ISSUE 444: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE
A Mac user trapped in this Windows world
has more than enough options to survive- April 28 1998
So you're happy with your computer, and you
can't imagine working on any other. But your computer is a Mac, and you
know it's a Windows world out there. Even with 27 million other Mac
users, you're still a minority.
That means that sometimes, perhaps often, you need to
interact with PCs. In many cases, you're working in a company where
only a few people use Macs, while the bulk of employees have PCs. Or
you have to work with other companies or clients who use PCs.
To help you out, Apple includes a utility, PC
Exchange, in your System software. It allows you to read and write
PC-formatted high-density floppy diskettes -- which works fine, as long
as the files you need to share are small enough to fit on a diskette.
But, too often, that's not the case. Just a graphic or two can make a
small word processor document balloon in size.
There are some better ways to work to-
MacLink Plus (www.dataviz.com) lets you
translate between lots of Mac and PC file formats. Some versions of the
product include a cable that lets you move files directly between a Mac
and a PC. (The company's Conversions Plus allows Windows users to read
Mac disks and file formats.)
Networking products, such as PC-MacLan, allow you to
connect a Windows PC into a Mac AppleTalk network. Or the oddly named
Dave (www.thursby.com) lets you add your Mac to an existing
Burnaby's InfoWave (473-3600) offers a
solution for connecting your Mac to any of 1,400 models of PC printers.
Macs come with drivers that let them use any printer you want -- as
long as it's made by Apple. A few other printer manufacturers sell
Mac-friendly models, but the vast majority of printers on the market
won't work with Macs.
InfoWave's PowerPrint product solves both problems in
one neat package. It includes drivers for a wide range of PC laser,
inkjet and dot-matrix printers. As well, there's a clever cable that
plugs into both the Mac's serial port and ADB ports on one end, and the
PC printer's parallel port on the other. (There's a different version
for PowerBooks without ADB ports.) Quickly and easily, the PC printer
appears as simply another printer in the Mac Chooser, ready to use. The
company's Web site (www.gdt.com) offers a list of compatible PC
printers. In January, the company released version 4.0 of the product,
offering support for more printer models, and double the print speed of
earlier versions. About $129.
If you need more than printing, there's even software
to let your Mac pretend it's a PC. It works by emulation -- translating
PC-specific commands to an equivalent that your Mac hardware can
understand. Inevitably, there's a performance penalty, but as raw
computer speeds get faster and faster, such solutions become
I looked at Connectix's VirtualPC (www.connectix.com),
now in version 2.0. (Its main competition is Insignia's SoftPC
series of products.) The software actually fakes specific PC hardware,
pretending to be an MMX-Pentium, with a SoundBlaster-Pro sound card and
a PC video card. Different versions, at prices ranging from about $70
to about $170, come complete with DOS, Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 to run
on the (literally) virtual PC.
It creates a bogus PC hard drive on your Mac's drive,
taking a couple of hundred megs of space in the process. (You can
adjust the size up or down.) Despite that, it's a surprisingly quick
installation, and you end up with Windows 95 running on your Mac faster
than a co-worker trying to install Windows 95 onto an actual PC.
And, amazingly, it works as advertised! At 160 MHz, my
Mac's CPU is a little slower than the 180 MHz the company recommends.
But when I clicked on the Virtual PC icon, I got to watch a PC booting
up in a window on my Mac.
In about a minute, I had a Windows 95 desktop,
complete with wallpaper, screen savers and sound effects. I could
install Windows software, access files from my Mac folders and connect
to other PCs across my network. I could even drag and drop or copy and
paste between the Windows desktop and the Mac desktop.
If you need to use Windows software regularly, you're
probably better off buying another computer (assuming you have the desk
space). But if you only need to run a few PC/Windows programs from time
to time, Virtual PC is an affordable and surprisingly usable way to
live part-time in the PC universe, while retaining your Mac for the
things it does best.*