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Connecting Mac OS X to Windows PCs
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Virtual PC

If you don't have a spare Windows PC to connect to, or if you are on the road with only your Macintosh notebook, another option is Virtual PC from Connectix. Virtual PC emulates the PC's CPU and hardware so that Windows, Linux, and other operating systems can run on it.



Virtual PC is available from Connectix in two flavors: with or without an operating system. (To be fair, this last flavor includes DOS). If you already have an unused license for the operating system you plan to use, you can buy Virtual PC with DOS for $129.00 from the Connectix store (http://www.connectix.com/shop/) and install your own operating system. If you choose electronic delivery, you can download it and install it right away (the disk image is about 12MB). After you download and install Virtual PC, you'll need to visit the Connectix support site to check for any updates. At the time of this writing, 5.0.4 was the most current.

If you purchased an operating system with Virtual PC, you'll be able to start working with it right away. If you purchased the version that only includes DOS, you'll need to install Windows. For instructions on installing another operating system, see the documentation in the /Applications/Virtual PC 5.0/Extras/Installing Other OSes/ directory.

Windows XP runs well on Virtual PC (seen in Figure 13), but you need to heavily optimize it to get the best performance. Plenty of memory is suggested (256MB is good for Windows XP Professional), and you should consult the "Optimizing Windows XP Professional and Home Edition For Connectix Virtual PC" document, which is available here. Aside from the tips in that document, we suggest aggressively diminishing the number of services you are running. TechSpot.com has a good article on this topic, as does ExtremeTech.

Screen shot.
Figure 13. Windows XP running under Virtual PC

Virtual PC and RDC Performance

So how well does Windows XP run under Virtual PC and RDC? To find out, we chose a CPU and disk-intensive test: building Microsoft's Shared Source CLI. We tested it on an 800 MHZ PC and a 600mhz dual USB iBook running various Mac OS X versions and Virtual PC.

CPU

MHZ

Real RAM

VM RAM

Mac OS

Duration

Pentium III

800

256

n/a

(RDC from 10.2.1)

0:15

Pentium III

800

256

n/a

n/a

0:15

G3

600

640

256

9.2.2

1:38

G3

600

640

256

10.1.5

2:02

G3

600

640

256

10.2.1 6D52

2:03

G3

600

640

128

10.2 6C115

3:09

G3

600

640

256

10.2 6C115

3:27

The CPU column lists the CPU of the machine running the test, and the MHZ column shows its speed. Real RAM is how much memory is installed inside the system, and VM RAM is how much was allocated to the virtual machine (in the case of the Pentium running Windows XP, this was not applicable). The duration is shown in hours:minutes.

The abysmal performance under the initial release of Jaguar (10.2, build 6C115) is due to bugs that were fixed in the 10.2.1 release. So, if you're going to use Virtual PC with Jaguar, make sure you run the Software Update in System Preferences to bring your system up to date.

Related Reading

Mac OS X for Unix Geeks
By Brian Jepson, Ernest E. Rothman

Our Verdict

From the times, you can see that running applications on a real PC is a huge win. 10.1.5 and 10.2.1 are very close, but running under 9.2.2 shaves about 25 minutes off the build. Still, the performance compared to a real PC is disappointing. And in everyday use, Virtual PC does not feel terribly snappy. For example, launching Visual Studio .NET takes 1 minute and 19 seconds before the start page appears using Virtual PC under Jaguar 10.2.1. Compare that to 28 seconds on the Pentium III machine. In fairness, once an application launches under Virtual PC, we've found that it performs adequately.

You can get by with Virtual PC, especially if you are willing to make some concessions For example, instead of using Visual Studio .NET, you could use Notepad or another lightweight editor for editing .NET programs, and compile them with the command-line compilers (cl, csc, vbc, and jsc). With these kinds of adjustments, life under Virtual PC is not so bad.

So, Virtual PC is the best bet for people who want to take their Macintosh on the road with them. But as 802.11b access points become more prevalent, and 3G networking takes off, it would not be unreasonable to use a Virtual Private Network connection in conjunction with the Remote Desktop Client to connect to a Windows server on a home or corporate network.

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) http://weimenglee.blogspot.com is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions http://www.developerlearningsolutions.com, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

Brian Jepson is an O'Reilly editor, programmer, and co-author of Mac OS X Panther for Unix Geeks and Learning Unix for Mac OS X Panther. He's also a volunteer system administrator and all-around geek for AS220, a non-profit arts center in Providence, Rhode Island. AS220 gives Rhode Island artists uncensored and unjuried forums for their work. These forums include galleries, performance space, and publications. Brian sees to it that technology, especially free software, supports that mission. You can follow Brian's blog here.


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