Will Virtual PC Slip into a Virtual Existence?

by Derrick Story

It's not so much a matter of if Microsoft rewrites Virtual PC for the G5, but when.

On August 12 Microsoft completed the acquisition of Virtual PC from longtime Mac-favorite company, Connectix. This is the company that over the years brought Mac users innovative products such as RAM Doubler, and the round, beige, QuickCam before the iSight was ever a twinkle in Apple's eye.

When I learned of the Virtual PC sale to Microsoft, I was as sad for the loss of one of my favorite Apple innovators as I was concerned for the future of Windows emulation on OS X. Connectix will remain one of my all time favorite Mac companies.

And now the ball is in Microsoft's court. Will the Mac Business Unit receive the resources it needs to keep Virtual PC on the fast track of Apple innovation, or will it become the ignored child that many of us feared it might when handed over to its new foster parents?

Over the last three years I've had a lot of respect for the Mac BU. They stepped up to the plate with Internet Explorer and Office X while many Mac developers dragged their feet concerning OS X app development. There was no love involved then; it was a financial decision.

These days, I think Virtual PC is a good business opportunity for Microsoft. Along with Office X, it could be one of the products that grows with Apple. I just hope they think so too.


2003-08-28 09:39:18
Going to be scary
What's scary about supporting the G5 is that what's missing is a G4/G3 feature called "pseudo little-endian mode". I'm assuming this provides hardware-level handling of the fact that on the Mac, a 32-bit int has its most-significant 16 bits first and the least-significant 16 bits last (ie, the way that would actually MAKE SENSE when looking at it), but on i86, it's backwards, so the LEAST significant bits come first.

Handling endianness is a PITA - read a QuickTime file without accounting for endianness and "moov" becomes "ovmo"... 32-bit ARGB color-space becomes GBAR. Small integer values become huge (and possibly negative). All sorts of wacky hi-jinks ensue.

Maybe there's an elegant way to handle the problem, like emulating the pseudo-little-endianness further upstream, or with some nifty processor trick, or maybe they're going to have to make little if-running-on-G5 statements all through the code.

Five bucks says Apple is already playing with Bochs as a Plan B.


2003-08-28 09:45:56
MS tries to kill the Mac (or so they try)
Call me paranoid, but it wouln't be a surprise for me if this whole thing with Virtual PC not running on G5 is a hoax. if you could somehow fool the VPC app so it thinks it's running on a G4, I bet it would work... I'm not a techie, but it sure looks very strange these 2 facts: 1. MS not supporting the G5 until later next year (if the G5 can emulate Windows in an acceptable and real-world working speed it could attract some more PC users) and 2. RealPC happens to vanish (though the new management says it had not even ONE line of code, it is strange it took them so long to figger that out, among other strange things). Anyway, MS is not that interested in emulation for the Mac. Sure, it can sell some more WIndows licenses, but are you guys really thinking? MS profits dont depend on expanding their market share, they already have 95%. The strategy must be making the 95% of the market - their userbase(!) - keep spending money on them. I dont see how VPC can help that. I do see killing off VPC as a way of stalling potential switchers. As the IE kill-off did and probably will happen the same with Office:mac (Apple's already started developing MS-Office alternatives and incorporating MS-WIndows/Office compatibility features in OS X. this can be a sign of MS abandoning the mac platform). And don't forget, if Apple is to increase market share it must gain it from Microsoft.
2003-08-28 11:10:55
MS tries to kill the Mac (or so they try)
RealPC was dead before it started. The management team at FWB who said anything otherwise is gone and done away with by shareholder vote (which had to be upheld by court order), although they appear to have stolen company computers to cover up what a horrible job they were doing. Microsoft had nothing to do with the product being dropped (this time: they did killed it the first time and simply didn't have to bother this time).
2003-08-28 13:25:50
Why no "PC on PCI card" option for Macs?
Remember the old DOS compatible performas?

I would think a Windows machine complete with AMD processor and accessories all on a single PCI card would be a great product.

Am I the only one thinking this?


2003-08-28 16:04:33
Microsoft's plans for Virtual PC
As I understand it, the next version of Office for Mac OSX will be a somewhat-modified Windows executable, run via Virtual PC.

Can't give more details, sorry.

2003-08-28 20:57:24
VirtualPC can make money for MS--but it's not the only solution
I agree with Derrick that MS will deliver a G5-compatible version of VirtualPC. From what I can remember of Microsoft's purchase of Connectix's products, Bill and Co. were primarily interested in software that could manage hard drive arrays as one large virtual hard drive.

VirtualPC was an afterthought in that collective purchase. Still, I think MS bought it to make money, not to crush Apple, which in no way represents a threat to MS. In some ways Apple out-innovates Microsoft, but it's not going to seize large chunks of market share.

