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Putting DOS in the Machine

If you’ve ever worked in a "mixed-platform environment" (MIS speak for an organization having different computers running different operating systems), you’ve probably experienced frustration over file conversion, not to mention general angst over the fact that some programs only run on one operating system.

The cold, hard, business facts of life currently state that some people (who would otherwise happily use Macintoshes) simply must use DOS or Windows software. Insignia, Orange Micro, and several other companies have long-offered DOS or Windows compatibility in a Macintosh, but the products don’t yet have the price to performance ratio that makes masses of people buy them, use them, and rave about them. Insignia’s SoftWindows costs too much for the speed and compatibility it offers, and Orange Micro may be asking a fair price for their OrangePC cards, but the cards offer more than what most users require.

Houdini Magic — Last spring, Apple introduced the DOS Compatibility Card, code-named Houdini, as an option for the Centris 610 (see TidBITS-204). It looked as though Apple finally had a solution for people wanting to purchase a 68040-based Mac that could switch into DOS mode and competently run DOS or Windows software on a 486SX-based PC. Dan Magorian <[email protected]> reviewed the Houdini for TidBITS. We didn’t find room for the article before Apple dropped the DOS Compatibility Card, but Dan had nice things to say:

"The Houdinis are quite good. The card has a control panel interface and its integration with the Mac is superb – the PC boots transparently and virtually all PC software runs. I can offer many examples of how nicely integrated it is. With a single monitor you tend to forget that the PC is running. You flip via a user-defined hot key sequence. The monitor flip defaults to a pleasant fade in-and-out, or you can flip faster. At shutdown the Mac reminds you about the PC so you don’t lose work, though you can turn off the reminder." Dan’s complete article is available at: houdini.html

As another indication of the quality of Houdini’s integration with the Mac, we’ve heard reports that the card has very little trouble with beta versions of Windows 95.

Houdini Disappearing Act — Based on Dan’s report and various trade press articles, I thought Apple had something in the Houdini. In fact, Apple finally had a Mac I might be able to badger my parents into purchasing (my mom is a hard core DOS WordPerfect user and my dad uses Windows in his job at AT&T). Unfortunately, Apple used the Houdinis to test the market and planned from the beginning to discontinue them after the initial shipments ran out. Enough of the market must have reacted the way Dan did, because the card is back and the new specifications look promising. The card has returned in two forms, one from Apple (which should ship in first quarter 1995), the other from Reply (which is currently shipping).

Apple’s DOS Compatibility Cards — Apple plans to introduce DOS Compatibility Cards for the Power Mac 6100 and the Performa 6100 series. According to Apple, the new cards will offer a 66 MHz 486DX2 running DOS and Windows, built-in SoundBlaster capabilities, and a way for DOS and Windows software to take advantage of the Mac’s Ethernet port. To be more precise for you network people, Apple says the card will come with, "Macintosh ODI Driver for NetWare IPX and TCP/IP support in DOS/Windows environment using the built-in Ethernet connections."

The card can use memory installed in the Macintosh, or it can use up to 32 MB of "local" memory installed in the lone SIMM slot on the card. Apple’s wording suggests that the card can use either Mac memory of local memory, but not both at the same time. The card will enable you to use DOS or Windows-based CDs, and it comes with a PC game port. The card permits DOS and Windows software to print to Macintosh printers, and makes the Mac’s printer port emulate a PC parallel port.

Apple anticipates selling the card for $699. You can find complete details about the anticipated DOS Compatibility Card by using the following URL to locate Apple’s online tech support library, and then typing "dos compatibility" in the search field.

If you think a DOS Compatibility card may be in your future, you might enjoy InfoWorld’s recent article in the 05-Dec-94 issue about their testing experience with a beta version of the card.

Reply’s DOS on Mac card — Although Reply only recently entered the Macintosh arena, they’ve been in the motherboard business for some time. Previously, Reply made MCA motherboard upgrades for IBM’s PS/2 PCs and other micro-channel-based computers. Reply licensed Houdini technology from Apple and has created a variety of options for the Centris 610 and 650, and the Quadra 610, 650, 700, 800, 900, and 950. The DOS on Mac card comes as a 50 MHz 486DX2 with DOS (for $495 list) or as a 66 MHz 486DX2 with DOS and Windows (for $695 list). Various options for the cards include network software, a SoundBlaster module (which includes DOOM), and memory upgrades for the card itself.

A Reply representative told me that the Reply cards have been shipping since early December, but that currently you can only get them through Reply. He said that starting in January Reply will sell the card through regular channels, such as mail order.

Final thoughts — Apple has taken a one-card-fits-all approach, by creating a single PC card that includes most options. Conversely, Reply has broken out the technology into different options so you can better customize your purchase. If you are considering a card, of course, you’ll buy the one that works with your Mac, since there is no overlap between the Macs that the different cards work with. I hope that, over time, Apple or Reply will release a wider spectrum of cards for a wider variety of Macintoshes.

Most any avid Macintosh user has had a friend who wanted a Mac but ended up buying a DOS-based system in order to run a specific program. People tend to buy computers that make it easy to share work with others. If those others use DOS WordPerfect, a proprietary Windows-based communications client, or a DOS-based database system, then a computer running DOS may make the most sense. The DOS Compatibility Card and DOS in Mac cards, with their promised speed, price, and compatibility put DOS in the machine in a way that should make the masses rave.

Insignia — 800/848-7677 — 415/694-7600 — 415/964-5434 (fax)
Orange Micro — 714/779-2772 — 714/779-9332 (fax)
Reply Corporation — 800/801-6898 — 408/942-4804
408/956-2793 (fax) — <[email protected]>

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