Misadventures with Windows 8.1 and BootCamp on a MacBook Pro

This weekend, I put Windows 8.1 Enterprise Edition 64-bit on a 15″ mid-2011 MacBook Pro. It turned out to be much more of a (mis)adventure than I anticipated.

What I Tried and Failed

My goal was to simply burn a USB-stick installer, put Windows 8.1 on it, and then put the Bootcamp 5 software on it and install Windows. That’s where it all went wrong:

  • First, I used the Microsoft Store utility to burn the Windows 8.1 Enterprise x64 ISO to the USB stick – big mistake. It formats the USB stick using a MBR partition table. A Mac cannot be booted off of a USB stick unless it has a GPT partition table. To fix, I ended up using my 15″ Retina MacBook Pro to re-create the USB stick because you can’t create in MacOS a Windows installer stick unless you do so on a Mac without an optical drive.
  • Second, it turns out the Boot Camp Assistant won’t actually partition the drive unless you have a Windows installer disc in the optical drive. To fix, I had to actually burn a copy of the installation media and put it in the optical drive.
  • Third, it turns out there is a bug (either in Apple’s firmware or Windows 8/8.1 setup – my suspicion is its an Apple problem) that will not let you install from a USB stick. The error was totally non-obvious – it said that the hard disk was partitioned as MBR but it needed GPT. To fix, I ended up installing from the recently burned DVD. The problem is definitely isolated to Mac models with an optical drive – as I did not have this issue on my Retina MacBook Pro or MacBook Air without optical drives.
Conclusions
What I was able to conclude from this exercise is that if your Mac has an optical drive, chances are you won’t be able to install from a USB stick. So the correct sequence would have been:
  1. Burn the Windows DVD to a re-writeable optical disc using whatever means are preferred.
  2. Download the BootCamp 5 software from Apple’s site in Windows.
  3. Copy the folder structure to the just-burned optical disc.
  4. Run Boot Camp Assistant and install Windows.
  5. Install the supplementary BootCamp software afterwards.
If on a Mac without an optical drive, simply use the Boot Camp Assistant to create a USB stick with everything on it, install Windows from it, and then install the supplementary software.
Lastly, after finally getting everything working – I had to go into Power Settings / Advanced Power settings and disable Adaptive Brightness in order to get the screen brightness to function properly. Once all that was done, Windows 8.1 on a Mac has been fantastic.
Hope this helps!

My Take: Adobe Creative Cloud, Office 365, Software Subscriptions, and Old Photos

OK, so I am taking the plunge. Sometime before the expiration of the July 31st cut-off for the CS6 migration promotion, I’ll be switching to Creative Cloud. Why? Feature-value.

I have been playing with an evaluation of Lightroom 5 (which coincidentally is the only product still available on a perpetual license). I’m sold. And now I want what’s coming in Photoshop CC. Why? I’ll let you be the judge.

Let’s start with a photo I took in 2006 when I was much more of a novice (though to be fair, I’m still a novice) in DSLR photography:

Image

It’s a nice photo. But it could be oh, so much sharper. Maybe, something like this – tweaked with the new filters in Lightroom 5:

Image

Now, I can’t wait to play with the even better features in Photoshop CC. I have a lot of good photos from my early days when I didn’t know what I was doing (and shooting only in JPEG with lower quality lenses and a much older body). The software has the potential to breathe new life into a lot of old “good” photos and make them “great” photos. The value is there. Sign me up. Especially while the CS6 promotion is in effect.

That said, the outcry over the subscription licensing is amazing. I have two perspectives on this. The first is from an industry direction. This is the wave of the future. Creative Cloud and Office 365 are the most mainstream examples. The trend started with lower end consumer services like ad-free versions of popular services as well as large enterprise Line-of-Business applications like Salesforce. Now “professional” and “mainstream” applications are filling in from the middle.

The pace of innovation in the technology industry no longer allows for multi-year ship cycles, but instead demands near real-time delivery. And the licensing models have to change as a consequence. Outside of the consumer mainstream, most organizations were paying for perpetual licenses and maintenance. The reality is that subscriptions are comparable – they just look different. And in some cases they are more cost effective. The biggest downside (and upside) is that you are turning a CapEx into an OpEx.