I'd be surprised if Apple was shocked or disturbed by MS's acquisition of VirtualPC. The founder of Connectix started the company because he loved Apple and wanted to write software for it--hence (I believe) RAM Doubler was born. Ask yourselves--have relations between Apple and Connectix deteriorated so that Apple wouldn't be told beforehand of the sale of VirtualPC or even be offered the chance to purchase the emulator? (Derrick, FYI, I believe Connectix is still in business...)

Derrick, perhaps you know more about Transitive Technologies than I do, but this Los Gatos, CA company seems to have a product that could make us all forget VirtualPC. Transitive's Dynamite is a dynamic emulator that translates software code written for one platform into code that's optimized for another platform. Dynamite translates code that's needed for a task at hand and ignores the rest of the code until it's needed. According to company press release

"The company’s Dynamic Binary Translation software allows operating systems and/or software applications to be migrated to new CPUs without source code modification and at speeds comparable to that on the native CPU."

According to this Maccentral.com article from October 2001 ( http://maccentral.macworld.com/news/2001/10/15/transitive/ ), Transitive ran PowerPC applications on an Athlon 1.4 Ghz procesor at speeds equivalent to 1-1.2 Ghz PowerPC chip. Back then, the fastest PowerPC chip was an 866 Mhz G4.

Alternatively, Windows apps could run _without modification_ on a Mac at near-native speeds. This could erase the anti-Mac argument of "it doesn't run enough software". It could also threaten Apple's hardware market: if you had Mac apps that could run on a cheap Wintel box pretty much as fast as you wanted, would you buy a G5 tower...?

Oh, and the company scored $10 million in venture capital funding this March, so it does look like the real deal. More info can be found at http://www.transitive.com . Whether Transitive will actually produce emulators for end-users and not just developers, I don't know. But they seem to have technology that would push VirtualPC into retirement....


2003-08-29 05:19:51
Disappointed owner of VPC
I absolutely hate VPC as published by Connectix. I've isolotated my headaches to the fact that I'm emulating Windows XP on a G3 iMac. The emulator runs fine, but Windows XP is too taxing on my system. I blame Connectix. They sold XP bundled with the core emulator with a false System Requirements statement. My computer meets and slightly excedes the system requirements, yet simple matters of accessing XP's 'Start' menu are delayed, sometimes 3 seconds from my single click to the pop-up menu. This delay renders XP practically unusable. Hopefully Microsoft will better guage what constitutes 'minumum requirments' when they publish it. Additionally, Microsoft has a great track record for offering version updates at reduced costs.
2003-08-29 05:29:26
Why no "PC on PCI card" option for Macs?
Yes, you're the only one. :) I don't think it would be cost effective for a manufacturer to develop PCI cards as many Mac users have all-in-one computers (iMac, eMac). Those users that do have PCI would likely do better to build a full PC and share the monitor with thier Mac. That's my plan anyway.
2003-08-29 06:52:27
OK, you're paranoid!
Man, you posted the same thing at themacmind.com!

So, I'll re-post my rebuttal, although the readers here probably already know why you're way off base:

Microsoft stated why it doesn't run on the G5. The G5 is VERY different than the G4/G3/older chips. One of the things it does not have is a special component designed to let it do operations that match more closely with Intel chips. Connectix took advantage of a feature of the G3/G4 chips to drastically increase the speed of emulation. They could have left in redundant code that would allow VPC to run even without that component, but they probably thought it would not be worth it, since it would be so much slower.

It's disappointing, but I'd blame Apple/IBM for secrecy, combined with Connectix not realizing that VPC would need to be recoded.

I'd be really suspicious of Microsoft, too, but this time it actually is not their fault. Making users wait for the next full version of Office to get VPC fixed is something you can blame them for, though.

2003-08-29 08:45:28
RE: Disappointed owner of VPC
Oh, I feel your pain.

From my experience, VPC, Windows XP, Mac OS X, and the G3 chip is a recipe for meditation, not productivity. To much to do and not enough horses to do it. If you want to run XP using VPC, then you need a powerful Mac... and still, performance is moderate at best.

I use VPC for testing and convenience on my PowerBook, but if I have half a day's work to do on Windows, I'm firing up an Intel PC. Fortunately that's a rare situation for me.

But all hope is not lost, take a look at some of the other talkbacks here.

2003-08-29 08:49:56
Going to be scary
First, you're almost right about the little-endian vs big-endian issue. The bytes within the 16-bit halves of a 32-bit word are also swapped, i.e. a 32-bit ARGB value becomes BGRA, not GBAR. Also, 16-bit values are byte-swapped.

Second, it's really not all that scary, though it is a pain in the backside. Without the little-endian mode in the processor, the instruction-level interpreter in VPC needs to handle byte-swapping on every instruction that either reads or writes a 16-bit or 32-bit quantity from or into memory.

2003-08-29 08:53:57
RE: VirtualPC can make money for MS
Interesting post indeed.

Um, if Connectix is still in business, I don't know what they're up to. If anyone has any info, please share it here. Their site looks pretty dead to me.

