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Virtual PC Brings Windows to Mac OS X
Pages: 1, 2

Firing-up VPC

I just finished reading an interview with Avie Tevanian, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, where he stated that Mac OS 10.1 is five times faster than the first build of Mac OS X. I bet the engineers over at Connectix are happy to hear that because if the beta version of VPC suffers from anything, it's sluggish performance.



You might be thinking, "Well of course it does, it's a virtual machine running Windows on a Mac." But my experience with VPC 4 on Mac OS 9.1 has been a satisfying one, and I don't really have any performance complaints in that environment. Is it as fast as Windows 98 on my 600MHz ThinkPad? Of course not. But does my ThinkPad run Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X? No way.

My guess is that when VPC for Mac OS X is released at Macworld SF in January 2002 (I don't know that it will be released then, but it sure seems like a good time to me), it will probably be much faster for two reasons. 1) Mac OS X will be faster than the current 10.0.4 version. 2) VPC Test Drive is a beta version that will most likely benefit from much fine tuning between now and then.

But enough of what I think; let's look at some performance numbers. I connected a PowerBook Pismo 400MHz with 384MB of RAM to a DSL line via AirPort, then reloaded O'Reilly Network's homepage five times with each combination of browser and platform listed below. I've included the fastest and the slowest load time for each configuration. All testing was done within a 20-minute span during off hours. I chose this test because it required the PowerBook to perform a number of tasks that are common to our everyday computing. Here are the load times for each configuration.

  • IE 5.0 on Mac OS 9.1 -- 7 to 8 seconds.
  • IE 5.1 on Mac OS 10.0.4 -- 10 to 12 seconds.
  • OmniWeb 4 on Mac OS 10.0.4 -- 10 to 12 seconds (but doesn't load ads).
  • IE 5.5 on Virtual PC 4.0.2 on Mac OS 9.1 -- 11 to 14 seconds.
  • IE 5.5 on Virtual PC Test Drive 4.0.5 on Mac OS 10.0.4 -- 35 to 38 seconds.

Screenshot -- click for full-size view.
IE 5.5 in VPC Test Drive runs less than half the speed that it does in VPC 4.0.2 for OS 9.1 (click for full-size view).

As you can see, my experience was that VPC Test Drive 4.0.5 on Mac OS 10.0.4 is less than half the speed of VPC 4.0.2 on Mac OS 9.1. I looked at the latest version of VPC Test Drive, 4.0.6, but the ReadMe file didn't state any performance enhancements for my configuration. As always, your mileage may vary.

Other applications, such as my Olympus Camedia Master 2.0 ran much faster on Test Drive than I anticipated. One program, though, QuickTime 4.1 for Windows, didn't run well at all. It failed to properly play the test movie that comes with the download.

Crash-free driving

Speed issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed using VPC Test Drive on Mac OS X. First of all, it's much more stable than Windows on my ThinkPad. During the entire course of testing I didn't experience one crash, wobble, or even a hiccup. That's saying something for beta software of this complexity.

A few of the other features that impressed me include:

  • Windows 98 running in an Aqua window was visually refreshing.

  • VPC Share Folder with Mac OS 9.1 and OS 10.0.4 enables file sharing between platforms. I can drop a PDF file that I download in Mac OS 9.1 into the folder, then retrieve it and open it in Windows 98 in the VPC environment. Very handy. (In the beta version of VPC, files from Windows can't be dropped in the Share Folder and read on the Mac, but that limitation will be fixed in the final release.)

  • Screenshot -- click for full-size view.
    VPC Share Folder allows you to drop files from the Macintosh environment into your Windows PC environment (click for full-size view).

      

    Screenshot -- click for full-size view.
    In most cases, Test Drive will allow you to pick up your existing network connection (click for full-size view).

  • Only one disk image is required for VPC on both Mac platforms. And if you make preferences changes to VPC while working in Mac OS X, those changes remain (for better or worse) when you launch VPC in Mac OS 9.1.

  • VPC picks up the established network connection under most conditions. So if I'm logged on to an AirPort network via Mac OS X, I can maintain that connection in Windows 98 on VPC.

  • Seamless Dock integration in Mac OS X. I can be working in my normal Mac environment and maybe want to check how a web page looks in IE for Windows. I simply maximize VPC from the Dock, open the page in IE 5.5, then minimize Windows back to the Dock when I'm finished.

  • Minimize and Maximize buttons for VPC are on the top left, and the Windows equivalents are on the top right. These are very easy to keep track of.

As of version 4.0.6 of Test Drive, there is no USB support other than for mice and keyboards, no full-screen mode, and no unique IP address when networking.

Conclusions

Virtual PC Test Drive is beta software and should be regarded as such. But even in its early stages of development, it is a solid, well-crafted application that will play an important role in Mac OS X's future. The addition of VPC to my PowerBook now gives me access to three useful operating systems on one computer: Mac OS 9.1, Mac OS X, and Windows 98. And by purchasing additional VPC disk images, I could add Windows 2000, NT, ME, or even Linux.

At this point though, don't expect VPC Test Drive to keep pace with Windows performance running on native Intel hardware. VPC performance on Mac OS 10.0.4 is sluggish at best, as is Mac OS X itself these days. Test Drive is not suitable for sustained work in the Windows environment. It is however, an extremely handy tool for accessing Windows applications, files, and CDs without having to switch computers or reboot.

When Macworld SF 2002 arrives in January, I'll elbow my way into the Connectix booth and watch the VPC demo. I'm hoping that the speed issues will be resolved by then. If so, then VPC for Mac OS X should be another Connectix winner.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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