Virtual PC 4.0, by Connectix
Posted: 3-October-2001

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Connectix Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bob Kenyon Class: PRODUCTIVITY

There once was a time when the Macintosh computer was relatively ubiquitous. Most people had seen one, or tried one, or knew what the whole Mac thing was all about. Sadly, those times have changed, but there are quite a few people that still use Macs, and their big problem these days is interoperability with everyone else on the planet using Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Obviously, one of the easiest ways to coexist with the Windows world is to buy a Windows computer. This can be pretty expensive if you already have a Mac -- even the cheapest Windows system is several hundred dollars. In the past, you could buy a PCI or even NuBus card to go in your old Mac that contained a PC, but even these were fairly expensive. Another solution is to emulate a PC in software, which is exactly what Connectix's Virtual PC does. Virtual PC (VPC) has become an industry for Connectix -- they supply it not only for Macintosh, but also for Windows computers, and each version can be had with nearly any flavor of Windows, and even linux. Obviously many of these combinations are ideal for companies that must, for instance, test software on many different platforms. For the purposes of this review, we will concentrate on the Windows 98 version that runs on the Macintosh. Although it has been recently released as a beta on Mac OS X, only the Mac OS 9.1 version will be examined here.

Installation is straightforward and easy. The only annoying aspect is the decompression of the Windows hard drive. When you set up the program, you give the installer your preferences for memory size, hard drive size, etc. Instead of setting up a virtual hard drive and installing Windows on it, the installer merely decompresses a 512MB disk image containing a previously installed version of Windows. Even on a G3 upgraded 7500, this can take quite a while. You can then increase the size of the hard drive up to 10GB.

After this phase of the installation is complete, you get to go through the Windows registration screens. You are asked to enter a 25 digit registratiom number and you are on your way. Connectix supplies a 24 digit serial number that must be entered during installation as well.

Once everything is installed and registered, the familiar (to some) Windows desktop appears. Everything works exactly as on a Windows system. All aspects of administering a Windows box are the same. There are icons on the desktop for setting up MSN access, and for outlook express. Installation of other Windows programs is straightforward as well, with the installation program starting when the CD is inserted, just as on a Windows computer.

Networking is handled through the ethernet interface of Windows, instead of trying to emulate the modem. The Macintosh modem supplies the network interface, and VPC just treats it as a normal network. Surfing the web is as it is on any Windows box.

Display is the same as a Windows computer as well. The program can be run either with the PC in its own window, or full screen, with no indication of Macness of any kind visible. The display can be changed to support any resolution available on the Macintosh, and the PC even replicates all of the resolution changes that happen when the PC boots up.

Which brings us to another feature of VPC. You don't have to boot the PC each time you start the program. When you quit, the program asks you if you want to shut down the PC, or save its state for next time. By choosing to save its state, the next time you startup VPC, rather than going through the Windows startup, you are put into the same state as you were the last time (as if time had stood still). This saves a lot of time when getting pack into PC mode, and also allows you to continue exactly where you left off (on an actual PC, this would require you leaving the computer on all this time). Of course, you will see Windows restart after you install some software that requires the PC to be rebooted, but thankfully, VPC saves you the hassle of watching all the DOS text output that goes by whenever a normal hardware PC is rebooted.

One thing that should be discussed is performance. VPC prefers Macs with lots of horsepower. Having the fastest G3 or G4 chip and lots of memory will increase your productivity immensely. That said, VPC will never totally replicate a real hardware PC in speed. It's fine for surfing the net or running Windows-only programs that don't depend on any kind of time vector, but as soon as you try a game or something like that, you start to run into trouble. Mostly the graphics don't keep up, but also, there just seems to be long delays in getting things done. Some of this could be attributable to not having enough memory allocated to the program, but even if you had thousands of MB available, it would still be slower than a corresponding PC.

Probably the coolest feature of this program is the AppleScript integration. You can write AppleScripts that actually do stuff in the Windows environment. There are some sample scripts that come with the program and do things like Open Minesweeper and type, "Hello, my friend." for you! There is also a link to the AppleScript script editor, which allows you to record keystrokes to give yourself a way to begin creating your own scripts.

Conclusion
Bottom line, this is a must have program if you need to deal with people in the Windows world, but don't want to spend either the space or the money to have a Windows box laying around. The emulation is perfect, but not up to par with the speed of a current day PC. For most people, it should be enough to get the job done. The only other downside is the installation time in uncompressing the hard drive image.

Pros

  • Easy installation and multiple configuration support
  • Perfect emulation
  • Applescript support

Cons

  • Hard drive decompression is slow
  • Performance is slowed compared to actual PC hardware


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice