No matter how much we love our Macs for some of us there are times when using Windows is unavoidable, whether it's because we need to run a Windows-only application supplied by work, or simply to test Web-page designs. Rather than buying a full-price – and full-size PC – one alternative is to run Windows emulation software on the Mac. Until recently Microsoft Virtual PC ruled the roost, but now it has renewed competition in the form of GuestPC from Lismore Systems.
In terms of compatibility, GuestPC is fine – we tried a range of applications from Microsoft Access to Photoshop, Internet Explorer and some old DOS games.
The biggest problem with GuestPC is speed – installing Windows XP alone took several hours and slowed our test machine, a PowerBook G4 1.5GHz, to a crawl in the process. As the emulator has to fool Windows into thinking it's running on an Intel processor and the entire “PC” is actually just an application, it would be foolish to expect it to run at a speed comparable to a real Windows PC, but at times GuestPC is slow enough to be downright painful.
One problem is the bloat of Windows XP – for example, in our tests Windows XP produced choppy and unlistenable audio while installs of Windows 2000 and 98 worked perfectly – a quick email to the developers revealed that the sound drops out when the processor is overworked. Another problem – or benefit, depending on how you look at it – of GuestPC is that it doesn't include a copy of Windows, instead supplying the ancient DOS. If you happen to have a copy of Windows lying around that's great, but if you don't, you'll have to purchase a copy separately.
As noted above, in the emulation field GuestPC has some competition: Microsoft Virtual PC, iEmulator and the open-source efforts, BOCHS and QEMU. Where GuestPC scores over Virtual PC is in price. Even without a copy of Windows included, $69.99 is a good price.
Although iEmulator, and of course the free BOCHS and QEMU, are less expensive than GuestPC they are all somewhat slower and significantly more difficult to use. However, for sheer ease of use, GuestPC is no competition for Microsoft Virtual PC.
The best thing that can be said about GuestPC is that it gets the job done at a low cost. Unfortunately it is slow – slower even than Virtual PC. If your Windows needs are extensive it's hard to recommend this, or any emulator, however if you only need occasional access to a few Windows applications, GuestPC saves you the trouble and expense associated with owning a PC. G5 owners will get a lot more out of this application than those with G3 of G4-based Macs.