My friend Dave mentioned his experiences with using a Mac Pro - specifically using Windows on the Mac Pro. This got me thinking about my experiences with Windows on a Mac Pro.
While Dave is a pretty recent convert to the Macs, I've been using them nearly exclusively at home for the last two years. For the last two years, I've had two computers at home - a Windows PC and a Powermac (now Mac Pro). They were connected via a KVM so I could easily switch between the two. I liked this setup because I could easily 'multitask' by running both computers at the same time. I could be doing something on Windows and then hit the KVM switch and go back to the Mac, while the Windows machine does it's thing. It was a great setup. It was a horrible, messy 'bowl of spaghetti' behind the desk, but it worked.
I had considered just going with Virtual PC on the Powermac and running Windows in a virtual machine, thereby eliminating the need for a second computer. I even went out and bought a copy of Virtual PC for the Mac and tried it. The problem was, that Virtual PC ran absolutely horribly on the Powermac (a very powerful machine). While Windows did run, it was slow, and some things that I needed did NOT work right. This basically meant that Virtual PC wasn't going to work and I was stuck with the dual computer setup.
The Powermac is a PowerPC based computer. This is the old type of CPUs that Macs used to have before they switched over to Intel CPUs. Apple has pledged to keep supporting PowerPC computers, despite their switch to Intel CPUs and they've done an admirable job at it. That is one reason I was able to continue to happily use my old Powermac for a long time after Intel Macs came out. Most applications continued to work perfectly. The problem was that, with the switch to Intel CPUs, the PowerPC became a second class citizen in the Mac world. 99% of applications worked, but there were some that wouldn't. One of those apps was VMWare.
VMWare is another program that allows you to run Windows in a virtual machine. The problem was, that VMWare only ran on Intel Macs and not on my Powermac. Now, I completely understood why this limitation existed. For most apps, the differences between PowerPC and Intel CPUs are relatively minor because they operate at a very high level. For VMWare, it's quite different. In order to run a virtual machine, it's necessary to emulate the CPU itself. This is a very low level requirement and there's no way to avoid it. I can perfectly understand VMWare's decision not to support PowerPC. It would have required completely rewriting the application, from the ground up in order to support what is essentially a dead CPU platform (at least on the Macs). In order to run VMWare and have a hope of running Windows in a virtual machine again, I'd have to replace the entire Mac - not a cheap proposal.
I fought the urge to do this for over a year. I kept telling myself that my dual computer setup was just fine and it did what I needed. In the back of my mind, though, I knew I was living on 'borrowed time' with that Powermac. I figured that I could easily get another year of good use out of it, but beyond that, more and more apps would start to abandon the PowerPC and I would see my Mac become less and less useful. Finally, I decided it was time to 'move on' and get the Intel based Mac Pro that I'd been eyeing for a long time.
A few weeks ago I bought the Mac Pro. I was easily able to transfer all my files over from the PowerMac without a hitch. It was an amazingly smooth transition. I was now running an operating system on completely different hardware and I couldn't even tell the difference. This is fantastic! The Mac Pro, despite having twice the CPUs and being a lot faster, also runs a good 33% cooler than the Powermac! Once I got the Mac Pro and added a couple of gigs of RAM to it, it was time to try VMWare.
I grabbed a spare 250GB HD off the shelf and installed it as the second internal HD on the Mac Pro. I then setup a 200GB Windows XP virtual machine on that HD and went ahead and installed XP. I was amazed at how fast XP ran! XP was running faster in a virtual machine than it was running on a dedicated computer! After running some tests on the virtual machine, I determined that everything in Windows worked perfectly in the virtual machine. The problems I had in Virtual PC on the Powermac were now gone. I had a fully functional Windows XP machine now running in a virtual machine.
For the last several weeks, I've been running the Mac Pro exclusively, using that XP virtual machine for the rare times I need Windows. Considering how I'm a Windows developer, I spend very little time in Windows at home. I'm able to start up that virtual machine, do whatever I need for a few minutes, and then shut it down. My old Windows XP PC has been sitting there under the desk, turned off for weeks. Before I would turn that thing on every day and have two hot computers running, heating up the room and eating a lot of power. Now, I have one computer running cooler and using less electricity, and yet with all the same functionality.
I still kept that old Windows PC there under the desk though. I suppose it was out of habit or out of a feeling of leaving it there 'just in case.' I've come to realize that there is no 'just in case' anymore. That box is now useless. A couple days ago, I finally went 'cold turkey' and unplugged it - removing it from the desk. I'm now running a single computer, the Mac Pro, and I don't miss that other computer at all. I still have that mess of 'spaghetti' behind the desk to clean up, but I'm happy to say that I've given up the dual computer life and am now happily living with just a single computer.
I don't forsee myself ever buying a PC again.