Running a clean install of Windows 8 Pro on your MacBook Air via Boot Camp including Trackpad support
Wondering why I chose such a terribly long headline?
Well, there are many articles out there dealing with installing Windows 8 on MacBooks, however, most of them did not deal with exactly my situation. Before we move forward, you might want to follow me on Twitter for feedback and updates.
Here is a brief checklist. Compare it with what you want to do and find out, whether this article is for you:
- I am using the Windows 8 Pro version released to market by Microsoft on October 26nd, 2012. Not any of the preview versions.
- I am installing on the latest MacBook Air running Mac OS X Mountain Lion with all updates applied.
- I use the downloadable version, without any optical media (DVD or so).
- I only use an installed version of Windows 7 to get the Windows 8 Pro downloadable, after that, I remove it.
- I’m doing a clean install, not an upgrade over an existing version of Windows 7.
- I want to get the MacBook’s Trackpad fully working, including two-finger tap for right-clicks.
- I want to activate my copy of Windows 8 Pro with the product key I purchased for US$ 39.99 even though I don’t have a previous version installed.
Sounds a little bit exhaustive but I really want to make sure, we’re on the same page as to the prerequisites. As always, you’re proceeding with the following at your own risk.
Getting Windows 8 Pro and creating a bootable USB
I purchased the downloadable version of Windows Pro 8 straight from the Microsoft website and ended up with the product key in my inbox. Note: With previous versions you purchased through the website and after checking out with your credit card got access to downloading the ISO images.
This has changed.
With Windows 8 Pro Microsoft forces you to download the Windows Upgrade Assistant and run it on an existing version of Windows, preferably on Windows 7. The application will prompt you for your credit card details and then allow you to download Windows 8 Pro. Once the Upgrade Assistant has completed, it’ll give you an option to download a Windows 8 Pro ISO image, which you would want to do.
Once the download has finished, move the ISO file to a removable USB memory stick or external drive. Boot into Mac OS X and move the ISO file from your external storage to the desktop. Launch Boot Camp Assistant. Select “Create a Windows 7 install disk” and deselect all other options. Choose the ISO file and confirm that you erasing the USB memory stick is fine for you.
Boot Camp Assistant will create a bootable copy of Windows 8 Pro from the ISO file.
Installing Windows 8 Pro
When Boot Camp Pro comes up with the suggestion for the to-be-created Windows partition, you might want to increase its size. I chose to go for 60 GB for the Windows 8 Pro partition. Let Boot Camp do the partitioning changes and restart. It’ll boot right into the Windows Pro 8 installer. Go through the Windows setup assistant. In case it rejects to install on the newly created BOOTCAMP drive, you might have to select Drive Options and Format before you can move on.
Let the Windows installer complete. This is really just a standard Windows install, so I spare step-by-step instructions. They can be found elsewhere.
Once the install has finished, you should have a fully working copy of Windows Pro 8 with two major issues:
- The trackpad only works as a mouse, so you can’t do right-clicks.
- You’re prompted to enter the product key but the one you’ve purchased gets rejected.
- If you try to open the Boot Camp preference pane, you get an error: “An error occurred while trying to access the startup disk settings.”
Getting the trackpad to work
The next issue to address is the trackpad. Unfortunately, as of writing this post, Apple has not updated Boot Camp to support Windows 8 Pro. You should install the Boot Camp Window support tools, however, you will run into the above mentioned issue when trying to access the Boot Camp control panel.
Fixing it, requires a bit of low-level hacking.
- You will need a system tool named mt.exe. To get it, install a free version of Microsoft Visual Studio Express for Windows 8 from here.
- Once the install has completed, launch an elevated command prompt. To do so, go to the Start Screen, type CMD and press Ctrl-Shift-Enter.
- Change the directory to your desktop. In my case, I had to run cd c:UsersRalfDesktop
- Copy the AppleControlPanel.exe file from its location to your desktop via copy c:windowssystem32AppleControlPanel.exe .
- Next run mt.exe -inputresource:AppleControlPanel.exe;#1 -out:exctracted.manifest
- Open the extracted.manifest file with Notepad and replace highestAvailable with asInvoker
- Save the modified extracted.manifest file and run mt.exe -outputresource:AppleControlPanel.exe;#1 -manifest extracted.manifest
- Double-click AppleControlPanel.exe on your desktop and you will be able to adjust all your trackpad settings.
- You might optionally want to move the modified .exe back to /windows/system32 replacing the AppleControlPanel.exe that’s already there. This will allow you to launch the control panel from the Windows taskbar icon.
Solving the product key issue
This one really drove me nuts and I still cannot believe, Microsoft screwed up on this, essentially ruining the entire experience for me. In essence, the US$ 39.99 product key you can buy online is an upgrade-only one. Microsoft actually does state this in the fine print but I still find the marketing around getting Windows 8 Pro for an introductory price misleading and confusing.
It’s not that I don’t agree with the low price for just the upgradeable version, it’s how they handle it technically what really is an epic fail. You have to have Windows 7 installed and install Windows 8 Pro on top of it for your product key to work. This is just stupid. They should have supported clean installs and just make the Activation Wizard ask for your existing Windows 7 product key and the newly purchased Windows 8 Pro one.
Completely disallowing clean installs is just dumb and a typical Microsoft-does-not-get-it.
However, it turns out there is a hack to use your upgrade product key. Obviously, this will very likely not be supported by Microsoft, but it lets you move forward:
- Run the registry editor (regedit)
- Find the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionSetupOOBE
- Change the value for MediaBootInstall from 1 to 0
- Open an elevated command prompt
- Run the following command: slmgr -rearm
I know this was a bit of a tough journey.
If all of the above sounds too cryptic to you, you might want to wait until Microsoft allows you to purchase fully working product keys and Apple updates its Boot Camp utilities. On the other hand, the entire process – if strictly followed – takes only about 20 – 30 minutes and you end up having a clean installed, fully working, fully activated copy of Windows 8 on your MacBook.
Hope this helps.