Windows 8 on a MacBook Air: Beautiful and Kinda Broken

By Sam Biddle on at

The MacBook Air is the most beautiful piece of computing hardware you can put in front of your face. Windows 8 is arguably the most exciting software counterpart right now—sorry, Mountain Lion. So what happens when you mix?

Now of course, caveats aplenty here. Windows 8 is in Consumer Preview mode right now—this isn't the final plate, just a taste. What Microsoft released today is meant to be toyed with and dug around into, but not to replace your current OS. It's an unfinished product. There will be bugs.

Apple also doesn't officially support Windows 8—fire up Boot Camp, and it'll refer only to Windows 7. Close but no cigar. This means the driver foundation Apple prepared for Windows isn't right for this Windows—you're kind of building a house on mud, here. And nobody's denying that. Unfinished software on unsupported hardware isn't for the meek—but, damnit, we're going to try, aren't we?


So what works? What's the point?

You'll absolutely get a large, delicious spoonful of Windows 8's vital nutrients. The new Metro UI is fantastically fast, crisp on the Air's display, and, like on a tablet, simply beautiful. All of the animations and menu elements are as graceful on an Air as you'll find them anywhere else. And hey—my iSight worked perfectly with both photos and video capture, even allowing manual contrast and exposure controls.

But you just can't use Windows 8 on an Air like it's meant to be used.

• The Air's keyboard shortcuts, notably brightness and volume, don't work at all. Although once I tried to turn up the brightness and it brought up the help center. Hm!

• No trackpad gestures. No two-finger scrolling, no right-clicking. Just dragging and tapping. This makes navigating Windows 8 (and everything in it) laborious and full of suck—the opposite of what it is when working properly. I tried installing some custom drivers I found online and it cranked up my CPU usage so high I thought Mayor Bloomberg was going to declare a state of emergency.

• Brightness flickers randomly. My eyes! My eyes.

• Wireless connectivity cut in and out. My internet! My internet.

• No volume control for music playback. I had Carrie Underwood blasted into my ears so hard I almost had a brain hemorrhage.

• No external speaker sound, which might actually be OK given the point above.

• My Air ran hotter than I've ever had it run before—the fans, they were a'blowin'.

Again, this isn't Apple's fault or Microsoft's fault. This is Frankenstein computing shit here. If you feel like seriously playing Evil Doctor, you can delve into forums and use some hacked together fixes for some of the problems up top—some on Twitter are reporting success.

I can tell you this—no number of (expected and acceptable) bugs can change the fact that Windows 8 is terrific, and even half-broken, had me more excited as a piece of beta software than the Mountain Lion beta I'm using the other 99 per cent of the time.