How To Install Windows 7 (For Free!) On Your Mac

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My Windows 7 desktop is spare, but just give me a few weeks. Microsoft hide caption

itoggle caption Microsoft

If you went to your favorite pizza place and tried to order mushrooms and pepperoni and the waiter told you, "I'm sorry but you can't order those two toppings together. You have to pick one or the other," you'd be pretty mad, right?

Forgive the analogy, I just ate pizza.

The Mac versus PC debate has gotten so ridiculous that even normal, sane people who wouldn't care one way or another are now hurling insults and tsk-tsking at family members and co-workers who have either fallen into the fruity Mac OS camp or the stodgy Windows world.

You know what? (Expletive) all that. I say, have the best of both worlds.

Over the weekend, I installed Windows 7 RC, a free, preview version of Microsoft's forthcoming operating system, the successor to Windows Vista. Best of all, it works perfectly well on newer Macs sporting Intel processors. My Macbook, which is two years old, runs it like a champ as a Boot Camp partition. I never thought I'd say this about a Windows operating system again after refusing to upgrade from Windows XP, but from what I've seen so far, Windows 7 is... really good. Fast, pretty and without a single crash so far (knock on wood).

A step-by-step guide to installing Windows 7, after the jump.

Here's how to install it on your Mac in a few simple steps:

  • Make sure you have plenty of hard drive space, at least 40 or 50 gigabytes on your Mac. You're going to lose about 15-25, at least, to run Windows 7, so leave yourself plenty of space for Mac OS, too.
  • Go to this Microsoft page and sign up for the Windows 7 Release Candidate Customer Preview Program. It's a mouthful, but it works. Microsoft will send you a unique activation code you'll need later. Print it out or write that code down.
  • Download the 32-bit version of Windows 7. It's a big download, more than two gigabytes, so you'll be waiting a little while.
  • Burn the .iso file to a DVD to create a Windows 7 install disk. You can do this easily with OS X's Disk Utility. (More detailed instructions here).
  • Open up Boot Camp Utility. This will walk you through the process of creating a partition on your hard drive for Windows 7. Print out the manual if you want to (it does contain some good, useful info, but it's about 26 pages). Then use the DVD you burned to install Windows 7. Your machine will reboot several times as it installs.
  • You'll be asked, once Windows is installed, to enter your activation code.
  • You have Windows 7! As soon as you're in the Windows desktop, insert your Mac OS install disk (either the one that came with your Mac or a Leopard OS disk if you've upgraded) and install the Mac drivers that are on that disk. This will enable sound, your iSight camera and other hardware from your machine.
  • Don't like it? When you're back in OS X (see below), you can use Boot Camp Utility to delete the Windows partition and reclaim your hard drive space.

That's it. You have a working copy of Windows 7, which will continue to function normally until March 1, 2010.

If you want to switch back to OS X, you'll need to go into Control Panel and look for Boot Camp in order to tell the machine to restart in Mac mode. Once you're back in OS X, you'll have to do the same thing (in System Preferences) to go back to Windows 7. Software like Parallels and VMWare Fusion allows you to run Windows programs while in Mac OS, too. Both can run Windows 7.

Stuck on any steps? A more visual guide is available here.

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