SoftWindows 98 1.0 – Review

SoftWindows 98 1.0
Company: Insignia Solutions
Estimated Price: $169.99

The ability to run Windows on your Macintosh is very important to many people. While we may have the best personal computers available with our Macs, for the time being we must learn to coexist in a world dominated by machines running Microsoft software on Intel-based hardware. Because many programs are never written for the Mac (though all the good ones are), there may come a time when you will need to run such a program. To do so, you only have three choices: buy a whole new Wintel machine, buy a PC card for your Mac, or buy Windows emulation software. SoftWindows 98 is a product in this last category, an application for your Macintosh emulating Microsoft’s Windows 98 operating system completely. The magic is in the software; no hardware required.

Insignia Solutions has done a masterful job of bringing the functionality of a Windows machine to Mac desktops the world over. And at less than $170, it is a very viable solution to those on a budget or those who only occasionally need to operate in a Windows environment. However, if your needs demand you use Windows on a regular basis, you would be better served buying a PC card for your Mac. While PC cards are not inexpensive, starting at $350 with some models as high as $700, they are, however, much faster than any software emulation to date.

SoftWindows 98 has steep requirements. The box reads “G3 or 604e processor recommended. 603 Processor not recommended.” While this may be fine for many users, there are millions of 603 and 603e users who may consider this a “must have” item. Are they excluded? For my tests, I ran SoftWindows 98 on a G3 225MHz with 128 MB memory, on a 603e 250MHz also with 128 MB, and a 603e 100MHz with 32 MB. You also must be running System 7.1 or higher, which you cannot run on the recommended processor systems. 32 megabytes of memory is recommended, but not really feasible. My tests show you need at least 96 megabytes of total memory to make SoftWindows 98 productive. You also need a CD-ROM drive and 300 megs of free hard drive space.

On different Macs

603e 100MHz 32MB (Mac OS 8.1 & 8.5)
Slow. Very slow. This machine only has a 4X CD-ROM. Installation from the two CDs which SoftWindows 98 installs from was very slow. Once it was installed, the program took almost ten minutes to launch! Not really surprising, as Insignia Solutions does not recommend this system for use with SoftWindows 98. Now I know why. While the program did indeed run, everything was so slow it was almost painful. Simply opening a folder was an exercise in patience. Imagine double-clicking a folder, then waiting for that folder to open. It takes over ten seconds on this system. Screen redraw was also agonizingly slow. And actually trying to run programs… well, some things are better left unsaid.

603e 250MHz 128MB (Mac OS 8.1 & 8.5)
Ah, much better. The faster CD-ROM drive really sped up installation! And once everything was loaded, SoftWindows 98 launched at least five times faster than on the previous Mac. Again, Insignia Solutions does not recommend you run SoftWindows 98 on this machine, but many people will.

Besides launching faster, SoftWindows 98 was noticeably faster and more usable. Screen redraw was at least three times faster, though still on the slow side. I could run other software, as well as browse the Internet, but things were moving at a snail’s pace compared to a real Windows machine. Still, this is emulation, and some slowness is to be expected. I gave SoftWindows 98 35MB of memory to play with, but found that if I increased that to 75MB under Mac OS 8.5, the system was much more stable and speedier. All in all, it was in fact usable on this system, though slow. Game play, however, is still not an option. You could get away with this configuration if you only needed to use, say, Office 97 or Internet Explorer. (And Solitaire played close to real speeds!)

G3 225MHz 128MB (Mac OS 8.5)
By far the system of choice. Again, the faster CD-ROM made installation much faster. Launching SoftWindows 98 was none too bad (under a minute, which is faster than most real PCs). Screen redraw was quick. Like the 603e 250MHz system, I found once I bumped up the available memory over 75MB, things went faster and more usable. And stability was never a problem.

If you want SoftWindows 98, you really should follow Insignia Solutions recommendations and run it with at least a 604e, but a G3 would be better.

