Mistakes I Made When Setting Up My WinXP/OSX Intel-Based Mac

I really like my little Intel-based (Core 2 Duo) Mac Mini. It has a small footprint, low power draw, and it has wifi (so I don’t need a Cat 5 cable snaking through my apartment). Surprisingly, after comparing it to other small-footprint systems with comparable specs, the Mac was about the same price and came with the added option of running OSX. I set it up as a dual-boot WinXP and OSX system so that I can continue to run all my Windows software, as well as checking out some of the nifty Mac software (like the night we sat around making humorous commercials for the Chevy Volt using Garage Band and iMovie).

Aside from just using Apple’s Boot Camp to select which OS I wanted to use the next time I started the computer, I also installed rEFIt, a boot-loader that will let me select which OS I want as I start the system, and VMWare Fusion, so that I can run WinXP from within OSX.

From my experience with with a dual-boot WinXP and Ubuntu Linux laptop, I wasn’t looking forward to sharing files between the 2 systems by setting up an antediluvian FAT32 partition. However, one of my friends recommended MacDrive, a program that allows Windows to read from and write to an HFS+ volume. Magic, right?

Everything was looking rosy, until I decided to be stingy and give Windows XP a 10 GB partition.

The system requirements for Windows XP indicate that a minimum of 1.5 GB drive space is needed. People have installed XP on 4GB Asus eees, so I actually thought I was being generous by giving over 6 times the minimum.

The problem, in this case, doesn’t have anything to do with Microsoft. My three biggest problems so far have been with Chrome, Dropbox, and Open Office. The first 2 don’t seem to offer the user the choice of selecting a custom install location, and install on the Windows partition by default. Open Office just didn’t take to being installed on the MacDrive volume–I haven’t figured it out beyond that.

You might be thinking, how much space can Chrome possibly use? It’s the sleekest browser around, right? I don’t know if it was the recent updates that did it, but the Chrome application was hogging 118 MB for the application–Firefox uses 27 MB, by comparison–and other files in my Application Data folder were taking up nearly a gigabyte of space.

Dropbox is a slick program that allows you to map a folder on your system to space in the cloud. You can drop-and-drag your files just like with any other Windows folder, but the files are stored on a server, and are accessible to you via a password-protected web page, or via any other computer where you install the Dropbox software. A change to the web interface or to a folder on any one system is automatically synchronized with the other systems. Even though I had put my local Dropbox repository on the MacDrive volume, the software itself was on the Windows partition, along with a heft chunk (~500 MB) of cache data, again, in the Application Data folder.

Before long, I was getting messages about low disk space on the Windows volume every few minutes. I tried to uninstall Open Office Writer, the only component of Open Office I originally had room to install, to free up 300 MB, and was informed that there wasn’t enough drive space to uninstall it. The irony! At one point, I had 0 KB free on my Windows volume. I managed to delete a few files until I could uninstall Open Office and Chrome.

On top of that, when running Windows XP in VMWare Fusion, Windows can’t access the MacDrive volume. Since that’s where I installed all my Windows software, I can run Windows in OSX, but I can’t run any of my Windows software.

How much space is enough space for your Windows partition? It’s hard to say. If you really want to run Windows from within VMWare Fusion, you should probably give it a sizable partition. Otherwise, I hope that giving it an extra 15 GB would be sufficient. Why be stingy when drive space is so cheap? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer lean software to bloated. Can you imagine installing Chrome from floppies? Remember the The 5K Awards, for web sites that could pack a punch in mere kilobytes? OK, maybe we don’t need to be that sparing with our drive space, but a little efficiency would go a long way.

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