Apart from all the obvious benefits of using a Mac, I always think the best one is not having to use a PC. I know I’m prejudiced, but I don’t care. I’ve made it this far without having to use one, so I’m unlikely to change, unless Apple goes the way of the Atari. But there are circumstances where even I verge on PC use – but thankfully, there is Virtual PC.
Virtual PC 5 is just out, and it’s Mac OS X-native (as well as OS 9-compatible), so I don’t have the problem of running a virtual operating system in Classic mode. As with the previous versions, Virtual PC emulates a PC processor, rather than the operating system. It ships with Windows 98, but in theory, you can run any OS that works on a Pentium III processor. To this end, Connectix has now announced that it will be selling OS packs for the various other Windows flavours (including XP).
The usability of VPC is better than before, with preconfigured options available. The speed, however, it’s less impressive. My 466MHz Power Mac G4 with 1.5GB of RAM is still painfully slow when it comes to running Windows.
Of course, the whole point of VPC is to facilitate the use of PC-only software. If the only other option is buying a PC, little sluggishness can be forgiven. If you simply want to save buying Mac software when switching from a PC, then Virtual PC isn’t the answer. Most of the best software around is available for both platforms, so the need to use an emulator should be rare. The simple rule is: if there’s a Mac version, don’t use VPC.
Amusingly, as it’s a processor emulator, VPC is only as good as the operating system it’s running. This means that if Windows crashes on a Pentium, it will crash a virtual machine, too. You can also use VPC as a safe haven in which to fiddle about with PC stuff without fear of viruses.
When Virtual PC 5 is shut down, you can elect not to save any changes made – meaning that viruses can be tested on a machine, and you’ll have a clean system when it restarts.
If you need to use a PC-only application, then this is pretty much the only choice – short of buying a PC. It does the job, albeit slowly, and if it means not buying a PC, then it can’t be bad.