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Reader questions: Can you install XP via Remote Disk on a MacBook Air?

The MacBook Air's idiosyncratic approach to peripheral access and software installation has raised an interesting question: how to do OS installs? My assumption had been that you'll need the external DVD drive (or a NetBoot/NetInstall infrastructure) to reinstall Leopard, should you be unfortunate enough to need to do that. Readers want to know for sure, however, whether or not they can install an OS via Remote Disk -- some even want to know whether they can install XP into Boot Camp via the over-the-LAN disk mounting tool.

I felt kind of silly even asking this -- remember, XP installs start in a bootstrap DOS environment a stripped-down XP preinstallation mode, which has as much awareness of Remote Disk as a Siberian yak does of the iPhone -- but I dutifully trooped back to the Apple booth to get a comment on this capability. Here's the scoop as they have it right now (and since the product's not shipping yet, specs are subject to change): You can install Leopard via Remote Disk. The host app for RD creates a miniature NetBoot server via Bonjour, so if you've got a bootable OS X DVD in the host machine you can use that disk to boot your MacBook Air. As for Windows XP install disks... well, not so much. Apple reps would not say definitively that you can't do it, but as far as the three people I spoke with are aware, there's no support for booting XP over Remote Disk. If you've got to install XP in Boot Camp, it's an external drive for you (assuming you can get the machine to boot from a USB device). Otherwise, as pointed out in the comments, you can take an existing XP image and use NetRestore or Winclone to restore the Windows partition; however, since the MBA is new hardware on a different processor, you might need to do some work on the Windows config to achieve bootability. Another (admittedly Rube Goldberg) approach: use Parallels or VMware Fusion's support for accessing the Boot Camp partition as a virtual machine drive, and install Windows that way.

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