posted by Keith Burgess on Tue 7th Jun 2005 18:17 UTC
IconGuest PC, as described by Lismore Software Systems, Ltd., is "another computer inside your Mac". While in simplicity this is true, Guest PC offers Mac users far more. Guest PC has received a few bad reviews along the way, however, version 1.4 makes up for many of the previous versions shortcomings. This review will discuss the features and highlight some of the improvements found in Guest PC 1.4.

But What is Guest PC and who is Lismore Software Systems?

Windows 2000 DesktopGuest PC is a x86 PC emulator for the Mac. While it supports various operating systems (OS) such as Windows and Linux, the officially supported list are primarily of the Windows flavor. For this review, Windows 2000 Professional was the "guest". In emulator terminology, the "guest" is the OS running inside the emulator. The "host" is the OS running on the native hardware, which in this case was an Apple Powerbook. The notebook used was a G4 1.3-Ghz with 1.25GB of memory. The host OS was Mac OS X "Tiger" 10.4.1.

Guest PC VersionBefore getting into the functionality of Guest PC, one might wonder who Lismore Software Systems is. I must admit, I hadn't heard of them either. I stumbled upon the product when searching for alternatives to Microsoft's Virtual PC. Virtual PC isn't yet a supported application under Tiger. Without getting into the history of Lismore Software Systems (they did sell another emulator in the past), I can report that my dealings with them have been top-notch. My requests for sales and support information were responded to promptly and with a high-level of professional courtesy.

The online ordering process of Guest PC is one of the areas I feel Lismore Software Systems could improve on. Apparently, the company that handles the transaction doesn't have a speedy credit card authorization process. However, within a couple hours of filling out the typical online sales form, I received an email with a download link and product key. I promptly downloaded and installed Guest PC. The product came as a zipped up .pkg and the install was typical of the Mac so its unnecessary to get into the details here.

Improvements in Guest PC 1.4

Being a new Guest PC user, I haven't had the opportunity to use older versions. However, I followed the product through its version changes and read many Guest PC reviews. For the most part, the previous reviews of Guest PC all mentioned sub-par performance. I found that Guest PC 1.4 performance is very good, but not as good as Virtual PC. Granted, there is always room for performance improvements in any emulator product due to the overhead of emulation.

Some of the more notable improvements in Guest PC 1.4 are:

- Network and print support for Tiger
- Improvements in support for Linux
- Localized for German, French, and Italian
- User can disable modem, and serial port
- Better stability and compatibility

Somewhere along the way I read a review that quoted a Lismore Software Systems representative. The quote mentioned that we should be on the lookout for further improvements in the Guest PC product. My experience with 1.4, and the performance improvements made in 1.4 provide a hint of things to come.

Installing a Guest

PC Setup AssistantInstalling a guest in Guest PC 1.4 couldn't be easier. After installation, Guest PC can be found in the Applications folder. Simply launch Guest PC and choose File then New PC from the menu; the PC Setup Assistant will launch. The PC Setup Assistant allows you to define the Guest OS, PC Disk Size, PC Memory Size, and the PC Name. In addition, your name, organization, and Windows product key can be entered. Behind the scenes, Guest PC does an unattended installation of Windows. This is a key feature, and in my opinion, helps to set Guest PC apart from other emulators. Once all the information has been entered into the PC Setup Assistant, you simply click the Start OS Installation button and kick back with a cup of coffee and some snacks. Oh, remember, you have to provide your own Windows installation CD but the good news is Guest PC is able to read from the actual CD and doesn't require you to create a CD image.

On my Powerbook G4, the Windows 2000 Professional installation took approximately 90 minutes. While I don't consider this to be an unacceptable amount of time, the time to install a guest OS could be improved upon. The same installation took me just over an hour in Virtual PC running on the same hardware under Mac OS X 10.3.8 "Panther". That said, I had no problem waiting the extra half hour considering the welcomed functionality that the PC Setup Assistant provides. I was able to go off and do other things without having to check in on the installation, entering setup information as required.

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