Virtual PC 7.0, by Microsoft
Posted: 16-Apr-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Michael Krayewsky Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
Virtual PC (VPC) is an application that allows your Macintosh computer to run Windows programs and share files with other Windows users on or off the network. While on your Mac, you have the flexibility to choose which OS you would like to run: Mac OS X or Windows XP. Virtual PC is available with a variety of the many released Operating Systems (OS) from Microsoft. The OS version that I received for this review was Windows XP. Once installed, VPC allows you to run any Windows XP program, just like you would if you were on a PC. This application is for those users who are forced to run Windows programs at work or in the office, and prefer to work at home on their Macintosh computers.

Requirements

To install and run Virtual PC for Mac Version 7, you must have the following:

  • A native G3, G4, or G5 Macintosh computer (processor upgrades and/or accelerator cards are not supported by Microsoft for use with Virtual PC)
  • Mac OS 10.3.x to run Virtual PC
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 3 GB of free hard-disk space
  • A 700 MHz processor minimum


For optimal performance in Virtual PC, Microsoft recommends using video card(s) that supports Quartz Extreme, such as nVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon.

My test configuration consisted of a Quicksilver 867 MHz G4 computer, running Mac OS X 10.3.8 with 1.5 MB RAM and approx. 20 GB of free hard-disk space.

Setup
VPC 7.0 came with two installation disks. Pop in the first disk and a window appears with an icon to 'Install Virtual PC'. The installation is divided into three sections: Installing VPC (section 1), Setting Up VPC (section 2), and Setting Up Windows (sections 3).

Started installing VPC (section 1) and after 1 minute, it completed and forced a system restart. Then it automatically started setting up VPC (section 2). After entering the VPC key, it started installing Windows XP Pro, and after 5 minutes it was complete. Then it started setting up Windows (section 3) and 9 minutes later, after a few inputs to the start up wizard, I heard the infamous Windows chime. Four (4) minutes later, XP Pro was up and running waiting for action, less than 30 minutes from when I started the process.

The entire setup was painless and simple. A few inputs to input your name, password, and work group. A 'Start Menu' icon was automatically placed in the Dock next to the Finder icon for quick starts. Nice touch.

I switched over to OS X, launched Safari, and went to Versiontracker to download the latest VPC revision which was 7.0.1. It installed and updated VPC without a hitch and completed with a system restart. Clicking on the 'Start Menu' icon and Windows XP Pro was up and running in about 45 seconds. Once up, I got a notice that a number of Windows security and other updates, totaling 15, needed to be installed. This took approx. 30 minutes to get downloaded and installed. During the installation, my CPU was max'd out the entire time, as denoted by the OS X 'Activity Monitor', floating CPU window, which I enable to monitor the cpu activity. Never have I seen so many green bars lit up for so long.

In Use
My prime interest in using VPC is interoperability with my work environment, as I often bring PC files home (via flash drive or email) to work on my Mac. Hence, my review will focus on this aspect of VPC. Before I started, I read several other articles on VPC 7 reviews, and decided to raise the VPC memory from 256 MB to the max of 512 MB, as many user were complaining of the speed. The difference, albeit small, was noticeable, so I left it at 512 MB.


Virtual PC Settings


There were other PC settings that you could adjust, including the PC Name, assignments for Drives 1 thru 3, Shared Folders, Mouse settings, Keyboard settings, COM1 and COM2 ports, networking, USB, showing up in the Dock, and Printing. In addition to the PC settings, there were additional VPC preferences that could be adjusted. This included Alert Behavior, PC Behavior, Full Screen Mode, Virtual Switch, Sound, CPU Usage, Script Menu, Toolbar, and Login options.


Virtual PC Preferences


I installed Microsoft Office 2003 as I use most of these apps at work. I installed Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, I did not install Access, Infopath and Publisher. Time to install these 4 apps took approx. 30 minutes and utilized approx. 500MB disk space on the "virtual" C drive. Again during the entire install, my cpu was max'd out at 100% (makes me want that G5 more and more). After Office installation, I was prompted to see if any updates were available. I did and there were 2 updates which I installed (Office 2003 SP1 and Outlook 2003 Junk Email Filter). The entire process to get to this point took about 3 hours.

I launched MS Office 2003 Word under VPC, and that took about 6 seconds. Not bad. Then I tried to open a word document I created using MS Word 2004 (on OS X) and was not able to see any files outside the Virtual PC environment. Being in VPC is really like being on a different computer, and so only items on the virtual hard drives created for VPC are available by PC programs. I went into MS Word 2004 and copied the text to my clipboard, then back to Word 2003 and pasted it in. The pasteboard did transfer from the OS X environment to the VPC environment. However, it was slow to paste, taking about 1 line/sec to paste the entire file. Thinking this was a Word incompatibility; I tried the same using Textedit and got the same results.

You can use drag and drop to transfer files from OS X to VPC. I tried dragging and dropping PDF and Excel files from my OS X into XP, and it worked fine. When dragging files with long filenames, I noticed that they were truncated once in the VPC environment.