As a case in point, if you bought every Adobe Creative Suite upgrade + Lightroom upgrade the day it came out (e.g you’re committed to innovation, generally like me) – you are paying about the same per year as if you are signing up for Creative Cloud. You are just paying a big lump every year to year and a half, instead of every month. It feels different. But at the end of the day, it’s about a wash.

That being said, whenever you change how something works, there is the process of change management. This is where Adobe made a very polarizing move by forcing people to switch – and in a very short time. So far the bet appears to be paying off based on their recent financial results. Time will tell.

It could have been done with a lot more grace, however. Microsoft, who can do no right in people’s eyes no matter what seemingly, has done a much better job with Office 365. They have perpetuated their old business models. So there is no culture shock. If you want to keep doing things the way you have always done them, that’s great. But they have introduced substantial incremental value with Office 365. To-date, depending on the option, you get things like:

  • Office for iOS
  • Varying levels of Web/cloud features (e.g. – Skydrive storage, Web applications)
  • Cost/benefit of cloud infrastructure vs. running on-premise (the real benefit varies by organization/user)
  • Multiple desktop OS support (e.g. – you can be Web, Windows, or Mac or some combo)
  • Multiple device support (which is a huge first for Microsoft)
  • And more coming seemingly all the time…

This was a much better way to manage the change – as adoption is taking off and nobody is screaming much (yet).

In closing? I’m excited about breathing new life into a bunch of old photos, absolutely resolute that subscription models are the wave of the future, and convinced that the key to doing it right is having an elegant transition like Microsoft versus an electroshock like Adobe.

PS – In-Flight WiFi really rocks. Written over Montana at 34,000 feet on United 675.

The next killer app from Amazon?

I am a bookworm. I have several thousand actual books. And another few hundred Kindle books. Managing this is a nightmare. Especially when it comes to reconciling series between the physical and virtual libraries. And furthermore, I am sick of getting recommendations for books I own. (Yes I can go in and individually mark a title as owned. But that’s a huge pain.)

What I really want is for Amazon or Barnes and Noble to build an application that will let me easily scan my physical library by title or barcode via a mobile device and update my virtual library. And then give me intelligent recommendations.

This could easily go beyond books and extend to music and TV/movies. It would lock up whomever got there first as my distributor of choice.

Nirvana would be getting digital copies of my physical library too, but licensing would probably never let it happen.

Where’s the app for this?

My Review of Windows Phone 8

My first smartphone was a Windows Mobile device – a Motorola MPX200 to be precise. And that was all I used for the next few years culminating with the Treo 750W on Windows Mobile 6.5.

Then, the iPhone 3G came around. Everything about my iPod and phone was combined into one. And everything Windows Mobile 6.5 did, the iPhone did better – or had an application for that. I have been a steady user of the iPhone, having used the 3G, 3GS, 4, and 4S and frankly never looked back.

With the debut of the Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8, it seemed to be time to give Microsoft another shot. So while in Canada I picked up an unlocked penta-band device and used it on both Bell Mobility in Canada and AT&T in the United States. And this is my take after some hardcore daily usage using the “Portico” update.

The Good:

  • Industrial design and build quality is fantastic
  • Voice quality is as good or better than any cell phone I have had since switching to a GSM phone in the United States
  • E-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks are best-in-class; I live by Outlook and this is by far the best experience I have used on a mobile device
  • Integrated Office support is also best-in-class; zero issues opening and working with documents
  • Bluetooth contact pairing and caller ID support is better than any device I have used
  • Battery life has been outstanding
  • Contact filtering is truly useful – especially once you merge in all of your social networks. The search to then get back to all of your contacts is extremely well-done.
  • The Nokia application collection makes the phone truly stand-out (at least amongst its peers) and helps close the “app-gap”
  • Camera quality is absolutely fantastic (daylight focus issues fixed after the “Portico” update)
  • You can use the device while wearing gloves – very handy when working in and traveling to cold climates like Ottawa
  • Native QR codes support in the Bing application is seriously cool

The Bad:

