Arcview on a mac?

21Sep08
A little while ago I purchased a new macbook pro after discovering that they now run Windows. As far as laptops go, MBPs are brilliant: they take no time at all to to configure out of the box, are simple to use, backup and recover. They are wonderful as a writing and research tool and lets face it, the MBP looks cool as well.

Archaeologists however can never really move away from using Windows in some way. Various important software packages are only available on this OS: Sofware for radiocarbon calibration, survey, CAD, GPS and GIS are typically shackled to Windows. One of the most crucial Windows programs I use for research and consultancy work is Arcview. For the uninitiated, Arcview is a fairly capable and widely used GIS program that allows one to display, manage and analyse spatial data such as site locations, environmental data, infrastructure and development information and so on.

Arcview will only ever be a windows application and so jumping over to a Mac has mean that I needed to get Windows working on my Mac well enough so that I can seemlessly move between my Windows and Mac environments, without restarting my computer. Although this is all possible it has taken me a while to get it working well on my Mac and so in this post I simply wanted to highlight some key tips for people in similar situations.

  1. Bite the bullet and install bootcamp. There are other ways to run windows in a mac, without needing to partition your hard disk, but after multiple attempts I found that they were all really quite slow when it came to working with large datasets. Bootcamp will run any windows program at normal (i.e. ‘native’) windows speeds. Use it, it’s a free part of OSX.
  2. Give yourself space to move. When you create your bootcamp partition, give yourself at least 6 gigabytes for Windows PLUS whatever is required for your windows applications. If you think you will have 30 gig of data, give youself that much space. I initially tried leaving my arcview data on the Mac partition however it was very slow to load on the windows side and some datasets would not load at all. I then tried an external firewire hard drive which was faster, but still sluggish and caused other problems. With arcview at least, there is nothing as fast or functional as having your program and data on the same drive. Use an external drive for backups.
  3. Format your bootcamp partition in NTFS. Bootcamp guides will tell you that you must use FAT32: ignore that advice. There are benefits and disadvantages to both and despite what you read the main point is that both drives will be accessible from inside each operating system when you eventually install the VM software. Most importantly, if you use NTFS then you can very easily backup the whole bootcamp/windows installation using your mac and reinstall without a fuss when things go wrong. So, once you proceed to installing windows on your bootcamp partition make sure you tell the Windows installer to format your partition as NTFS.
  4. Purchase and install parallels. Once you have everything installed in bootcamp and Windows has done its crazy ‘update for 2 days’ thing, shut down Windows and restart your mac in OSX and then purchase and install parallels. After you install it on your mac running windows is very simple. You simply run parallels and then select ‘my bootcamp’ from the main menu and your Windows bootcamp install will open in its own window (which is resizable, etc). From here you can run arcview.
  5. Create a clean install recovery image. It may take a few days to get your Windows XP install and other software and external device drivers (GPS for instance) running. Once you are happy that you have the perfect set up then download a nifty little Mac program called winclone. This program makes a compressed copy (disk image) of your entire windows partition that includes all of your Windows updates, drivers and software. This backup image can be reloaded onto your NTFS Windows partition at any time so that you can quickly revert to a clean install without having to go through the entire process again. This is useful to two reasons. (a) Windows will eventually die on you at a very inconvenient time, thus requiring a full reinstall, and (b) if you find you need more or less space on your windows partition, you can resize the partition and reinstall a fresh copy of windows very quickly. I needed to resize my Windows partition from 10 gig to 40 gig and using Winclone, managed to do so in less than an hour!

And that’s it! After running arcview for several weeks this way I have not noticed any reduction in performance or any other errors, even with large raster datasets that often cause problems.

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