May 16, 2002
Virtual PC for OS/2
VirtualPC for OS/2 has to be one of the most highly anticipated software releases into the OS/2 market
in several years. We have been teased with the ability to run Windows applications with Bochs (which
I never could make work) and with Odin (which is cool, but not yet complete enough) but now,
finally, if you have must-have Windows or Linux applications you want to run, this is the
solution you have been looking for.
What is it?
Virtual PC is a software program that creates an environment for running software that acts exactly like
a PC, so that when you run programs, they don't know that they aren't running on a real
metal and electrons computer. It fabricates all the virtual computer components you'll need
including a virtual sound card, networking, video, mouse, hard disk, CD-ROM drive,
etc. etc. All of the components that make up a PC are created by Virtual PC so that you can
run operating systems in a window on your desktop, all the while retaining instant access
to your familiar OS/2 environment.
Installing VPC is easy, unzip the file you downloaded and run VPCOS2.EXE. The installer is
straightforward and modern. When you unzip the file, you'll also see the PDF manual. You
should copy this into your VirtualPC directory and create an icon so that you can read it
when you need it. I would like to have seen this integrated into the installation.
Installing the Guest Operating System
Once you have VPC installed, you need to install a "Guest" operating system. This is the operating
system that will run in the VPC Virtual Machine (VM). For my first try, I installed Windows XP
Professional edition. I also installed Windows 98.
Installation is straightforward, just put the bootable CD-ROM into the CD drive and start the
VM. Assuming the CD is bootable, it should go right away. If the OS install starts from diskette,
that works just the same. Make sure you leave lots of time for it to complete though. The
Windows XP installer estimated 35 minutes to complete the installation, but it ended up taking
a little over 3 hours.
Installing Windows 98 was a little quicker except that I needed to first create a .VFD
(Virtual Floppy Disk) file from the Windows 98 boot diskette since my laptop doesn't have a
floppy disk drive and the CD wasn't bootable. I found a shareware program
Winimage (http://www.winimage.com) that was able to create such a file.
Installing the VPC Additions
One thing that is very important once you have the Guest OS installed, is to install the Virtual PC
Additions. These allow VPC to integrate your Host and Guest OS'es better so that the mouse
pointer is shared nicely, and they allow you to share folders with the Host OS so that moving
files back and forth is easy. In the shot below, the N: drive is actually the \DL folder on my
OS/2 system's E: drive.
This was another item where I needed to read the manual. Before I looked at the manual I was
on Connectix's website trying to find these mysterious "Additions" I kept reading about, then I was ready to burn the ISO image I found in the VPC
directory that I thought might be them to CD. From what I've read on the web, I'm not alone in
my inability to read the instructions. To install the additions, start your
Guest OS, then click on CD, then Capture Image, then go into the Additions directory of the
Virtual PC install and select the 7009-additions.iso CD image. Assuming Windows has autostart
enabled, the installation should start immediately.
VPC includes two types of networking, their simple networking scheme is called "Shared Networking".
This allows applications to browse the web, and run most client applications. If you want
to be able to run servers or advanced networking features you need to select their "Virtual Switch"
option. I selected the Shared Networking option and it worked just as expected right out of
the box and I was able to get onto the web with Internet Explorer instantly.
Using Virtual PC
One feature you will quickly learn to love is the ability to have Virtual PC suspend a running session
so you don't have to wait for shutdown and restart. It is also nice in that the VPC window always
shows you a thumbnail of the VM screen in its main window.
I tested VPC on a Pentium III 900 Thinkpad with 196M of RAM and about 8G of free disk space. The display
was set to 32-bit color and it has a Crystal sound card.
If you're looking for an excuse to buy a faster PC and more memory, VPC could be that reason. Each
virtual machine you run reserves whatever amount of memory you have specified for that virtual
machine, and that memory cannot be swapped out so your OS/2 applications
will have to learn to live without while the VM is running.
Depending on which operating system you want to run as a guest, Innotek suggests you allow
for the following amounts of disk space and memory.
|Guest Operating System||Recommended Disk Space||Recommended Memory|
|OS/2 Warp 4.x||300M||32|
|Windows NT 4||1G||64|
So for example, if you want to run OS/2 as your host OS, plus a Windows 98 and Linux Guest
OS you need 32M+64M+64M=160M of RAM and 300M+500M+2G=2.8G of disk space.
As far as performance goes, order up about twice the CPU performance you want your VM's to
appear to run at. On a PIII 900 VPC is fast enough running Windows XP, but you won't be watching
videos or playing any games more CPU intensive than Solitaire. Looking at the minimum system
requirements suggested by Innotek, I wouldn't be buying near the bottom of the performance range
(which is a 266MHz MMX machine.) If you are running Windows 98 as a Guest, you will find it gives
much snappier performance than XP, probably because it was designed to run on slower machines to start with.
