While most Mac owners will admit to loathing PCs and Windows, there are times when not being able to run PC software is a definite disadvantage. On-line banking inevitably requires PC-based client software, and many business applications have no Mac equivalent. Running PC emulation software is by far the most cost-effective solution: enter Virtual PC (VPC). Three variants are available, differing only in the bundled, fully licensed PC system software: Windows 98, Windows 95 and DOS.
Installation is painless. VPC’s Setup Assistant provides a step-by-step guide, and the entire process takes only five minutes or so. In fact, my shrink-wrapped copy of Windows 98 has yet to be opened. Once up and running, VPC’s Preferences can be adjusted, such as video memory, modem and the creation of a ‘D’ drive.
Mac folders can be shared – appearing to Windows as extra hard disks – and networking enabled. In essence, Windows ‘sees’ its environment through a set of disk, card, and port emulations.
VPC 3.0 is certainly an improvement over its predecessor, with a number of updated emulations. For instance, the previously ropey eight-bit sound has now been replaced by the equivalent of a SoundBlaster 16 card, while video emulates an SVGA card with up to 4MB of VRAM. Scripting is now possible through AppleScript support – useful for everything from launching applications to carrying out repetitive tasks – and the Shared IP facility means Internet connection in Virtual PC uses the Mac’s settings.
USB support for a wide range of peripherals is likely to be a main selling point for VPC 3, but, life isn’t quite that simple – Mac OS 9 is mandatory for this.
In testing, VPC 3 coped with everything thrown at it. Over two weeks, neither the Windows nor the Mac OS crashed.
The hardware requirements are hefty: the Windows 98 version needs a G3 and 500MB of disk space, plus 64MB of RAM (although Windows 95 can run on a 180MHz 603- or 604-based machine with 48MB RAM). More memory equates to better performance.
VPC 3 is not intended for games – although Eidos Interactive’s Formula 1 ran reasonably well on a 400MHz G3 – but, it’s a very good tool for software testing. The Configuration Manager lets
you change from one set of preferences to another at the click of a button – moving from Windows 95 to Windows 98 can be achieved inside 30 seconds.
While not a replacement for a real PC, VPC 3 is perfect for fair-weather PC use, and at the kind of price that’s difficult to refuse.