TECHNOFILE

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ON LINE TO OFF LICENCE

Which wine should you drink with spaghetti bolognese? Oz Clarke's Wine Guide (Websters Multimedia, Windows/ Mac, pounds 24.99), pitched at the anxiously aspiring with its audio guides to pronunciation, recommends a lightly oaked, medium-weight red Abada de Poblet Crianza. What kind of beer goes with a pizza? "The cooked-tomato sweetness and basil spiciness of a good pizza will overwhelm an everyday lager," observes Michael Jackson's World Beer Hunter (BMG Interactive, Windows, pounds 29.99). What you need is a "sweet, malty-spicy Vienna-style" brew such as Spaten Ur-Marzen. Failing that, there's probably a couple of Heineken Exports at the back of the fridge.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Although the gap is narrower than ever, the choice between Windows and Macintosh computers is still more than a matter of taste, or for Mac devotees, an attachment deeper than reason. If you think of computers as cars, driving Windows means spending much longer with your head under the bonnet before you can go anywhere. But once you're running, there's a considerably larger choice of destinations.

For office users, the choice will probably be dictated by industry norms: Macs in design and media, Windows everywhere else. At home, you would probably prefer the simpler and easier machine, especially if you have a family and you can think of better things to do with your kids than jumping through Windows' hoops. With children, though, you are likely to be faced with demands to run entertainment software that doesn't work on Macs. Quite a few educational and reference titles are also Windows- only.

You can have your cake and eat at least some of it using a program that creates an imaginary PC inside a Mac, allowing you to run Windows when necessary. There are now two of these to choose from. Insignia Solutions' SoftWindows (SoftWindows 95: pounds 130 plus VAT) has been around a while. It's better than it used to be; and cheaper in the face of competition from Connectix' Virtual PC (pounds 139 including VAT), released last summer. Insignia also brought out the pointedly named Real PC (pounds 49 plus VAT), a PC simulator without Windows, which is aimed at those who simply want to run DOS games on their Macs. In retaliation, Connectix has just launched a DOS-only version, at pounds 59 including VAT. Just the way the market is supposed to work.

SoftWindows and Virtual PC are both relatively simple to set up, give you similar operating options, and are comparable in price. I approached the two packages not as a technical assessor - prospective customers with a taste for benchmark tests should check the trade magazines' websites for reviews - but as a user trying to play Windows CD-ROMs with mini- mum fuss. The good news is that both work very well for software with reasonable memory demands, such as reference titles. The bad news is that games or big multimedia production numbers reveal both emulators' limits. Using a 48Mb Computer Warehouse New York machine, I started out allocating modest amounts of memory to the Windows 95 versions of the emulators, so as to approximate the capacities of normal people's home computers. I soon gave up in frustration and signed over 32Mb to each.

I found that SoftWindows ran a number of CD-ROMs which seized up under Virtual PC, and at this stage, I'd say it's SoftWindows by a short head. For home users, the key difference may be that it requires a minimum of 16Mb, whereas Virtual PC starts off at 24Mb.

RETURN OF THE NEXUS 6

We all agreed, those of us who saw Blade Runner when it first came out: we wanted one of those machines that truffle around photographic images and give you a hard copy. And now we can have one, thanks to the new Blade Runner CD-ROM game (Virgin Interactive, Windows 95, pounds 44.99), though its images are confined to the world of the adventure. A little closer to 2019, the date of the scenario, and we'll be doing it for real, quartering shots from our home security cameras.

As for the technical marvels of the Blade Runner game, they will speak to people who appreciate a model made of 32,000 polygons, and know how many voxels can dance on a pinhead. The overall effect of the digital rendition is as good as you can expect to get on a small screen, and better than Blade Runner on video. Scenes are more impressive than close-ups. A long view of a sequence in a sushi bar has Edward Hopper overtones, a pleasing effect, but the characters' stylised gestures make them look like silent movie actors dropped into Forties noir. To be frank, there's still a touch of Thunderbirds about them.

Blade Runner: The Game may appeal to some people who aren't especially keen on computer games, but for whom the movie stands as a fixture in the cultural landscape comparable to Mean Streets or On The Waterfront. It is, however, Hamlet without the Prince, since Harrison Ford and his character Deckard are not involved. As in the original, the wobbliest elements are character and dialogue. Introspection plays second fiddle to searching for clues and being quick on the draw, while character is adjusted on a scale from "polite" to "surly". That might have been useful for the famously assertive Sean Young, who played the lead female role in the film.

Young is the most prominent of the original cast to take part in the game. Her stint involved some voice-overs, and a morning stretching her limbs as sensors captured the movements of her body for digitisation. She hasn't yet seen the results, though she notes with justifiable pride how well her dimensions matched her 1982 image. Otherwise, multimedia seems to offer actors little but free afternoons. Her reaction on first being approached for the project: "My first thought was to check with a friend in the business to see if the fees were usually that low."

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