Virtualizing Windows 8 under OS X

Virtualizing Windows 8 under OS X

Summary: The new Windows 8 Consumer Preview is out, but is it ready for seamless virtualization with other operating systems?


With the release of the new Windows 8 Consumer Preview, we're seeing a lot of commentary--good and bad--on Microsoft's next major revision of its operating system.

One of the major bones of contention with Windows 8 is the implementation of the Metro Start screen as the default interface. I'll delve more into the pros and cons later, but the Metro interface doesn't lend itself to seamless integration with OS X in a virtualized setting. There are ways around this, however.

When I first attempted to install Windows 8 under Parallels, the mouse wasn't working properly, and Coherence (seamless mode) wasn't functioning. I then installed VirtualBox which had just been updated to handle the new Windows 8 preview.

Installation was painless. However, seamless mode was not functioning. When trying to switch to seamless mode, it simply removed the border around the VM window and changed nothing else. Otherwise everything else functioned properly.

Since the start menu is an issue, there are several ways around this. One is through the use of the free app from Stardock called Start8. This seems to compress the Win8 Start screen into a stylized Start menu. However, it doesn't function the same, so if you're looking for the classic Start menu you need to look elsewhere.

Look no further than ViStart from LeeSoft. This little app actually brings back the classic start menu from Windows 7, and seems to cooperate well with Windows 8. The only bug I've seen so far is that it triggers and error when you reboot the Windows 8 VM. A minor issue, and hopefully one the developer will soon fix.

Shortly after I started testing, the makers of Parallels released an update to fully support Windows 8, and even provided a direct download for the consumer preview directly within the application itself.

The fixing of the mouse compatibility was welcome, but what I didn't expect was that they had fixed the seamless mode. While the full-screen apps for Metro don't work well in this mode, all of your regular windowed applications should appear in seamless mode just fine. Also, with the use of VIStart, you even get the seamless Windows Start menu.

I personally do not use VMWare Fusion on my MacBook Air, so I can't verify that it works properly with Windows 8 in a similar manner to Parallels. I have not seen any updates from VMWare yet to support Windows 8 functionality, although it's likely that it will be forthcoming shortly. If anyone has any more information about it, I've love to hear it.

Finally, a bit of a personal rant. To be honest, I think Microsoft is making a huge mistake by defaulting to the Metro interface on desktop systems. It's not intuitive to the average user, and it's a major shift from the way things are done now on standard desktop systems.

The learning curve is wide enough that it might have a long, uphill slog in the business sector due to lost productivity during the transition phase. Microsoft needs to give users the option to disable the Metro interface on desktops and default to desktop mode with a start menu. Otherwise we'll end up with a lot of this:

Video courtesy of Chris Pirillo and LockerGnome.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • funny

    video is spot on - if a user tries to get between two context sensitive menus/interfaces, in this case metro and the old Windows interface, using only the mouse it is non intuitive. I figured it out in about 30 seconds myself, but only because I'm a power user and was using the keyboard extensively and happened to hit the Windows key while checking if things how alt-tab and the windows key worked. For the amount of blind studies Microsoft does (similar to this guy) I'm always amazed at how something like this slips through.
  • And there it is

    " To be honest, I think Microsoft is making a huge mistake by defaulting to the Metro interface on desktop systems. Its not intuitive to the average user, and its a major shift from the way things are done now on standard desktop systems."

    Spot on. Unless MS does something about it the enterprise market is going to ignore Win8 completely, and with it all business upgrade revenue. It's surprising it has been able to get this far, the productivity hit ensures it'll be ignored.

    Steve B, adopt Apple's dual OS strategy.
    Richard Flude
  • Windows 8 CR

    Works fine with VMware Fusion (v4)! I too experimented virtualbox and several other vm backend packages on my late 09 Mac Mini (w/Lion loaded) and found VMware worked the best though, Fusion is not free but hey, you get what you pay for!

    Windows 8 is a kluge in x86 hardware world. Wonder how it would perform on an Arm touch-screen device???
    • Windows 8 kludge

      Ostensibly it will be a different code base, much in the same way old versions of Windows NT were compiled for the Digital Alpha processor. I don't think the OS itself is a kludge; in desktop mode it works just fine. In fact, it's much lower in system resource usage. It takes up only 9GB of storage space, and uses less RAM. I just think that Metro should be optional.
      Scott Raymond
      • Did you even watch the video?

