprise! Activation arrived, and the product key would not work. Phone calls to Microsoft resulted in nothing.

I called Dell, and they told me that if I removed the software from the Dell, then the Product Key should work with the installation on the MacBook.

Windows users are convulsed with laughter at this point. As you can guess, the Dell representative did not know what he was talking about.

I talked to Microsoft; the code was supposed to work.

I called Dell, and guess what? A different Dell representative broke the news to me. The copy of Windows I have is "locked" to my Dell computer. The motherboard has some hardware on it that links it to the copy of the Microsoft Windows. You can only use it with the Dell.

Microsoft. It's nice work if you can get it.

OEM Windows XP

So I bought an OEM version of Windows XP Home. I planned to install it over the weekend, along with the Windows applications that the college requires. Cutting my losses, I reinstalled XP on the Dell - but I also stuck a blow for freedom. I have a copy of Ubuntu Linux. I'm going to put it on the Dell and make it a dual boot machine.

And Microsoft and Dell, guess which operating system I'm going to use?

Try - and Try Again

I had envisioned an easy Saturday. Drive over to my son's college (an hour away), install Windows XP on his MacBook, and then drive down to my daughter's college (about another 30 minutes) to visit and buy supplies for her.

Not all things go as planned. I arrived at the college and wiped out the old installation of Windows. I had purchased an OEM Windows XP disc from NewEgg and started the install.

There is a point in the Boot Camp process where Boot Camp reboots the computer using the Window partition on the MacBook's hard drive and Windows takes over. A cursor showed up, and I got a message that read "Disc error. Strike any key to continue." I did - and it didn't. The cursor and message remained unchanged.

Then the MacBook booted up from the Windows XP install disc and went into setup again. I took out the disc and restarted the computer. Back to the cursor - and the same error message came back.

I could use the Option key and boot into OS X (the comfort of the Apple start up process), but it could not, would not boot into Windows.


The caravan had to move out, and with my son's MacBook in tow, we drove down to the second college campus on our tour. I wiped the drive of the Windows partition and started all over again. Same thing.

I did notice that when I booted into OS X, the drive read "Boot Camp" instead of "No Name", as it had when I installed Windows with the restore disc.

Much head scratching at this point.

'Take It to the Apple Store'

My wife, who is in charge of my sanity, was going to go to the mall with my daughter (situation normal). She suggested that I take the computer to the Apple Store at the mall.

"They have an Apple Store at that mall?" I asked.

Assured that they had one, off to the mall we went with the MacBook in tow. One of the Apple Genius staff let me set up shop at a counter and watched me attempt to install Windows XP. Same result. This nice person pointed out that it was when Windows took over - and he could not help me with any Windows situation.

Fair enough. I thought that I might as well wipe the Windows partition, install any updates, run Disk Utility, and try one more time. At this point, I was thinking that perhaps something was going on in that section of the hard drive where Boot Camp installed Windows.

In the middle of all this, another Apple Genius came by. I explained what was going on, and he asked how I was formatting the partition. I told him that I had followed the other Apple Genius' advice and left the formatting as it was.

My Savior

Rob, my savior, was an ex-Windows system manager, and he suggested that I use the formatting option of Boot Camp. He explained that the Windows install was picky about the hard drive formatting. At that point of the process, we formatted the partition as FAT 32 and ran the full format option. This took a lot of time, put it was worth it. The Windows install went perfectly, and I was never more happy to hear the musical notes of a Windows start up.

Props to the Apple Store in the Holyoke Mall (in Ingleside) in Holyoke, MA. They saved my bacon, as I was under time pressure to get Windows installed and the MacBook back in my son's hands by the end of the day.

It was a valuable lesson to me - and now to you. If you are installing Windows with Boot Camp, use the long partitioning method when you format your hard drive partition for Windows.

A day later, I remembered that when I first installed Windows from the Dell restore disc, which had worked perfectly until Activation Day, I had use the long install option.

Some days, I hate my brain. LEM

*Peace Be On Gate's Head

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