SoftWindows 98 is great for many reasons. First and foremost, it actually takes advantage of the Mac OS in ways unmatched by any other competitor. AppleScript is supported, as is drag and drop from one OS (Mac) to the other (Windows). You can also simply double-click a PC program on your Mac desktop to launch that program, and SoftWindows 98 takes over. While this did not work 100% of the time, it did enough times to make it notable.

SCSI & Networking
Insignia claims you can access all your SCSI devices with SoftWindows 98. To test this, I copied a program from a Zip disk to the desktop in Windows. It worked as promised, and was speedier than I would have expected. I also picked up a copy of PC Gamer magazine with a CD to test SoftWindows 98’s ability to use my CD-ROM drive. I was very pleased that SoftWindows 98 did not miss a beat. Not only did it launch the program on the CD, it also let me install programs from the CD to SoftWindows 98. And, surprisingly, it did so very quickly and effortlessly. In no time, I had two games installed on SoftWindows 98, ready to play.

I was skeptical, though, with the claim it could also access my scanner. So I launched Internet Explorer to test this out.

First, I dialed into my ISP via Open Transport on the Mac side. Then, under SoftWindows 98, I launched Internet Explorer and typed in a web address. With nary a problem, IE under SoftWindows 98 loaded the page in about twice the time it would have loaded under the Mac OS. So while it was not as fast, it was not slow to the point of unusable. In fact, the only difference I saw was how web pages are displayed (much better under the Mac side). I then pointed my browser toward where I downloaded the PC drivers to my Umax Astra 610s scanner.

Low and behold, SoftWindows 98 downloaded the software at about 1.5k/sec. In no time, I had the zipped file on my hard drive. Next, I used the included Aladdin Systems software to unzip the drivers. One installation of said drivers later, and I was scanning from SoftWindows 98! And it worked like a charm.

While I did not attempt to network SoftWindows 98 to either another Mac or a PC, it did use Open Transport just fine. In fact, this feature alone–the ability to use Open Transport–makes the price of SoftWindows 98 a good value: you can download from the Internet directly from the emulator! This can be a huge time saver, and Insignia Solutions is to be commended on their scrupulous adherance to Apple’s software guidelines.

Speed Zone & Game Time
No, SoftWindows 98 on your Mac is not as fast as Windows 98 (or 95) on a PC. Again, if you want true Pentium speeds, you will either want to buy a PC or a PC card for your Mac. But the speed is greatly improved over earlier versions of SoftWindows 95. At least twice as fast, actually, from my experience. Opening files, moving things around, all was faster than previous versions of the software. But the burning question remained, is it fast enough to play i?

Yes and no. If you’re playing a game which is not heavy in graphics, you can easily have a good time. However, if you try playing Myth under SoftWindows 98, you’re in for a disappointment. While 3D cards are supported in SoftWindows 98, I did not have one to test this with. I would imagine it would speed up intense 3D game play, but to the point of playability? Unknown.

Other features
Some other worthwhile benefits to SoftWindows 98 includes “TurboStart,” which will let you relaunch SoftWindows 98 in at least half the time it normally takes. Copy/Paste works between Windows 98 and the Mac OS just fine, though some text formatting was lost in the translation during my tests. Apple Guide and Balloon Help is present. SoftWindows 98 now includes the MMX technology, which may explain to some degree why the entire experience was faster than in previous versions. Sound Blaster Pro and Sound Blaster 16 are also supported.

Conclusions and Recommendations
While I find almost every application I need is also available for the Mac OS, there are times when I do need to have access to PC software. For those times, I have found SoftWindows 98 a viable solution. Not only is the price right, the software works as promised. And while the speed is not as good as a true Windows machine, it is cheaper than either an actual PC or a PC card. It works, it’s stable, and with the recommended system requirements, it’s fast enough to get some work done.

If you have the need to run Windows, this product is a winner. Hats off to Insignia Solutions for a fine product at a fair price.

MacMice Rating: 3

Tim Robertson

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