  • Dial functions over Bluetooth break routinely in the car; after placing a call it becomes unpaired from my vehicle and I can never get it to repair without rebooting the vehicle
  • There is a serious lack of applications – including some promised ones. Notable misses from things I have become used to or depend upon:
    • Instagram (despite being promised)
    • United Airlines
    • Air Canada
    • Comcast’s series of applications
    • Tivo
    • Google+
    • Urbanspoon
    • Opentable
    • Yelp
    • Egencia
    • eBay Motors
    • Uber and Taximagic
  • Synchronizing the device with my iTunes Library was a disaster, despite this being a “feature”:
    • It took over 2 days to synchronize my photographs (8,000) – when continuously connected and synchronizing
    • Seemingly less than 15% of the music tracks I selected to sync actually copied – despite them all being either ripped from CD, pure MP3, or DRM-free music
    • I was never able to send an audio file to use as a ringtone successfully
  • IE10 is just not as smooth nor as well-performing as Safari on a handheld device
  • Some applications are substitutes and not as good as their original versions:
    • BoxFiles (in lieu of Dropbox)
    • MetroTalk (in lieu of Google Voice)
  • Other applications I use such as Evernote or Twitter or Facebook are lacking features from their iOS brethren
  • The Lumia 920 is not preconfigured for other carriers as an unlocked iPhone is; instead you have to know to download the Nokia Access Point application, find it (it’s in Settings and isn’t an application), and then occasionally tweak it further if a setting has changed – it is not a world-ready plug-n-play solution

The Verdict:

I wanted to make this my primary phone. I really, truly did. But it was actually the basics  that killed it for me. I use Bluetooth extensively; having it not work reliably is a non-starter. Likewise for sync. – if I have to dredge up an iPod and start carrying yet-another-device for a primary use case, it’s kind of defeating the purpose of having a multifunctional device.

The lack of applications is definitely annoying. But it not the end-of-the-world. Though I imagine if I had used it for more than a few weeks, it would have gotten on my nerves.

That said, I will definitely miss the superior e-mail, contacts, calendar, and tasks interface – coupled with native Office support.

So, for now, Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 has earned it’s keep as my international phone for use while traveling on other carriers. I only hope that with further evolution some of the gaps can be closed and it will be able to make it to my primary phone.

It’s frustratingly close…

Out of Pseudo-Stealth Mode

To summarize the last twelve months: wow!

Since the acquisition of Cactus Commerce by Ascentium, a big part of my day job was working on integrating the two businesses into a new brand and value proposition. This finally came to fruition with the launch of the SMITH brand a few weeks back, along with the retirement of Cactus Commerce and Ascentium brands. Check out www.smith.co to see the results!

But, the real focus has been capitalizing on the opportunity with the transition of the Commerce Server business. The last year has seen us extracting the product from Redmond; re-branding it; doing lots of 1×1 engagement with customers, partners, & analysts; and now debuting what’s next…

Last Friday brings the Release Preview of Commerce Server 10, which addresses being CMS-agnostic and the challenge of proper separation of business and presentation logic to allow HTML/CSS/JavaScript designers to make look-and-feel changes. Likewise, our new brand – commerceserver.net – debuted, which sees the right management structure and branding to effectively curate the global partner ecosystem for the product.

The initial reactions have been very positive – nothing like Peter Sheldon’s excellent post from Forrester Research to sum it all up: http://blogs.forrester.com/peter_sheldon/12-11-30-commerce_server_cactus_commerce_ascentium_the_path_forward_0

These changes have been a long time coming. We had to get it right. And with them finally seeing the light of day, I can finally come out of pseudo-stealth mode. 🙂

iPhone vs. Windows Phone 7

I have been doing a fair bit of traveling in the United States. My iPhone 4 is on Telus in Canada. The roaming fees are not cheap. So I’ve whipped out my old US cell account – and put it on a Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7 (from a Nexus One on Android).

In short, it has been a pleasant surprise. Windows Phone 7 is clearly the best thing Microsoft has done in years. Will it make me give up my iPhone? No…but it is a worthy second in my eyes and an experience I certainly prefer to Android.

