Virtual PC 7

Well I am really late to the game here, but I never got a chance to shout out that Virtual PC 7 is available. I don't think folks outside the product team will appreciate just how difficult it was to get this product out the door. It took a bit longer than we'd all hoped, but Virtual PC is really a testament to the dedication and hard work of the team, and some of the great resources that Microsoft offered the product.

One of the first things we did when Microsoft acquired Virtual PC was some substantial user research and usability testing. We sat in customers homes, brought them into our usability lab and really dug into what people wanted to use this product for, and what they were having problems with. In our usability testing we asked customers to configure a USB printer. Not surprisingly, > 85% of our subjects failed at this task (and grew frustrated in doing so). In addition, a lot of people complained that they weren't sure if Windows was locked up or things were just taking a while. Finally a lot of people were complaining about slow startup and shut down performance because they were booting up Windows from scratch, and shutting it down every single time they wanted to use Virtual PC! That was particularly crazy given that Virtual PC can quickly save state and resume state (which is equivalent to a Hibernate in Windows). As a result of all this Virtual PC 7 really focused on a few core things:

  1. Performance, Performance, Performance. The team will never be done looking for ways to squeeze out every % point possible, and we feel that in this version we significantly improved raw CPU performance. Now remember, I said raw CPU performance. There are a number of factors that will affect overall PC performance, such as disk performance, and machines like G5's with their SATA interfaces are going to be faster launching applications then a PowerBook G4.
  2. G5 Compatibility. This one was a no brainer and we just did the work to support this. It was no small task, and we suspect most people grew frustrated with how long it took to get a compatible version. Well, we wanted to deliver a version of Virtual PC that didn't just run on G5s, but ran significantly faster on a G5 than a G4 and that took a lot more work than just G5 compatibility.
  3. Improved Printing. One feature I got to "own" was our new Zero Config Printing. Basically, you don't need to do anything to print, so long as your printer is connected and configured to print from your Macintosh. This really went a long way to making printer configuration a non issue for users. This takes advantage of Mac OS 10.3 functionality that essentially allows us to capture PostScript from Windows and throw it over the fence to the Mac to print.
  4. Improved toolbar and CPU meter. Another one of my features was to clean up the Toolbar. We wanted it to be useful to customers and as such removed the network status (who really needs to know this), floppy icon and added a new CPU meter which will give you some sense that VPC is up to something rather than stuck cause Windows is frozen. You can enable or disable any of the buttons to suit your needs.
  5. Fast Save. This isn't a new feature really, but we just went ahead and made fast save the default when you close a VPC window and we save the contents of memory in the background. This gets VPC out of the way so you can go and do something else w/o waiting for VPC to finish saving state. It also gives you the impression that things are really snappy. Now users aren't unnecessarily shutting down windows, but can quickly launch VPC use it for a while and then quit the application w/o much overhead.
  6. Improved framerate throughput. Animation, graphics etc will appear more fluid then ever because we are offloading some of rendering to the Graphics hardware. Don't get this wrong idea, this DOES NOT improve Windows framerate, rather is ensures that Virtual PC can keep up with what Windows is trying to draw. It DOES NOT mean that you can now run games that require 3D graphics hardware (contrary to some of the rumors out there). If you run a screen saver such as the Bezier Curves and compare VPC 6.1 and 7 side by side you will see the difference. Otherwise you won't notice much except that things will seem snappy.
  7. More Secure. This is undoubtedly the most secure version of VPC to date. The team spent a long time working on this and ensuring compatibility with Windows XP SP2. This does not come for free.
  8. Improved Help. Yes, you may not use this, but we took a good long hard look at Help and overhauled it. Lots of Mac users are not familiar with Windows, so help is particularly important.
  9. Localized in Swedish. That's right, if you speak Swedish, you can now get a Swedish version.
  10. Bug fixes. Lots, and I mean Lots of bug fixes. Not every USB device in the world is going to work. There are finite resources to test every device on the planet, and certain classes of USB device still don't work (things like certain GPS receivers).

I'm a bit sad that I wasn't there to see VPC 7 out the door, but either way kudos for the team for rounding out what I think is the highest quality version of VPC ever. I had a lot of fun working on this product. One of my favorite highlights was a trip to Japan where we went on visits to user's homes and office to see first hand the kind of feedback they had for us. I can't tell you how much we all leared through experiences like that. I hope this product reflects what our users want, and am sure that the team will continue to deliver for their customers...