--Alan Zisman

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 ( 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 ( lets you add your Mac to an existing Windows network.

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 ( 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 increasingly usable.

I looked at Connectix's VirtualPC (, 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.*

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