Mac OS X is a great operating system for most tasks, but some enterprise software just won't run on anything but Windows. This guide will show you how to get Windows 7 running on your Mac. And since Windows 8 Developer Preview was just released a few weeks ago, it made sense to include this as well to spare you the early adopter pains I had.

This guide helps you to:

  • Create a Windows partition
  • Download the necessary Boot Camp drivers
  • Install Windows 7/8 from a DVD
  • Install Windows 7/8 from a USB thumb drive and install rEFIt to boot from USB
  • Deal with serious driver issues on Windows 8 Developer Preview
  • Configure Windows and Boot Camp 4.0 properly
  • Update the most common Mac drivers
  • Enable AHCI
  • Backup Mac OS X + Windows partition with one tool

Step 1: Setting up your Boot Camp partition

The first step requires you to shrink the Mac OS X volume and create a separate NTFS partition for Windows. I'll describe these steps using Lion, though the procedure in Snow Leopard doesn't differ a lot, except for the fact that Windows XP and Vista won't work in Lion. Yeah, Apple ditched "legacy" support entirely with Boot Camp 4 and Lion.

So how does this work?

First, start Mac OS X Lion and head over to Go/Utilities/Boot Camp Assistant. On a Mac with an optical drive, the first dialogue box gives you the option to download the "Windows support software" (i.e. Boot Camp 4.0, which includes all the necessary Windows drivers).

Macs without the Superdrive give you the additional choice of creating a bootable USB thumb drive from an ISO.

If you want to (or can) install Windows using your Setup DVD, just pop it in and hit "Continue".

If you'd rather install Windows using a USB thumb drive, read the steps below first and then move on. At any rate, make sure that "Download the Windows support software for this Mac" is checked, which starts a download assistant that puts the Boot Camp 4.0 drivers on your desktop, on a separate USB drive or burns it onto a blank CD/DVD.

On the next screen, you're going to face a tough choice: How much disk space do you really need for each operating system?

Windows needs at least 20GB to work properly (system files, page file, hibernation file, system restore points). This is the absolute minimum. Depending on how much data you want to carry around with you and how many programs you need, you'll likely need a lot more than that.

Choose the disk size wisely. Only a handful of disk partitioning tools are capable of handling both HFS and NTFS partitions reliably (I have personally tested Paragon CampTune, which works great, but there are a handful of alternatives).

Decided your size? Then let's hit "Start Installation" and start the installer. Next, reboot your system and hold down the "option" key while doing so. Jump to Step 4!

Hint: Deleting the Mac OS X partition is a bad idea

I know some of you are playing with the idea of getting rid of Mac OS X entirely to save money and have a "clean" system (I get that a lot). I strongly advise against it.

Mac OS X is literally the only way to get firmware updates for your Mac hardware (EFI, Bluetooth, SuperDrive, Wi-Fi, SSD). In many cases, such updates have proven to be a livesaver when it comes to performance and stability.