As for Transitive, yes, their technology looks promising. But I don't see any indication that they will produce emulators for end users. It's a bit of a commitment once you put one out there, as both Connectix and Microsoft are well aware of.

2003-08-29 12:45:45
Is Microsoft bought Virtual PC for Mac or for Windows ?
I believe that Microsoft have never bought Virtual PC product in relation about the Macintosh platform. It bought it because of the future of computing and on the Windows side only. Let me explain.

A- the windows platform is one of the hardest to put multiple system on the same machine and hard drive (Linux is probably easily done under linux). Virtual PC for Windows is wonderful for them, it solve that problem.

B- what it going to be on the future of computing. It sure a day Microsoft will have to move to new king of processor or something like that. The experience and code of Virtual PC for Mac wiil help them make transition to any platform.

I dont believe Microsoft make choice for the Mac platform, it's always for them.

2003-08-30 11:34:12
Going to be scary
VPC used to do the byte-swapping in software. In version 4(?), Connectix started relying on the CPU for this, and got a big speed up. It shouldn't be hard to bring back that code. One difference is that the G5 has AltiVec, which has a permutation instruction that can do the job.
2003-08-30 12:27:29
M$ *could* make money with VPC, if they make it fast enough for people to want
Microsoft could expand their market with VPC, since they don't make money from hardware anyway, what do they care if you're running Windows on a Mac? or their Windows programs on a Mac? Makes no difference whatsoever.

The only problem is that it's *SO* slow. I've used or seen the last two versions, and it's just unbearable. I have some hope that the G5 will fix this, but probably only slightly. CPU emulation doesn't benefit from dual processors. I can only guess that it probably will benefit from a 64-bit architecture (if they write it to do so), but I don't know.

If they can really make it fast, and keep the price down (bundling with Office X for another $100 is decent, but selling it (with Windows included!) without other stuff for $100 would be even better. At that price, and if it's fast, almost *EVERYONE* would buy it. Better yet, get Apple to bundle it with every new Mac. If it was included, people would use it.

Not that there are very many programs only available on Windows, but there are some. Things like Visio can be replaced with the very very cool OmniGraffle, but what about Groove? There's no sign of that coming out for Mac, and no decent competitor in sight. What about Domino Designer 6? There are lots of development tools that are windows-only. Since I hate Windows, why would I want to run it on my Mac? Only for what it gives me: a few programs that I need to use, that can't (yet!) be replaced by something better on the Mac. (If VPC could work WINE-style, only giving you the app and not the whole OS, that would be better!) And I'd rather not have to keep Windows boxes around for this purpose. They take up space and energy, and my back's not strong enough to carry two laptops with me in my laptop bag. If Apple had a G5 laptop bundled with a version of VPC that could run Windows apps blazingly fast, I'd be standing in line with thousands of others at the Apple store to get one. Do I think it'll ever happen? Well, I never thought anything as amazing as OS X would happen, but each new version keeps surpassing my expectations. So anything's possible. Maybe the next version after Panther will include a Windows emulation layer built in. Maybe the next generation of hardware will have both PPC and intel-type CPUs, and the OS will be able to use whichever one is needed by a certain program. Keep praying!

2003-08-31 08:04:44
Microsoft's plans for Virtual PC
That's what I thought would happen when I first heard about the acquisition. VPC would become a bridge for MS to 'port' apps to Mac quickly with minimal code changes.
2003-08-31 09:09:38
Going to be scary
Agreed entirely. It's not hard, just tedious. Unfortunately, tedious == time-consuming.
2003-09-02 07:57:58
It's only a matter of time...
...before M$ unveils "Virtual G4", which you must purchase separately before you can run Virtual PC.


2003-09-07 00:24:15
Going to be scary
This seems to imply that version 3 may work on the G5. Anybody know if it is so? It could be useful until MS updates VPC.
2003-09-09 21:43:31
virtPC running autoCAD
Anybody out there running AutoCAD on VirtualPC?
2005-02-16 12:51:14
Dual procesor G5
Do you konw If the new virtual Pc 7 take advantage on system X of dual procesors capabilies?
2005-05-16 11:30:35
Why no "PC on PCI card" option for Macs?
There are a few companies who makes "PC on PCI", one of those are Motorola and another is Ziatech, not sure if those Pentium (I/II/III) cards will work on a Mac.

Sun used to make it's own "PC on PCI" card for it's Sparc machines, but the needed driver was closed sourced if I remeber it right.

The Siamese project was working on an "Amiga on PCI", but only two prototypes was made, most of the software was already written.
As another sidenote, there been ZorroII based cards with 486 based IBM-PC clones for the extremly rich Amiga users.

The disadvantige with thise computers are that they aren't that easy to upgrade, you are stuck with what you bought.

2005-11-11 21:29:10
virtPC running autoCAD
I am a 20 user of Autocad and I am building a new cad computer. I have all my software including MS Virtual PC. Does anyone have any suggestions as to problems to avoid.