Just a lonely Mac user in a PC world

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Toronto Computes, December 1999

Virtual PC 3.0
Connectix (www.connectix.com)
System requirements vary with PC-OS version: Windows 95  version requires G3 Mac, OS 7.55, 48 megs RAM, 180 megs hard drive
Pricing:  DOS-version: $85, Windows 95: $249,Windows 98: $289

To be a Mac-user in a PC-world can be a pretty lonely experience. Sure, the Mac community offers a lot of support. But even knowing (as Mac users inevitably do) that you?re using the best computer platform around isn?t much consolation when the vast majority of computer-users simply ignore your existence.

So sometimes, the best thing for a Mac user to do is to find a way to get along with the crowd. Luckily, that doesn?t have to mean trading in your beloved-Mac for a Windows PC. Instead, it may mean getting a copy of Connectix?s Virtual PC version 3.0.

Virtual PC is an emulator?a piece of software that translates one computer?s instructions into a language that a different computer understands. In this case, it lets you run your choice of DOS, Windows 95, or Windows 98?on your Mac. And doing that allows you to run DOS or Windows software.

Like translating on the fly from one language to another, emulation inevitably has a speed penalty. And on older Macs, programs like Virtual PC (or its main competitor, Insignia?s SoftWindows) could be painfully slow. But newer Macs are perky enough to make emulation bearable in many cases. I tested the Windows 98 version of VPC 3.0 on a 266-Mhz iMac with 96 megs of RAM.

Installation was fairly quick and painless?certainly quicker and easier than actually installing Win98 on a PC. VPC manages that by creating a bogus PC hard drive on your Mac, as a single large file, complete with Win98 pre-installed. While a copy of Windows is included in the package (and accounts for a good part of the price), you don?t need to much with it except enter the serial number from the cover of the manual. VPC?s version already knows about your hardware, since it?s been programmed to pretend that your Mac has a specific PC video card, sound card, network card, and so on.

Pretty quickly, you?re ready to watch a PC boot up?complete with RAM test, all in your choice of a window or full screen on your Mac. Pretty neat! Run in a window, you can drag and drop between your Mac and Windows desktops. And you can save and open documents from your Mac hard drive in your Windows applications, or access a Windows network.

The new version has updated its sound emulation from to a reasonably modern Sound Blaster 16. As well, performance has been improved?especially network performance. Connectix suggests that the new version is about 20% faster than its predecessor?it certainly feel snappier all around. It promises USB support, but only on Macs running the brand new OS9. Since I didn?t have OS9 on my iMac yet, I was unable to test it, but otherwise, VPC ran as promised.

I installed Microsoft Office 97 onto VPC, and used it for both e-mail and Web browsing. Performance at these tasks was reasonable?my rough estimate would be on a par with an older Pentium PC. Based on that, I wouldn?t expect it to be a great performer on high-end games, though owners of more powerful Macs, especially with 3dFx graphics accelerators could give it a try in that role

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan