Sure, PCs are dirt cheap these days, but do you really need another computer? Even if you occasionallyor regularlyuse PC applications, PC-emulation software for your Mac can save you from purchasing a beige box or Windows laptop. Connectix’s Virtual PC 3.0 and Lismore Software Systems’ Blue Label PowerEmulator 1.5 both run PC software on a Power Mac, but otherwise they are very different pieces of software.
Both packages use software and the PowerPC’s processing muscle to create a fake PC, tricking Windows applications into thinking they’re running on a real 80X86 machine. However, the differences between the two packages are stark. You can buy Virtual PC 3.0 in versions that include either DOS only or Windows and DOS. Blue Label forces you to install your own copy of Windows. Virtual PC lets you run PC software inside a Mac window or full screen; Blue Label offers only the latter option. If you’re running under Mac OS 9, Virtual PC lets you use PC USB devices, including those with no Mac drivers. Blue Label doesn’t support USB.
Virtual PC has numerous functions for sharing data between Mac and PC environments, including shared folders, drag and drop, andnew in this versionthe ability to use AppleScript to launch and interact with PC applications. Blue Label offers only limited provisions for accessing files on Mac hard drives.
Blue Label’s configuration interface is also highly modal and nonintuitive. Virtual PC is much more flexible, making it easy to set up and use multiple independent boot “drives,” each with a different OS or application set. One of our test systems sports four configurations: Windows 98, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000, and Linux. Indeed, we were able to install and run Red Hat Linux 6.1 out of the box, as well as a beta version of Windows 2000. Virtual PC can also share the Mac’s Internet connection, precluding the need for a separate IP address.
Although Virtual PC can run Windows NT 4 applications, the software’s Mac-integration features are available only for Windows 95 and Windows 98. However, some applications, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, ran faster under NT than under Windows 98.
The bottom line, of course, is performance, and while neither program compares favorably with a real PC (see “Windows on Your Mac”), we found Virtual PC’s speed on 350MHz and 400MHz blue Power Mac G3s to be adequate for most applications we tested.
The Blue Label software was much more sluggish, and also less stable: we experienced frequent crashes under PowerEmulator and hardly any under Virtual PC. However, neither program does a great job of running graphics-heavy applications, and while both support Voodoo 1 and 2 graphics-accelerator cards, contemporary PC games are so CPU-intensive that we can’t recommend either product for serious gaming.
Windows on Your Mac
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