It looks like the third time is the charm for Apple Computer Inc.
Last year, the company offered hardware and software that make it possible for the Macintosh personal computer to run software written for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. Both the Quadra 610 DOS Compatible and Insignia Systems Inc.'s SoftWindows for the Power Mac were interesting, but suffered from a raft of problems.
With the introduction of the Power Macintosh 6100/66 DOS Compatible, Apple has finally done it right. Press two keys on your Macintosh and you can switch from your favorite Mac program into a zippy Windows environment. Apple also offers an add-in Compatibility Card for existing Power Macs (table).
The compatible can spare you the need for two computers if your kids want a Mac like the ones they use in school, but you need to run PC-based office software. Mac fanatics who work in PC shops may be able to have it both ways.
TWO BRAINS. Apple works its magic--the product was code-named Houdini during the development stage--by building two computers into one box. Each has its own processor (a 486DX2 for the PC), memory, and display circuitry. The two share disk and CD-ROM drives; audio, keyboard, and mouse; and printer, modem, and network connections. And there appears to be no speed penalty except when the two programs attempt to use the same disk drive or other function at the same time.
My informal testing indicates that Apple has achieved a high degree of compatibility on the Windows side. Multimedia programs that have given me trouble on some pure Windows machines, such as WordPerfect Corp.'s Wallobee Jack games, ran flawlessly.
Earlier attempts at dual-mode Macs lacked support for DOS or Windows networking. But I got the new DOS Compatible running on our Novell NetWare network in a snap: Like all Macs, networking is built in, and the Windows side is easy, too.
Indeed, I could find only two major areas of incompatibility, and Apple alerts users to both. The Macintosh mouse is equipped with only one button and you have to use the keyboard to simulate the right mouse button that's used in Windows. And Macs and PCs use entirely different hardware to connect with modems. Results are variable: Stac Electronics Inc.'s ReachOut remote-control software worked fine, while America Online dialed the telephone but couldn't connect.
Previous efforts at compatibles flopped because they were sluggish, and couldn't run multimedia programs or connect to networks in Windows and DOS. The new system hits equally well from either side of the plate.
"RIGHT THING." Apple, which has no desire to encourage its customers to move toward Windows, is focusing sales on PC owners and first-time buyers. "If we were only selling to the installed base, we'd wonder if this was the right thing to do," says Dave Daetz, Apple's product line manager. Indeed, Apple is leaving its brand name off compatibility retrofits for the mass of Mac owners. Instead, it has licensed the technology to Rely Corp. (800 801-6898), which offers a range of boards for Macs powered by Motorola Inc.'s 68040 chip.
To attract new buyers to Macs, Apple is pricing the package aggressively. When the machine hits retail outlets in quantity in February, it will probably be available with a keyboard, monitor, and CD-ROM for under $3,000, perhaps $500 more than a similar PowerMac without PC compatibility.
A switch-hitting Apple isn't for everyone. But it resolves a lot of dilemmas for both homes and offices where Macs have been lovable but impractical.