Sound, SMP and other Gotchas
It would seem to me that an SMP machine would be the perfect platform for a CPU intensive
program like VPC, but according to the documentation, VPC doesn't work on SMP machines. They
even recommend installing a UNI kernel to run VPC on an SMP machine.
Sound is another problem area for VPC. Apparently many OS/2 sound card drivers don't support
the requirements of VPC and some of them cause VPC to hang the system consistently after 30-45
minutes of use. Sound is turned off by default, but you can turn it on with RegEdit2, more on that
below. Once I did get sound turned on, I got sound that sounded like it was turning
itself on and off 30 times a second, so I turned it off again. Apparently this works better with
the SoundBlaster Live!, however the machine that has the Live is also SMP so that wasn't really
an option either. In any case, I'd
count this as a major deficiency in VPC. Lots of other applications manage to get sound in OS/2,
I don't see why VPC should be any different.
One last frustrating issue is that sometimes the Guest OS windows will stop accepting keyboard
input. The solution is to click on the main VPC window, and then on the little icons at the bottom
of the Guest OS window, then in the Guest OS window. It's nice there's a workaround, but the clicking
about trying to get the keyboard to work is frustrating.
For word processing and other applications that are not graphics intensive, you should
find VPC's performance very acceptable. Word processing with Office XP was completely usable
with no noticeable lag between typing and screen updates. I can see myself using this to move my
accounting software over from a Windows machine to my OS/2 desktop.
What about Games?
I tried one of my old favourites, Red Alert 2 in VPC running under Windows 98, and was pleasantly
surprised to find it totally playable on this platform. I couldn't get it to run at all under Windows
XP, but I'm pretty sure that this is a deficiency with XP, not with VPC. Watching the movies and
playing the game was great, but the lack of sound makes it a hollow victory.
If you are looking to play 3D shooters, you are going to be disappointed. While Virtual PC
supports Direct3D, there is no hardware to do 3D accelleration, so performance will be awful.
One last note, I had to disable the mouse integration feature to get Red Alert 2 to work, since
when I moved the mouse to the edge of the screen to scroll the display, the mouse left the window
and I didn't get to scroll. Fortunately this is an easy menu change.
OS/2 Client Support
I didn't actually try to install OS/2 as a client in VPC, but it is nice that Innotek is working with Connectix
to bring OS/2 to the other platform versions of VPC. One good use I can see for this on an OS/2 desktop
is to isolate Netscape from the rest of OS/2 so that when it hangs up Workplace Shell, that you can kill it
and continue to work.
The documentation for VPC is very good, and it is also a must-read if you want to be successful with the product.
It explains the theory of virtual machine emulation, and has a great deal of information to help you get your
guest-OS of choice installed and working.
If you purchase the electronic version of VPC, you get a 96 page PDF manual. Sections include:
Touring Virtual PC, Setting up Virtual PC, Networking, Settings and Preferences, Virtual Disk
Wizard, Technical Specifications, Command line Parameters and more.
Innotek's support forums were pretty annoying for me. When I discovered that sound wasn't working I
started looking through the documentation. The READ.ME explains that there are problems with a number of
sound card drivers in OS/2 but that if you want to try it, there is an undocumented way to turn sound
support back on and that you need to look at the support forums to find out how. So I happily went to
the support forums to find out this mysterious secret, only to find I need to register first. So I
grudgingly gave them an email address. Then I found out you need to be "authorized" before you can
access the forums. This was Saturday evening. I wasn't authorized until Monday. Next time I'd like to see
that little gem in the READ.ME. And automated support should be available when you need it.
Once I did get to read the forums, I found they have quite a bit of useful information and if you have
questions they seem quite responsive.
If you're looking to run Microsoft Office, accounting or other specialized software only available for Windows, or if you
need a bulletproof environment for software testing, Virtual PC is a very good solution. The thing
that impresses me the most about it is that for the most part it just works. No command line utilities to extract files
from Windows installation files, no transferring registry entries from a Windows machine, just put in the CD-ROM and
start Setup. This sort of painless operation is well within the abilities of the average computer
user and is worth the price. The ability to run Linux as a guest is a nice perk as well. There are
still a few rough edges that need to be knocked off, but even with them, the software is very usable.
Just make sure you have a SoundBlaster Live!, lots of memory, MHz and disk space. Have fun!
Virtual PC for OS/2 version 4.2
Support: Free online forums, fee-based support.
Price: Electronic delivery - euro 199, Cdn $275, U.S. $~175, Boxed - Cdn $325, U.S. $~207
Robert Basler is the president of
Aurora Systems, Inc. (http://www.aurora-systems.com)
and has been a dedicated OS/2 user since he tired of rebooting Windows 3.1 twenty times a day.
He spends what free time he can manage travelling the world. Photo was taken at Franz Josef
glacier, New Zealand.
This article is courtesy of www.os2ezine.com. You can view
it online at http://www.os2ezine.com/20020516/page_4.html.
Copyright (C) 2002. All Rights Reserved.