Where Wintel Fails…

Where I work, we must use computer terminals to record the times we work, what job we worked on, and the like. I work for one of the major railroad companies in North America. At the moment, I am a “Switchman”. Come July, I will be going to my Conductor promotion class, and within two years, I should be a Locomotive Engineer. So what does that have to do with My Mac?

As I said, we use these terminals to run proprietary software to record our time tickets (that’s how we get paid). We also use these terminals for vacation inquiries, seniority information, how far we are “out” from working again, and so forth. A few months ago, a friend at work told me he had the software that would allow him to dial in from home and access the system. This really interested me because I also wanted to have access to the system while home. Unfortunately, it is a Wintel program only, meaning if you own a Mac, you’re out of luck. The program also required you to have a 56k Flex modem, and I only had my 33.6 Global Village.

Almost everyone at work who owns a computer had taken a copy of the software home to try and run it. Out of the thirty computer users, only two to my knowledge actually got the program to run. Day after day, everyone would ask these two guys how the heck they got the program to work. Neither had a clue, claiming they just “Played with it until it worked”

A month ago, I visited the closest CompUSA store to me, in Grand Rapids, Michigan (about an hour’s drive). While there, I purchased a new 250MHz Mac. This baby is a screamer! I also increased my RAM by purchasing 128 MB of Mohawk Memory, meaning there were now no programs I could not run on my Mac. And one program, which I have had for quite a while, was SoftWindows 95 v.1.0 The program, as you may know, is a memory and processor hog (like the real version of Windows 95). My old computer, a 100MHz Mac, had only 32MB of memory. While it would run SoftWindows 95 it did so very slowly, and because of the memory I had, I couldn’t run any games or programs on it. It was virtually useless on my old Mac.

Now, with 250MHz, 128Mb of RAM, and a 56k Flex modem, I thought it would be fun to see if I could get the terminal program from work to function on my Mac. I wasn’t hopeful. Hey, people with a real Wintel box couldn’t get it to work, what hope did I have running a Windows emulator under the Mac OS?

My first step was to give SoftWindows 95 75MB of memory to play with. I figured, correctly, that the program would run better if I had the memory to give it. This way, I could run not only the emulator (which is what SoftWindows 95 and Virtual PC are) but I could pretty much run any program inside the emulator. (Okay, I was hoping to be able to purchase some PC games to play on my Mac, which I have yet to try.)

Next, I inserted the disk with the terminal program on in. A quick trip to “My Computer” and the floppy drive icon, and I dragged the program to my Windows desktop. Easy installation, though it would have been twice as easy on the Mac itself.

I had heard other workers’ horror stories about this program and the problems involved with trying to get it to work. Quite a few people had upgraded to a 56k Flex modem just to use the program. As I said, only two other people actually got it to work. So, with their tales of woe fresh in my mind, I double-clicked the dial-in program and off I went.

On my first attempt, the program worked perfectly. I didn’t have to play with the setting at all, other than to enter in the dial-in phone number and my screen name and password. I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, running a Windows 95 emulator on my Macintosh, running a Windows-only program hardly anyone at work could use with a real Wintel box, and I had no problems at all!

Two emulators are reviewed in this issue. I review MacMAME and give it a favorable review, and Jason Kim did likewise on SNES9X 0.9.5a (a Super Nintendo emulator). In both of these reviews, the emulation software was very impressive. And while my use of SoftWindows will not break any speed records, it’s still impressive that the Macintosh, with the help of some of the wonderful third-party vendors, can run a variety of computer platform software. And do so in such a way that the end user, you and I, can feel comfortable and productive doing so.

Why is the Macintosh better? People ask that whenever I recommend they buy one over a PC. The answers are not easy. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never used a computer. “Easier to use” seems to always come to mind. “Elegance of design” and “faster computer” also play a large role. But it’s more than that. With my Mac, I can run PC programs, and with a faster Mac, even most of the games. I can play old arcade games at the same speed as the originals, even faster. I can play old Nintendo games when I see fit, with full sounds and graphics running at the original SNES speeds. But are these any more of a reason to prove the Mac is a better choice?

How do you explain to someone who has never driven a car why a Mercedes-Benz is better than a Yugo? One costs more, yes. One is carefully crafted with elegance and extravagance in mind. One will go much faster than the other. One will be much more less likely to break down. All true, but if someone simply wants to get from point A to point B everyday, how can you really explain to them that, if they have the money, the Benz is a better car? My solution is simple, really.

I say: “I have used both. There is no way I would ever buy another PC. I like to actually work with my computer, not spend half my time trying to fix it or figure out how to even use it. Once you have taken a plane trip across country, why would you ever want to drive that distance again if you could afford not to?”

Sometimes that will work, sometimes it doesn’t. Then I tell them about how I got a PC program to work on my Mac when most PC users could not on a “real” PC. And, if all else fails, I tell them that they will be sorry in the long run if they simply buy a computer based on price alone. And for those who still buy a PC? Hey, they never would have fit in with a Mac anyway, right?

Tim Robertson

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