Over a couple weeks, I put VPC through its paces and compared Office functionality between VPC on a Mac with a real PC running Windows XP. In looking at Word 2003, I saw no differences in terms of functionalty. I also compared Word 2003 to the OS X Word 2004 version, and again saw no differences. I launched MS Office 2003 PowerPoint under VPC, and it also performed just like on a real PC. When I compared the functionality and formatting to OS X PowerPoint 2004, however, I did see some differences in the OS X version. On some pages, the text overran the page at the bottom.

In another test, I launched MS Office 2003 Outlook under VPC. It took a couple of minutes, and then was straightforward to get my email setup. Once established, I was able to send and to receive email just like on my PC at work. While navigating around in Outlook, the speed is acceptable. Not as great as on the PC, but useable. I used Outlook for a couple weeks and it's functionality, again, was just like that on a real PC.


Running Outlook 2003 under VPC on Mac OS X


My next test was to compare browser performance, pitting Windows IE against Windows Firefox (I downloaded Firefox 1.02 and was ready for the test). I tried a number of Mac sites and timed each. On the average, Firefox was typically 20% faster than IE. I compared the performance of Firefox to the OS X version and saw no rendering differences over a couple weeks of using it.

I wanted to move a file from OS X to XP using a flash driver, as I was unable to open any files that are not located within the virtual disk environment of VPC. So, I connected my iPod shuffle to a USB-2 port on my Mac. Windows XP reported that it found new hardware, iPod, but did not show up in the explorer window. I clicked on the little icon in the start menu bar at the bottom right of the window, and was told I needed to download and install a USB-2 driver. I went on to do other things, and when I came back, the iPod appeared in my explorer window as my drive E! Apparently XP located a driver and installed it (or the earlier message that it needed the driver was a false message). In any case, I went back to OS X and dumped a Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and PDF file onto my iPod shuffle in an attempt to get these files into XP. Once I got the iPod mounted in XP, the files all showed up, as well as another file for each one, 1KB in size, with the same name but with a dot underscore prefix. I'm not sure what those 1KB files were. In VPC, I moved the 4 main files to my 'Shared Documents' folder. I clicked on the Word file, and Word 2003 launched and the file appeared in about 13 seconds. The layout and formatting was identical to the way the file is shown in Word 2004 under OS X. This was great. Then I tried the same for the Excel and Powerpoint files, and again, both came up perfectly formatted just as they appeared under OS X.

Next I downloaded the Windows versions of Quicktime and iTunes in XP. The download and installation went off without a hitch, albeit very slow. Once installed, I went to the Apple movie trailer site and downloaded a movie trailer which played right within Firefox. The audio was missing and the video was skipping.

I launched iTunes, and that came up quickly. I went to the Music store and played a few songs. Audio was acceptable and played thru my Monsoon speakers/subwoofer on my Mac without any problems. I ripped a CD which seemed to take forever, as the CPU was totally max'd out. The ripped songs played back fine. I played with iTunes in VPC over a couple weeks and saw no differences from its OS X counterpart, other then iTunes just looks so much better on OS X.

As mentioned earlier, my tests are based upon being able to recreate my Windows PC environment that I use at work. All of the programs tested above have OS X native versions, but the goal was to test the performance of the XP versions under VPC. My tests indicate that VPC does a fine job of emulating my PC work environment, with the exception of the slowness. Besides duplicating a PC work environment, I also see VPC being a viable tool for running PC-only applications. It acts and behaves just like a PC, and in full screen mode, you might even forget you are on a Mac.

The speed of VPC is the biggest issue. It goes into overdrive in utilizing the Mac's CPU, and even maxing out the CPU it still runs much more sluggish than a real PC. It's hard to imagine using the VPC environment for everyday productivity. My hardware is close to the minimum required, so it is likely to perform far better on a faster machine, such as a dual-processor G5. In any case, VPC is a great for running PC-only applications on your Mac when you don't have a PC available to you. Users in that category may get the most mileage out of VPC.


Summary
Virtual PC (VPC) is an application that allows your Macintosh computer to run Windows programs and share files with other Windows users. My first surprise with VPC was how easy the installation went - a lot easier than I had expected. Downloading and installing new Windows apps from the web was easy, albeit slow. The Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) performed fine, functionally the same as on a real PC, but again much slower. In terms of productivity and using VPC on a daily basis to emulate my work environment, the functionality was all there, but I was very displeased with the speed on my G4. If you had to use VPC on a daily basis, you would need a dual processor G4 or G5 Mac. On the other hand, if you only have the occasional need to run a PC-only program on your Mac, then VPC is the perfect tool to accomplish that task.

Pros

  • Installing windows apps was easy
  • Office tools as well as other PC programs were functionally equivalent to a real PC
  • Swapping between OS X and XP is a breeze
  • Drag and drop support for sharing files from OS X to XP
  • Allows you to run PC-only applications without having to buy a PC

Cons

  • Very slow (dual-processor G4 or G5 recommended)
  • Hogs Mac's CPU
  • Filenames got truncated


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice