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Virtual PC 6 Fits In and Performs

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On 18-Dec-02, Connectix Corporation released a new version of Virtual PC, the company's PC emulation software. Virtual PC 6 focuses on improving the integration between Macintosh and Windows operating systems, and on boosting performance, especially under Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar.


Dockworkers Unite -- Mac OS X users can take advantage of Virtual PC 6's most obvious features: several ways of interacting with the Dock. In addition to the Virtual PC application icon itself appearing when the program's running (like any other), icons for each Windows application you launch also appear in the Dock. Windows application icons may be kept in the Dock for ease of launching Virtual PC when it's not running. Best of all is a separate icon for the Windows Start menu, which appears in the Dock whether or not Virtual PC is running. This icon gives you access to everything in your Start menu, such as Windows applications, documents, settings, and whatever else you've got in there. (And yes, you can turn these Dock integration features off.)

Our immediate thought, upon seeing the new Dock integration features, was that a future version of Virtual PC should take the next step and run individual Windows applications in their own windows, just as individual Classic applications run in their own windows with their own distinctive menu bars. (A good intermediate step would be for the Dock icons to let you change which application is frontmost within VPC's Windows environment, which doesn't work now.) Obviously, there are times when it makes more sense to emulate the full Windows environment, but for those Virtual PC users who use a single Windows application, it could be far more convenient to avoid using Windows entirely. Such a change would require a significant development effort from Connectix, so if you would find such a feature helpful in your use of Virtual PC, make sure to let them know.

Connectix says the overall performance of Virtual PC 6 is about 25 percent faster, thanks partly to changes Apple made in Jaguar. (The speed boost requires Mac OS X 10.2.3.)

We're delighted to see the return of the capability to mount Virtual PC drive images in the Finder. However, it's unfortunate that drives cannot be mounted if they are part of either an active or saved PC environment. The "save state" feature of Virtual PC, which lets you pause your Windows environment at any time and return to it later without having to wait for Windows to start up all over again, is one of its strongest capabilities - discouraging users from the habit of saving their PC's state every time they're ready to quit Virtual PC seems a shame. (To mount a drive image that's part of a saved state, the user must first restore the PC from its saved state, and shut down Windows.)

TidBITS readers often remind us that, while the vast majority of new product announcements focus on Mac OS X compatibility, there's still a large installed base of Mac OS 9 users. Such folks will be happy to note that Virtual PC still supports Mac OS 9. The capability to use the same PC configuration, drive images, and even saved states, whether you're in Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X at any given moment, is a wonderful boon to those who often switch their computers between the two operating systems. (At least Virtual PC won't be the application forcing you to switch!)

Lastly, Virtual PC is famous for supporting many more monitor resolutions than that of average video card drivers, including the wide-format screens of the PowerBook G4 with its 1280 by 854 LCD. Virtual PC 6 adds support for newer displays like the Apple 23-inch HD Cinema Display, at 1920 by 1200 pixels.

Buying and Upgrading -- Virtual PC 6 costs $130 for the PC DOS edition, $220 for the Windows XP Home or Windows 98 editions, $250 for the Windows 2000 and Windows XP Pro editions, or $100 for an upgrade-only package (with no DOS or Windows OS included). The upgrade and DOS editions are available immediately; packages with various Windows operating systems should be starting to reach resellers soon.

Virtual PC users who purchased Virtual PC 5.0 on 01-Nov-02 or later (through 31-Mar-03) are eligible for a discounted upgrade upon faxing or mailing an eligibility form along with appropriate documentation. The upgrade costs $5 for an electronic download, $10 for physical shipment within the U.S. or Canada, or $20 for shipment to other parts of the world.

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