VPC Ain't So Bad
A Redeeming Look at Virtual PC
by Gary Wiedemeier

Posted: 4-3-2004

In response to some negative statements recently asserted against Virtual PC, the following provides a more positive perspective on Virtual PC (VPC), what it can do for you and your Mac, and some tips on how best to use it.

I've been running VPC since 1998 with both Windows '98 and Windows 2000, and have successfully performed various PC functions:

  • I've run all the components of Microsoft 98.
  • I've run Project.
  • I've run MoviePlayer.
  • I've run Outlook.
  • I've run VPN over both modem & DSL.
  • I've mounted .dmg files as disks in VPC to access data or to run an installer from the disk image.
  • I've run the Windows 2000 Pinball game, and as a measure of speed and responsiveness, I thought the program ran pretty well.

NOTE: I also use the VPC <-> Mac Clipboard and Inter-OS drag 'n drop as well.

... and the lists goes on.

I am running the last Connectix version of the control program, and I have many, many good things to say about this program.

Is it as fast as the same clock speed of the PC? Of course not, but I've run PowerPoint presentations with at least a hundred full graphics slides, and although I had a delay on the initial load and maybe a second or so delay between some slides, it was nothing like "Well, I'll go to lunch and we'll be on the next slide when when I get back" type of experience. Same experience for Word and Excel: No delays in typing, although maybe some delays if I move ahead twenty or thirty pages. Movies seem to play okay, and I've played quite a few CDs with the CD Player. VPC on Windows 98 on my G4 QuickSilver even recognized my USB Soundstick and immediately began using them for the sound output.

Most of this experience is on a 233 MHz Wallstreet Powerbook. Things get much better on my Titanium Powerbook and G4 QuickSilver.

I took some abuse about a blue screen of death I got on VPC, with the assumption that it was VPC at fault. Then we ran the same thing on real hardware, only to watch it thrash itself into the "blue" as well. VPC was innocent.

I did notice that VPN stresses VPC pretty good, but tests with both a modem and DSL both seemed to work pretty well.

Some Tips:

  1. Don't starve VPC for memory or hard drive space (allocate plenty).
  2. Consider reverting to the last Connectix version of the control program since rumor has it that the latest Microsoft versions may not perform as well. No promises, but worthy of consideration and some testing.
  3. Ensure you have the latest VPC additions. This is less of a problem with VPC 5 and 6 since the additions are inside the program package. It used to be (and may still be) that one of the major differences between versions is the VPC additions.
  4. In many cases, you can use the 'save as' to exit the program instead of shutting down the PC. This technique allows you to go from launch to a Windows desktop in something like 10-20 seconds. Basically, you are saving the environmental setup to disk and bypassing bootstrap. This works well for standalone stuff and the only problem, if any, is re-establishing a network presence (I don't recall any specific problems doing this).
  5. I personally don't like Word's automatic spell checking and I have found it to be overly wasteful of resources. I turn it off and do an overall document check at the end. Ditto for some other automatic features such as PowerPoint's auto save -- seems to result in a continually growing files even when information is deleted. In many cases, I have found that a re-save at the end reduces the files size. Same thing for Word, especially if 'Change Tracking' is enabled.

Final Words
I'll end this by a quote I once read, "It's not how well the bear dances, it's that it can dance at all." My experiences with VPC have been more positive than those I have read recently. I'll add that this bear is at least a pretty good social dancer. I'm eagerly watching the DarWine & Boch projects, but for my near term needs, VPC does the job, and doesn't irritate me much more than a hardware based machine. The only thing that I think is really wrong with VPC is the machine it's trying to emulate.

Gary Wiedemeier
LMCO Syracuse

Copyright © 2004, Gary Wiedemeier