        This is what the majority of us get to look forward to, supporting the typical PC user. These folks shop at Walmart, and really aren't that bright. Imagine when they lose the start page, and can't figure out how to find their AOL?
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • Yes, I did watch it

        @Junpin Jack Flash: Underneath the hood, Win8 is still very much like Win7. The issue is Metro. Take Metro away, and you have an updated, tweaked Win7. I suspect Chris Pirillo's dad would have been a lot happier with it then.
        Scott Raymond
  • How about virtualizing OS X in Windows 8?

    With sound? :D

    Granted, a fully functional virtual OS X in a Win8 environment would still cost less than a real Mac of comparable hardware specifications...
    • Very possible

      Osx runs fine in vmware with sound and network, the only thing that doesn't work is QE/CI due to lack of driver.

      The video is funny, it still beats me why someone would try to get to the start menu on the lower right corner of the screen, instead of trying to reach it on the lower left side of the screen, where the start menu has been since Windows 95, and surprise it still is in Windows 8 !
  • How about virtualising WIn 8 in DOS

    or perhaps we could run it on an abacus.

    Talk about twiddling your thumbs.

    As to misgivings about Metro, I like it, but then I'm not afraid of change and I've read the extensive documentation on Win 8, so I can see the reasons for the design. They may become apparent to the haters in a few years.
    • Afraid of change? Give me a break...

      Not liking Win 8 doesn't make someone afraid of change. After all, when I saw Metro on phones, I changed to Android. When I saw Windows 8, I bought 2 Macs. That's change I can believe in. So to speak...
  • Bootcamp?

    Why run a butt ugly confusing OS(Windows 8) on a beautiful mac? Have you tried Bootcamp? I tried Windows 7 long ago with Bootcamp and works very well.
    Arm A. Geddon
    • Indeed

      The paradigm likely works better in a tablet format with a touchscreen. I still like the Windows 7/OS X/Unix (Gnome/KDE) way of doing things. Thing is, quite often people will need to run Windows and OS X apps side by side. That's why Parallels and Fusion work so well. They have seamless mode where you can see Windows apps running on the OS X desktop as if they were native apps.

      That's exactly what is happening in the second picture in this article; it's a screenshot of my desktop. Click on it for a larger version.
      Scott Raymond
      • Why won't Apple allow OSX Virtualization!!!

        That is the real question!! Why force people to buy a MAC to run their customized open-source BSD based OS????
      • Two words: Hardware Company

        @jatbains ... Apple is a hardware company, so, to it, software is a means to an end -- a way to sell more hardware. It has nothing to gain (under its present business model) by letting folks install OSX on Windows or Linux machines. (Obviously, there are ways ... like the Hackintosh.)

        And just because OSX started out with a BSD base, that doesn't mean that all of extensive work that Apple has done to make it immeasurably more usable and capable is open-source. If what you want is BSD, it's available and you can install it in a virtualized environment ... but it won't look like Mac OS X, won't act like Mac OS X and won't run Mac OS X apps. If what you want is actually OSX (and not just BSD), then you'd have to buy a Mac, which is precisely what Apple wants you to do. (Or you could build a Hackintosh, but have no support channel and you'll technically be in violation of the law ... but it's do-able.)
    • Macboi

      What the frick do you know.
  • Virtual Box, Mac OS X, Windows 8 CP

    Virtual Box on my Windows 7 (host) machine with Windows 8 Consumer Preview build as a virtual machine works just fine; however, on my son's MacBook Air with Virtual Box (for Mac OS X), Mac OS X (release prior to Lion) and Win8CP, we get errors when we install and attempt to run Windows 8 CP.
  • I went through the???

    same kind of nonsense shown in the video about 15 years ago when I tried to install a printer on Windows 98 running on a pentium PCI card on my Mac. It took me 8 hours and a night's sleep before I found the proper button to click. I also had similar problems adjusting to OS X when it first came out as v 10.1, and I very much dislike the iOS internet (Safari) software on my iPods. Somehow programmers and product managers even now can't seem to put themselves in the customers' shoes well enough to figure out that ordinary human beings don't think like computer geeks. When ordinary folks get hung up, they would like to be able to click on RESET or START to take them back to the beginning or a BACK button to erase a command entered in error. A CLEAR ALL button would also be useful. IMO Apple's done the best (although a long way from perfect) job of working this problem. Microsoft and Adobe need to re-think some of their basic philosophies regarding their ugly (Adobe) and confusing (Microsoft) screen displays before I'll buy any more of their software.