- Allows you to run Windows applications on Macintosh hardware
- supports OS X
- easy to install.
- Slow, particularly under OS X and with demanding applications.
Connectix's Virtual PC for Mac is an inexpensive and effective way of running those essential applications that just haven't made it to Apple's platform, and version 5 now supports OS X natively. The software is easy to use, stable, cleverly designed and runs different versions of Windows, including XP. However, performance issues are still a concern.
The biggest advance with Virtual PC 5 is the addition of Mac OS X support, which is combined into a hybrid installer that works natively in either OS 9 or OS X.
At its core, Connectix Virtual PC isn't a Windows emulator; rather, it's a PC emulator, which means it runs almost any Pentium-ready operating system, including Windows and Linux, on your Mac. Each version of Virtual PC comes with a preinstalled OS. The DOS version costs £69, the Windows 98 and Windows XP Home Edition versions are £139, and the Windows 2000 version is £179. Virtual PC 4 users can upgrade for about £69. Each comes with a complete Windows CD, but we were able to install non-bundled versions of Windows without any trouble. However, Connectix says that the OS versions are different enough that each version of Virtual PC is tweaked to make that particular Windows software run faster.
Installation is surprisingly painless, given that you are performing the equivalent of a clean Windows installation. Virtual PC does much of the ugly work for you, and since the hardware is simulated, there aren't any problems with recognising graphics cards, networking equipment and the like.
Once you've got Virtual PC running -- it runs as a window on the desktop, or takes over the screen if you tell it to -- Connectix's clever design comes to the fore. The PC environment is seamlessly integrated with the Mac, allowing you, for example, to cut and paste or drag and drop files between Mac and PC environments. Control of hardware like CD-ROMs and networking is accessed through icons around the margins of the PC window. When you roll the mouse pointer into the PC space, it becomes the PC mouse.
Virtual PC shares the Mac's Internet connection and supports the popular PC network protocols, allowing you to access corporate data and printers, for example. The applications we tested, including Microsoft Office tools, all worked fine.
There are a few other useful new features with version 5, such as OS X multi-processor support, optimised user interface speed and the ability to revert to a saved Windows state -- which could be useful if you're doing software testing or working in a school computer lab.
The main disadvantage of all this is performance, which still feels sluggish. Connectix has eased some of the pain by optimising basic system functions like drop-down menus and application launches, but on processor-intensive applications like Photoshop the speed is so slow it's difficult to bear. The drag is more noticeable in OS X. Connectix says that the OS is so new that it hasn't yet had time to implement the optimisations that it has built into the OS 9 version, and says there's a 20 to 30 percent speed difference.
However, for many common applications -- particularly office tools -- Virtual PC remains a perfectly usable alternative to an expensive investment in new hardware.