Guest 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?
Guest 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.
Before 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
Installing 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.
Using Guest PC
After the installation completed, I was presented with an IP Configuration error message. It seems that my wireless router was trying to assign an IP address that was already in use on my home network. After logging into Windows 2000, I attempted to release and renew the IP address, however, that caused the Guest PC application to crash. Unfortunately, assigning a fixed IP to the guest didn’t work either. Although the guest appeared to have a valid IP, default gateway, and DNS address, the guest was unable to communicate to the network. I contacted Lismore Software Systems by email, and was given several things to try. Unfortunately, it turned out that my wireless router, a Linksys WRT54G, doesn’t properly handle assigning different IP addresses to the same Mac address. Lismore acknowledged that this is their issue to work around, and swapping out the router to a Netgear did solve the problem for me. Hopefully future versions of Guest PC will resolve this issue for good.
Guest PC emulates common hardware that most operating systems should provide support for. I didn’t have a chance to test all of the emulated hardware. However, I didn’t have any problems with the commonly used hardware devices such as the monitor, keyboard, mouse, network, sound, and DVD-ROM.
Guest PC 1.4 emulates the following hardware (from the Guest PC Users Guide):
Processor – Intel Pentium Pro
Chip Set – Standard x86 based motherboard
BIOS – Standard motherboard PnP BIOS and VESA 2.0 BIOS
Memory – up to 512MB physical memory
Graphics – Emulated Cirrus Logic 5430 PCI graphic
Disk Controller – Standard Dual IDE Controller
DVD-ROM – Standard ATAPI DVD-ROM drive
Floppy Controller – Standard Floppy Disk 1.44MB controller
Modem on COM2 port – Standard 56K Modem connected to the Mac modem
Serial COM3 port – Standard serial port (USB to Serial adapter or any serial device connected to the Mac)
Printer on LPT1 port – Emulated Apple LaserWriter connected to the Mac printer
Ethernet Card – Emulated DEC Ethernet 21040 PCI controller
Sound – Emulated Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16
Monitor – Emulated Samsung SyncMaster 17Gli connected to the Mac monitor
Keyboard – Standard 101/102-key keyboard
Mouse – Standard 3-button PS/2 mouse with Wheel support
Starting up a stopped guest is a simple process. Choosing File then Open PC from the Guest PC menu presented me with the PC Selector. I chose Windows 2000 and clicked the Start button. The OS started, and shortly, I was up and running in a fully functional Windows 2000 Professional guest. Guest PC allows you to run the guest in either windowed or full screen mode. In full screen mode, the guest occupies the entire screen, hiding the Mac OS X user interface. These options can be chosen from the Guest PC menu. After I chose full screen mode, other than the performance difference, I could barely tell that I was working in an emulated PC.
In the lower left hand corner of a guest running in windowed mode, is a menu bar of devices. The menu bar allows you to-do many things such as capture a CD/DVD/Floppy image, install Guest PC Additions, and monitor network activity. The ? presents more information on this tool bar. I found the menu bar to be a quick and straightforward way to manage the most commonly used guest devices.
To touch on performance a bit more, Guest PC performance is good. However, it could certainly be improved upon. Virtual PC is able to install the OS, install applications, and launch applications faster than Guest PC. Guest PC’s performance has come a long way, but still requires improvement in order to match the performance of Virtual PC.
An additional area that Guest PC needs improvement is suspend and resume support. Virtual PC is able to suspend and resume a guest in about 5-10 seconds. This feature preserves the state of the guest and prevents you from having to fully shut down and restart the guest OS. The only option to-do this under Guest PC is by taking advantage of the hibernation feature in Windows. While this is an alternative, on my machine it took about 45 seconds. The addition of suspend and resume support in Guest PC would be a welcomed improvement.
Given my disappointment with Microsoft’s lack of support for Tiger in Virtual PC, I went off looking for alternatives. Fortunately, I stumbled onto the Guest PC product. After reading several reviews, and the announcement of Tiger support in Guest PC 1.4, I decided to purchase the product. I was pleasantly surprised by the PC Setup Assistant, good performance, and excellent customer service. Hats off to Lismore Software Systems for developing the Guest PC product. However, Guest PC has some areas that require improvement and I eagerly await these improvements.
About the Author
Keith Burgess is an information technology professional currently working for one of United State’s largest wireless carriers. In his spare time, Keith enjoys using and writing about computers and computer software.
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