Virtual PC on the Mac

I realize this is almost old technology by now, but I’ve been playing with Virtual PC on the Mac the past few days. Why would I need that, you might ask. Well, the case is that I study English and we have a piece of software for our syntax (grammar) classes that was developed just for Windows (98 and up, but has problems on XP, don’t ask). As you may be aware I’m a Mac user. I still have an old PC here, but it’s half broken and I have to change a lot of cables to get it to work. So I’d like to run a very bare Windows system on my iBook.

Now, MacBooks use Intel processors so I could just install Windows on that. My iBook has a PowerPC processor so I have to use an emulator. So I decided to try Virtual PC and install Windows 98 on it. I’m surprised about how well it works, not necessarily speed wise (it’s pretty slow), but integration wise. I’ll give some examples.

First of all I should note that I installed the Dutch version of Windows 98 SE (I don’t have another version). The first thing you’d notice is that networking in the VM automatically works, using NAT. Also, after installing the Virtual PC “Additions” you are able to seamlessly move your mouse cursor in and out the virtual machine, as if it’s just a normal Mac window.

This is what my desktop looks like while running Virtual PC:

(Click for a larger version)

The next thing you’ll notice is that a start menu is added to the dock. If you click it you’ll see Windows’ start menu and you can launch any application inside it, for example Notepad (Dutch: kladblok).

Also in the dock, the applications that currently run inside Windows on the Virtual PC will appear as if they were mac applications. If you click and hold these icons and choose “Quit”, they will shut down in the virtual machine. Quite nice.

Another super nice thing is that it’s very easy to access your host’s file systems within the virtual machine. The hard disks just show up as drives within Windows explorer.

I must I’m pretty impressed with this. However I read that the integration between Mac OS and Windows goes even further with the new Parallels virtual machine on MacBooks. In the next version it will be possible to run Windows applications outside the virtual machine’s window, they will just float on the Mac desktop like any other application. That’s really cool.