The classic problem faced when switching to the Macintosh—for that matter, to any "alternative" platform—had been the issue of working with existing data.
The glib comment from the Windows camp has always been "We have a lot more software," and the equally glib response from the Macintosh die-hards has long been "File formats are cross-platform, and many popular Windows programs are available on the Macintosh."
The Macintosh retort is certainly true, but it makes up only part of the whole picture.
Let's start with the first piece of the puzzle: the software. Many major applications are available for both Windows and Mac OS, including Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Netscape, Quicken, and of course just about the entire Adobe and Macromedia lines. That's the good news. The bad news is that you will effectively have to double your software investment by buying Mac versions of software you already own. And while software makers happily give existing users a break when upgrading to newer versions, that doesn't work cross-platform: representatives from Adobe, Microsoft and Macromedia all confirmed that you can't use a Windows license to "upgrade" to the Mac version of the same software.
In some cases you might luck out. There are some programs, like Adobe's Photoshop Elements
, that have Windows and Macintosh versions in the same package. However, these are few and far between.
Another option is Connectix's venerable Virtual PC for Mac, now at version 6.
As its name suggests, Virtual PC allows you to run Windows software on a Macintosh by emulating a Windows machine in a window. The package comes with your choice of Windows operating system, from Windows 98 through to Windows XP Professional, so you can work with what's best for you.
Virtual PC is remarkably transparent. The Windows window (ouch) makes use of your CD-ROM, USB ports, printer, and even Ethernet and AirPort connections. It should be noted that Virtual PC works with whatever network connection happens to be functioning on the Mac, treating it as an Ethernet connection. So even if you're using an AirPort (Wi-Fi) adapter, the virtual Windows machine sees it as an Ethernet connection, which makes sharing files over the air tricky, if not impossible. (I'm still investigating; an update will appear in a future column.)
Virtual PC ran every program I could think to install on it, though I didn't bother to try any games. My only complaint was that Windows was a bit sluggish on my iBook. On the other hand, I had only devoted 128 MB of RAM (half the iBook's) to it, something I wouldn't recommend for Windows XP under any circumstances.