Tools Of The Trade: The Virtual PC that lets Apple Mac users run almost any Microsoft Windows application

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The Independent Online

Apple's Macintosh computers enjoy enduring popularity with those in the design, music and video industries. The company's iMac is a design icon, and its laptops are consistently among the best value on the market.

The snag is that Macs do not run software designed for Microsoft Windows. Most mainstream programs, including Micro- soft Office, come in Mac versions, but thousands of applications and utilities do not. And with most PCs running Windows in some form, Mac users need to share information, and often networks, with the PC world.

But Microsoft has a solution to this. Virtual PC is an emulation program that fools a Mac into thinking it is a Windows PC. Install the software and Mac users can run just about any PC-only application, including productivity programs such as Microsoft's Access database, financial software such as Quicken, or communications utilities.

Virtual PC not only runs these programs without fuss, but does so alongside the Mac operating system. The PC emulator and any PC-only software run in their own windows. Moving information between the two operating systems is as simple as copying and pasting.

The software also shares the Mac's resources, including the CD drive, internet connection and peripherals from printers to digital cameras. It is even possible to set up a PC-only MP3 music player or handheld computer to work with the Mac, and to use Virtual PC to join PC networks.

The downside is that running two operating systems will challenge even a highly specified computer. Virtual PC was pain-fully slow to install on a Mac G4 laptop with plenty of memory and a 1GHz main processor. But once it is installed, the software performs well. Most straightforward Windows programs work without a hitch.

So do utilities such as Windows Media Player, which is useful for viewing websites that fail to work properly on a Mac, and for connecting to PC-only media devices. We even managed to persuade Virtual PC to work with a few PC-only wireless and mobile data cards.

The only snag here is that although Virtual PC will share a Mac wireless connection or card, the process is one way: there is no way to use a PC-only card to connect to the internet within a Mac application.

If there is a criticism of Virtual PC, it is that it is fairly expensive for something many Mac users will turn to only now and again. The full version (6.1 for XP Professional) costs £199, half the price of a basic PC.

A less costly way to buy it is with, or as an upgrade to, Microsoft Office. This can bring the price down to £65, depending on the version of Office. But if you want to use a Mac, and need to run PC-only software, this is the best way to do both at once.

THE VERDICT

Microsoft Virtual PC 6.1 with Windows XP Professional

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Pros: Good performance, bridges Mac and PC worlds.

Cons: Standalone version could be cheaper.

Price: £199 including VAT (standalone).

Available from: www.microsoft.com/uk

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