The good:

  • User interface is extremely intuitive. Everything works as it should. It passed the friends/family “I have to borrow your phone” instant test.
  • It looks good as well as is functional. Everyone that has seen it has also been duly impressed.
  • Mail offers more capabilities (e.g. – priority support).
  • Calendar is significantly more functional than Apple’s (e.g. – proposals work)
  • It does a very good job of unifying all of the contacts
  • Search is much more natively integrated into the experience
  • XBox integration is cool – though not of interest to me as I’m not a gamer
  • The combined people view is pretty cool
The bad- or things that really drove me nuts:
  • Push does not work when you’re in your inbox; you have to manually sync. it.
  • There is no single inbox.
  • There is no way to group applications – a problem if you have lots of them
  • The maps experience is not as rich
  • The browser is downright horrible at rendering complex Web sites
  • The integration with Live is mandated – and can be problematic. Especially as I broke it by getting the country/account mixed up so Marketplace was broken and you cannot change this easily (involved having to use an XBox)
  • Ability to filter contacts is really limited – I don’t want to see, for example, everyone I have ever sent a Hotmail to (as this is my spam-account)
The ugly:
  • There are no applications relative to iOS – the choice is abysmal and things I use all the time are not there (e.g. – Dropbox)
  • You have to download lots of additional applications to get out-of-the-box that matches the iPhone
  • Zune is good – but its not as rich as iTunes
  • You are limited by the hardware; the Focus is good – but its touchscreen is not as sensitive and lack of storage is an issue (supposedly there is a hack to increase storage – but I haven’t spent the time)
In short – it has a lot of promise. I look forward to Mango.

How to Triple-Boot a MacBook Pro

I have used a MacBook Pro as my secondary laptop since the day Boot Camp became available in 2006 – and as a primary laptop since the first-generation unibody aluminum machines in November 2008. The principal reason is the unmatched flexibility in operating systems and the demonstration opportunities that present themselves. I run my system in a triple-boot configuration split between:

  • MacOS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
  • Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit Edition
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise with Hyper-V

I also run additional virtual machines from within MacOS under Parallels, as well as boot the Windows 7 Enterprise partition in Parallels as well. Getting this flexibility took a lot of effort, however. And my attempt with this post is to make sure no one else suffers the same pain I went through.

The steps I took to get this working were:

  1. Boot the system with the MacOS X Installation DVD that came with the computer. Run Disk Utility.
  2. Configure 3 partitions. The first as HFS+ and named Macintosh HD. The second should be FAT and named Win7. The third should be FAT and named Win2008.
  3. Format the partitions and reinstall MacOS.
  4. Download and install rEFIt from http://refit.sourceforge.net/ – this will give you a proper bootloader and fix an annoying partition synchronization issue.
  5. Within rEFIt – run the partition synchronization tool.
  6. Boot your machine by holding down the C key with the Windows 7 disc in the DVD drive. Install Windows 7, reformatting the Win7 FAT partition.
  7. Post-installation, install the Boot Camp utilities in Windows 7 and do whatever you want in that partition to setup Windows 7 to your preferences.
  8. Run rEFIt’s partition synchronization tool again – as the table will have changed after installing Windows 7.
  9. Boot your machine again by holding down the C key, this time with the Windows Server 2008 R2 disc in the DVD drive. Install Windows Server 2008 R2, reformatting the Win2008 FAT partition.
  10. Post-installation, install the Boot Camp utilities in Windows Server 2008 and do whatever you want in the partition.
  11. Run rEFIt’s partition synchronization tool again – as the table will have changed after installing Windows Server 2008 R2.
  12. At this point, you will be somewhat stuck because you will not be able to directly boot into Windows Server 2008 R2. So now comes the fun part. In MacOS X, start a Terminal window.
  13. Type “sudo fdisk -e /dev/rdisk0” and press ENTER (without the quotes).
  14. Enter your administrator password when prompted.
  15. Type “print” – you should see a list of 4 partitions if you followed the directions properly.
  16. Type “flag 4” and press ENTER.
  17. Type “write” and press ENTER.
  18. Type “quit” and press ENTER.
  19. Now, reboot your system with the Windows Server 2008 R2 DVD in the drive and boot it by pressing/holding the C key.
  20. When setup starts this time, choose Repair Mode and go into a Command Prompt.
  21. Go to the C:\ drive. It should be your Windows Server 2008 installation if things have worked properly. If not, you set the wrong partition as active so repeat the FDISK steps only flagging the number of your Windows Server 2008 R2 partition.
  22. Copy from the DVD drive BOOTMGR and BOOTMGR.EFI to C:\.
  23. Create C:\BOOT\ directory. Copy all of the contents and sub-directories from the DVD disc’s \BOOT\ subdirectory here.
  24. In the C:\BOOT\ directory, run “bootsect /nt60 c: /force /mbr”
  25. In the C:\BOOT\ directory run “bootrec /rebuildbcd” – and select all when it finds the operating systems.
  26. Reboot – you should now be able to choose between MacOS, Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 R2 at boot in the rEFIt menu.
  27. Now, you can configure Parallels to boot your Windows 7 installation – it would be BootCamp / SATA first partition.
  28. DO NOT configure Parallels on the Windows Server 2008 R2 partition – unless you do not want to run Hyper-V. The Parallels Tools (and I would imagine the VMware Fusion equivalents) break the Hypervisor.
  29. Lastly, the current generation MacBook Pros will not run Hyper-V unless you install Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 – this step must be done before enabling the Hyper-V role or you will get a BSOD from the video driver upon boot.

