OSX File System Compatibilites

As I’ve mentioned here and there, I’m interested in getting a laptop. Now that Apple is using Intel hardware, I was thinking of getting a MacBook and dual-booting it. One of the questions I’ve had about the whole thing is how exactly I could set it up. Obviously, I could partition the drive in half, format half of it in HFS+ and install OSX, format the other half in NTFS and install WinXP, and hope I don’t have too many times I need to read data from the OSX partition while in XP (or vice-versa.) What I was wondering is if it’s possible to partition the drive into three logical drives, two small ones for the operating systems and a big shared one in NTFS (or FAT, if I had to) where I’d install all programs and save all data. Most of my time would probably be spent in WinXP, as I have 20+ years of DOS and Windows software, some of which I’d probably want to run on the laptop. The major reason for the Mac part would be greater in-research group compatibility with existing hardware.

This discussion about triple booting includes a discussion of file systems. I’m techie enough to mostly get it, but not techie enough to tell you what you should do. Plus, I haven’t bought an Intel Mac, so I’ve not tried any of these tricks yet.

You might want to check into Parallels, and I recommend listening to the various netcasts Leo Laporte has as he’s a big fan of the Intel Mac’s ability to run either OS and talks a lot in almost of all of them about how best to do this (and you can download past eps of his netcasts to listen to ones that specifically deal with the subject you’re interested in).

I’m not sure what file system OSX uses, or can use. As I understand it, OSX is based on one of the unix flavors–in which case there’s some chance you can format and mount as EXT3.

So, if OSX can mount on EXT3, there is a plugin for Windows that will allow you to access it. But how stable the Windows EXT3 thing is, I’m not sure.

But indeed, you better bet is going to be to create a FAT partition that both Windows and OSX can access as a shared partition.

Apparently the newest version of BootCamp can let you install Windows on any of the partitions of any of your attached drives. IIRC previous versions insisted on non-destructively partitioning your drive into two partitions for you. This new one seems much more flexible, and I may give it a try myself. Then again, maybe not. Parallels Workstation handles all of my Windows needs for me. Hell, it runs one of my work CAD simulation programs better than my legitimate, work-issued laptop, 3D graphics and all.

If you go the Parallels route, though, you’ll definitely want to add extra memory, which isn’t a waste because it’ll be handy even when you don’t use Parallels. Once Parallels is installed, you access your Mac volumes by setting up SMB on the Mac side (default “Windows File Sharing” shares your home folder; you can modify your smb.conf to share anything, though). You can also share your Windows stuff in Parallel and browse for it on your Mac. Parallels does have an automatic sharing feature, but I prefer not to use it and I heard a lot of bug reports early on.

If you want to dual boot, then it’s get’s a bit trickier. Windows can recognize Mac volumes if you purchase MacOpener or MacDrive or some other such utility. Mac volumes are typically HFS+. I think that the Windows utilities, though, don’t honor HFS+ journaling, meaning there’s no journaling protection while accessing from Windows (but I’m not sure about that). Going the other way, though, it more difficult. These days you’re best off using NTFS under XP, because it supports files greater than 4GB (well, I have a lot of them). The problem is the Mac can only read NTFS; it can’t write to such volumes. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s ever successfully created an independent driver for writing NTFS. Anyone know the technical reasons why?

Going back to Parallels, unless you need DirectX for games, then there’s no real reason to dual boot. It’ll save you from having to waste an entire partition, and you can easily save and restore the Windows partition images on the Mac, because it’s just a file. For example, I installed Windows XP and all of my applications under Parallels, and turned off all the stupid XP crap and otherwise completely set all of my preferences. Quit Parallels, copy the disk image, and store the copy away. Next time I need a “clean install” I just trash the working disk image and start from a virgin copy in the time it takes to copy back the image.

Well, I’ve bit the bullet and decided to get a MacBook. It’s fairly basic, as I’ve got a fairly powerful desktop already that I intend to keep upgrading and that’s what I use for gaming. The laptop is going to be for work and travel. I will probably keep it at home most of the time, as I don’t really want to haul a computer back and forth from school everyday. It’s the 1.83 GHz MacBook, with a gig of RAM and a 80-gig hard drive (seemed like a good compromise on hard drive size, as the majority of the space currently being used on my desktop is either for my music collection of 47 gigs, but that’s what I’ve got an iPod for, or 65 gigs of programs, most of which won’t be installed on the laptop.) I also paid for the AppleCare, since the laptop is going to be more fragile and I can’t just as easily fix it myself if something goes wrong with the hardware (unlike my desktop.) Will 1024 MB of RAM be enough to run Parallels smoothly or do I need to dual-boot for at least a while, until I can add more RAM?

Also, if I’m going to run WinXP Pro on this thing, I’m going to need to buy a second copy. I can get an upgrade version for cheap (I’m still a student, after all) and I currently have copies of Win95, Win98SE, and WinME available, so it’s not like I’d be violating the EULA. I can stick Win98SE in there for now, of course, but actually that’s an upgrade CD as well. Are there any problems using an upgrade version of a Windows OS to install into Parallels? And I see I’ll need to stick with 32-bit WinXP for now.

I won’t need DirectX as a rule, because as I’ve said this is not meant to be a gaming machine. I might install a few older games, but I’m not about to start trying to play NWN2 or Oblivion or even Civ IV on it while on the airplane. I will be installing a copy of MS Office one way or the other (probably Office 95.) So, does it sound like Parallels would be a better choice than two actual partitions for what I want to do?

Heck, if I use a VM to run WinXP can I then use DosBox to emulate an old DOS machine inside WinXP?

From all accounts, you’ll be just fine with Parallels and save space by not dual booting. I’ve only ever installed XP and Vista in Parallels, but I imagine that 98 should be a breeze, too. Office apps work flawlessly. Actually, everything works flawlessly except modern games.

Actually, now that I have an Intel Mac, Parallels is the only way that I can play Warcraft. Intel Macs don’t have Classic, and there’s no Mac OS X installer for Warcraft, so luckily my Warcraft CD is a hybrid that includes the Windows version. Oh, yeah, the point is that lots of games do work under Parallels.

You can certainly run DosBox, but you can probably install MS-DOS natively in another virtual machine. In case it’s not obvious, Parallels doesn’t limit you to just one virtual machine; you can run all of 'em that you have hard drive space for. Now with just a gig of RAM, you don’t want to be running them simultaneously, though.

The original, you mean? Warcraft III required OSX, and I would imagine that WoW, being even later, did as well.

Yeah, the original – actually, it’s Warcraft II:Battlenet Edition. Starcraft, though, has a nice OS X Installer that works with the original CD.

Warcraft III works perfectly under Mac OS X. Haven’t tried WoW, and don’t imagine that I will.

Mac OS X has read-only support for NTFS. Windows does not support HFS, but MacDrive adds support for it.

Mac OS X can be installed on HFS+ and UFS partitions, but in practice, HFS+ is used.

If you’re looking to triple-boot, the best way to share files is a FAT disk or partition.