Since Virtual PC (VPC) is now the only way to run Windows on your Mac, VPC maker Connectix has only itself to best. Virtual PC 6.0 stacks up well against VPC 5.0 if you run Mac OS X. The upgrade adds new integration features, including a Windows Start menu that appears in the OS X Dock. Windows applications also appear in the Dock, so you can launch, switch to, or quit the programs even if VPC isn't running. VPC 6.0 is faster than version 5.0 but only on newer Macs--older models won't see a difference. So, if you need to run Windows on a brand-new Mac, get VPC 6.0, no question; but the pricey upgrade--a whopping $99--isn't worth it if you're on older hardware.
Virtual PC 6.0 ditches the installer program of previous versions--now you just drag the installer folder onto your hard drive, and you're done. As always, Connectix sells Virtual PC in a variety of packages: a plain-Jane DOS package lets you install your own copies of Windows over it, or you can buy Connectix OS Packs, which are bundles of preinstalled Windows versions that you can install all at once (and which cost between $150 and $200, sadly). We installed and set up the version that comes preinstalled with Windows XP Professional. If you're planning to run more than one version of Windows, you'll shell out a lot of money in OS Packs, but happily, older OS Packs will work with the new version.
VPC 6.0's interface runs Windows within a window but adds cool integration with the OS X Dock.
We successfully installed an older Connectix OS Pack from Virtual PC 4.0 on top of VPC 6.0. However, in order to get the latest Mac-integration features in the old OS Pack, we had to install some Virtual PC plug-ins (called VPC Additions). That's a simple matter of clicking the puzzle icon at the bottom of the VPC window and selecting Install Additions from the pop-up menu.
If you add another version of Windows with an old OS Pack, you can update the integration features with this pop-up menu.
You'll also see upon installation that VPC keeps its disk images and preferences together under the Virtual PC icon, which is a Mac OS X bundle (a folder that acts like a double-clickable application). This lets you copy your VPC setup to another drive or Mac simply by copying one file--a very nice touch.
Icons for Windows applications, such as Microsoft Access, appear in the Mac OS X Dock.
This version of VPC also lets you place a Windows Start menu in the Dock, which you can use to select a specific Windows app. The Start menu will launch VPC and bring up the program you've chosen. It's a cool effect, although it takes a long time to load the Windows environment and bring up the specific app.
You can launch any Windows app from the Start menu in the Dock...
Another handy new feature is VPC's ability to mount PC drive images on the Mac desktop. (A drive image is a file that acts as a virtual hard drive, containing Windows and all your Windows software and data.) We find the mounted drive extremely useful for backing up individual Windows files or folders with a backup program or for adding or copying a Windows file without launching Virtual PC. You can also search the drive image with Mac OS X's Find command (or Sherlock, in pre-Jaguar versions of OS X).
...and quit any Windows application using its Dock menu.
Version 6.0 improves support for peripherals; it can now automatically detect USB printers and supports full-screen resolution on Apple's biggest wide-screen displays. Taken together, the new features are a compelling reason to upgrade for Mac OS X users.
Virtual PC 6.0 takes advantage of some hardware improvements of newer Macs, such as an L3 cache. The program supports hardware graphics acceleration for Macs that have video cards that support OS X's improved graphics layer, Quartz Extreme (including the Nvidia GeForce2 , 3, or 4, and any AGP-based ATI Radeon, such as those used in iBooks). Older Macs and those with Mac OS 9 don't get this graphics boost, however, and won't see significant performance improvements over VPC 5.0.
On an 800MHz, dual-processor Power Mac G4, Virtual PC 6.0 is noticeably more responsive than version 5.0. Applications load faster and menus and dialog boxes react more quickly. In our tests on an older 350MHz Power Mac G4 AGP (which is below Connectix's recommended minimum configuration), Virtual PC ran Windows 2000 at about the same speed as version 5.0 in Mac OS X 10.2.3.
Connectix tech support is pricey--the first call is free, and it's $35 per incident after that--but it's cheaper than the $99 it charges for VPC for Windows. Connectix also provides free online help in the form of a knowledge base, a user forum, and a set of PDF manuals on various support topics. For information on using different features, we found that you'll get an answer quickest by using the application's help system, which includes screenshots. That's nice, but since VPC hurts the wallet from the get-go, we'd prefer a little more free advice.