Hope this helps!

Toasted!

Now I have seen everything in the realm of software stupidity. Fortunately, it is not Microsoft who’s at fault! Surprisingly, it’s Apple. I have one of the very first MacBook Pro 15″ laptops ever made. I purchased it the day Boot Camp came out – and never looked back. The machine has been flawless – until now.

I have religiously installed Apple’s software updates as they have been pushed to me. This weekend, one of those updates was the SuperDrive 2.1 Firmware update. And now the optical drive in my laptop is dead! You literally cannot even install a disk. After searching the issue on Apple’s forums, it appears that I am one of many that this has happened to – and there is no fix short of hardware replacement.

My machine is out of warranty by a few months. It seems that this is being handled on a case-by-case basis both at the Apple stores as well as by Apple’s phone support. I am going to have a long, stupid chore ahead of me regardless – and no absolute promise of a fix (yet).

Sigh. The moral of the story – don’t push firmware updates unless you are 110% sure they work. This one sure didn’t – and now I’m going to look at all such fixes much more carefully before allowing them to be automatically be installed on my hardware.

The Home Theatre

I have been asked by several friends now what I have put into my home theatre setup and why, so I figured I would answer definitively:

  • Television: Sony KDS-60A2000 60″ SXRD television – the Liquid-Crystal-on-Silicon (LCOS) style televisions work well with my lighting environment (as opposed to front projection). Size-wise, they are more price competitive than LCD or Plasma. And – for me- they do not suffer the viewing irregularities of Digital Light Projection (DLP) sets – namely wobulation and rainbow effects. If I had a larger room, the Sony Ruby projector would be my choice. Or if doing the TV today, I’d do the 70″ XBR2 set which was not available at the time I purchased.
  • Speakers: Totem Acoustic Forest (Left/Right), Model 1 Center Signature, Thunder subwoofer, and Lynks (surround) – speakers are a matter of personal preference. I wanted something that would work well for the average apartment/condominium sized room, look good, and work equally well for cinema and music. If I had a larger room and budget, I would probably go up to the Wind/Shaman left/right speakers and go with additional Lynks for a 7.1 (vs 5.1) surround setup.
  • Pre-Amp/Processor and Amplifer: Outlaw Audio Model 950 and 5100. Outlaw makes great equipment for the money. They are getting a bit dated in terms of lack of HDMI support – but otherwise they are hard to beat. I get around that by connecting the HDMI devices directly to the television. If I were to do it over today, I’d probably go with Anthem.
  • Optical Media: I opted to bet on both camps and go with the high-end offerings from Toshiba (XA1) and Sony (BDP-S1) for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray respectively. The Toshiba HD-DVD players I have found – subjectively – play standard DVDs much better than the Sony Blu-Ray players.
  • Cabling: I went with BetterCables.com and bought their high-end cabling. They aren’t a name brand, but the electrical specifications and build quality are outstanding – and I saved a lot as a result.
  • Other Stuff: I use the latest Comcast Motorola HDTV DVR cable box and an AppleTV for other programming. The AppleTV provides a great way to leverage my iTunes investment and huge media library. I tried a Windows Media Center PC, but found it not worth the trouble and complexity given that it cannot record over HDTV digital encrypted cable.

I chose these components after 6-9 months of research in every category based on best-of-breed performance and best bang for the buck. For more details:

Although not an official endorsement of any kind, I have been very happy with my setup and met my goal of getting the quality I desired for ~$10,000 investment.