During Apple Computer's long dry spell, many video people stayed with their beloved Macintosh machines because Macs work better than their Windows counterparts. Yet, with that Mac loyalty came some tough times, especially when navigating across platforms to the Windows camp.
Times have changed. With a new century and a resurgent new Apple at hand, Mac users have plenty to be pleased about. From the amazing $1,500 iMac DV to the powerful new G4 models, never before has there been so much video computing bang for the buck.
Still, Apple's customers can't avoid an occasional venture into PCland - that murky area Mac aficionados refer to as the "darkside." Fortunately, there's a new version of an old product that makes the trip much less dreary.
Virtual PC 3.0 from Connectix Corp. emulates a PC on the Mac. The news is that it actually works - and works well. Not only does it set new standards for easy installation and user-friendliness, but its snappy performance is a welcome relief from earlier PC emulation applications that operated at a snail's pace.
Perhaps, most remarkably, in the few days we worked with it, Virtual PC 3.0 (or my Mac Powerbook G3) never crashed. The stability of this very complex application surprised me. I can't say I've ever had such luck running Windows 98 Second Edition on an actual PC.
Mac users will find Virtual PC 3.0's user interface very Mac-centric. Not once did I encounter a cryptic DOS message.
There's easy drag-and-drop file movement between the Mac and Windows desktops. Mac folders can be shared with Windows, appearing to Virtual PC as extra hard disks. There's bidirectional copy and paste between Mac and Windows. AppleScript is supported in both the Mac and Windows environments.
New to Virtual PC 3.0 (Windows 98 version) is extensive USB support under Mac OS 9. The application emulates a standard OHCI-based PCI card. Up to 15 simultaneous USB connections are supported. That means Virtual PC 3.0 can be used with Windows-based USB scanners, printers and removable storage devices.
A new shared IP networking feature means the Mac and Virtual PC can share a single Internet address. Once an IP connection is established from the Mac OS, Virtual PC will use the same connection for PC networking. This IP sharing feature can be used for connection to IP networks as well as common Internet activities like Web browsing, e-mail and Usenet.
Virtual PC 3.0 offers full Ethernet support. Modem users don't have to reconfigure the Mac's modem under Windows. Virtual PC uses the Mac's dial-up connection. The new Virtual PC boosts network performance by 72 percent over the previous Version 2.0.
PC disk performance is also much faster with Virtual PC 3.0. The application uses a single hard drive image file to act as the PC "C:" drive. That image file stores the PC operating system and PC files.
By boosting the speed by more than 22 percent over previous versions, factors such as booting time, launching applications and opening large files from disk are improved under the new version.
Sound is also improved. Version 3.0 emulates the Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 soundcard. This is a vast improvement over the 8-bit sound emulation in earlier versions.
Making the leap from the old Softwindows 95 to the Windows 98 version of Virtual PC 3.0 was like a breath of fresh air. The new application's setup assistant made installation a breeze. It walks you through the configuration of video settings, modem settings and memory allocation.
Though Virtual PC 3.0 offers a significant improvement in Mac/Windows integration, it's still a hardware-intensive application that demands significant resources. It's best-suited for the high end of the Mac food chain. Even then, it was not designed for games that demand very high-performance hardware.
At a minimum, the Windows 98 version needs a G3 processor, 540 MB of free disk space and at least 64 MB of RAM. The Windows 95 version needs a 603- or 604e-based Mac with 64 MB or more of RAM. More of everything is better.
Virtual PC 3.0 is an excellent way for Mac users to retain all the benefits of the Macintosh platform while having the capability to deal with Windows applications when there is no other choice. Finally, the huge compromises of previous emulation programs have evaporated.
Frank Beacham is an independent writer based in New York.
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