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Special Report: Interview with Connectix CEO Roy McDonald

We interviewed Connectix President and CEO Roy McDonald on January 7, 1999 on the show floor of Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

We did not have tape recorder, so this is not a word-for-word transcript. We've paraphrased some of Mr. McDonald's remarks, and quoted him on others. The topics discussed:

Virtual Game Station

Virtual PC
Web Floppy

Virtual Game Station.

The Sony PlayStation is the most popular gaming device. Connectix is now shipping a new emulator, Virtual Game Station ($49), which emulates the Sony PlayStation on Apple G3 Macs (older Macs with upgrade cards are not supported). Demonstrations on the Expo show floor on the new 266 MHz iMacs ($1199) showed snappy performance of games, not as fast as on a Sony Game Station, but faster and smoother than on Virtual PC with Windows. Since it doesn't need to emulate a Pentium and PC subsystems, and doesn't need to run Windows, the entire emulator and games run in 10 MB RAM. Virtual Game Station supports ADB and USB game controllers and keyboard control. The emulator runs U.S. versions of PlayStation CDs.

MW: How does Virtual Game Station work?

McDonald told us that the Virtual Game Station (VGS) emulates a MIPS 3000 processor and the PlayStation BIOS. The PlayStation operating system is contained on each game CD, and is very small in terms of the amount of RAM it takes up.

The VGS software requires only 10 MB of Mac RAM -- 8 for emulator (which is about the same as the Virtual PC emulator), and only 2 MB for the game. McDonald said "PlayStation games are written to expect only 2 MB, so adding more RAM [in the Mac] won't make them faster."

Sony PlayStation games running on VGS are quite a bit faster than Windows DirectX games are on Virtual PC. The main reason is that VGS doesn't have the overhead of Windows, and the emulator doesn't need to emulate all of the hardware subsystems of a PC. Also, the MIPS 3000 processor is simpler to emulate than a Pentium MMX.

MW: How fast is the VGS?

McDonald is careful not to get users' expectations too high. "We are not saying that games will look exactly like a PlayStation game," said McDonald. "Instead, we asked 'can we still make it enjoyable?' We think the answer is yes."

McDonald told us that VGS will slow when there is a lot going on in the game at the same time. Connectix compensated for this.

"Instead of slowing down, we just drop video frames," said McDonald. This will make the game appear jumpier, but the game will progress at the same rate.

MW: What games can VGS play?

"Currently, Virtual Game Station plays over 60 games, which are listed on the [VGS] web site. It probably can play more, but these 60 have been tested so far. It's not likely that VGS will play 100 percent of the PlayStation games. This isn't a goal."

MW: What Macs can VGS run on?

"You need an Apple G3 Mac. That's a Power Mac G3, iMac, and PowerBooks, not an older Mac or a Power Computing machine with an upgrade card."

We then asked McDonald what Mac Connectix considered normal. He replied "The standard for testing is the original iMac." The desktop Macs are faster than the original iMac, but PowerBook G3s run slower. VGA also makes use of graphics acceleration in the Macs.

MW: PlayStation games have memory cards you use to save the games so you don't have to start at the beginning of a game each time you play it. How does VGS handle this?

Memory Card: you save the state of the game as a file.

"With some games, you can only save to a card at certain stages. [That is, you have to play the game to a certain point before you can save it.] This means our programmers had to play a lot of games. They were saying "'Am I getting paid for this?"

MW: What's the best way to control a game?

You can control a game with either the keyboard or a gamepad. McDonald was partial to USB devices.

"The Gravis Gamepad Pro is the best device right now," said McDonald. "ADB controllers work, but they don't have as many buttons." McDonald Recommends a USB expansion card for Macs that don't have USB ports. "you might need it with new peripherals"


VGS will be bundled with gamepads in the spring

McDonald pointed out that one advantage a real PlayStation over VGS is it's tactile feedback. With some games, the PlayStation will vibrate in response to what's going on. No gamepad for Mac provides tactile feedback.

You can configure this virtual game controller to accept keyboard clicks or game controller button clicks.

MW: What's the likelihood of a lawsuit by Sony?

When we put this question to McDonald, it was one of the most debated questions at Macworld Expo. On one hand, Sony makes most of its PlayStation profits on the sale of the software, not the hardware. On the other hand, Sony is notorious for wanting to have direct control of its products, from everything from the Walkman to its music and entertainment holdings. For instance, Sony's Imax theaters are unique in the movie industry, in that Sony is the sole vendor of the Imax film, the cameras and lenses, and the projectors. No one can make an Imax movie without Sony's permission. Sony also owns and operates all of the Imax theaters.

"Sony doesn't endorse Virtual Game Station, and we didn't work with them to develop it," replied McDonald. "We don't believe there are any violations of the intellectual property laws. We respect Sony's intellectual property rights." McDonald added that VGS "is good for Sony's business," because it doesn't compete with Sony's hardware and adds more places to play PlayStation software.

Connectix also has taken some measures to prevent the use of VGS to play illegal copies of Sony's games. For instance, VGS won't play CDs manufactured outside of the United States, where most bootlegged copies are created. This also means that VGS won't be targeted to the Japanese market, Sony's home base.

NOTE: Unknown to us at the time, a day after Connectix Virtual Game station was released, someone wrote a VGS patch that gets around Connectix protections that prevent the use of VGS to play illegal copies of Sony's games. According to a source, the patch enables the Sony PlayStation emulator to play non-U.S. games, as well as bootleg copies on CDR discs of Sony PlayStation discs.

PerkVM, Java Virtual Machine

Connectix jumped into the Java market by announcing PerkVM for Macintosh and Windows, a new high-performance Virtual Machine.

MW: Why did Connectix get into the Java business?

McDonald said that you can think of Java as a platform, and that creating a Java virtual engine for Mac and Windows was similar to creating emulation products (hence the term "virtual machine.") "Our job is to make all software work on all hardware," said McDonald. "JAVA is a step in that direction."

McDonald admitted that Java programs do run slower than other software, but that the 300 and 400 MHz computers now getting into users hands would make Java programs viable. McDonald also said that PerkVM makes running Java programs more viable because it is faster than other Java virtual machines, such as the ones that come with Windows and Mac OS. One of the reasons is that PerkVM uses RAM more efficiently. Performance of the Mac version of PerkVM will be consistent of that of the Windows version.

PerkVM won't be an end-user product, but will be based on Sun's Java 2 licensing program. McDonald said that PerkVM customers will be developers, large corporate and university sites, and "computing platform vendors."

MW: Will Apple adopt PerkVM as it's JAVA virtual machine for the Mac?

"We're talking to Apple and a bunch of other people," said McDonald.

Virtual PC

MW: What can we expect from the next version of Virtual PC?

"We've been hard at work on the next version of Virtual PC," he said. McDonald didn't give us any specifics, but indicated that the next release would be major. "Like Microsoft, the third release will be the one that really get's it right," he said."We've been working with Apple and with customers to learn what people want. Schools are a big Virtual PC market."

"We've been looking at incompatibility, such as some that you find on networks." He also said that Connectix is starting a certification program with vendors to ensure that software runs on Virtual PC.

Web Floppy

Web floppy is a utility that uploads and down loads files over FTP using drag and drop techniques.

"A lot of people have 10 MB of space from their ISP for use as a personal web site, but not many people use it for that purpose." McDonald said that the idea behind Web Floppy was to enable people to use this space as they would use a floppy disk--to move data from one machine to another, such as between a home and work machine.

Users can drag and drop files to a Web Floppy icon on the desktop. They can choose to upload when they connect to the Internet, or when they "eject" the virtual floppy by dragging it to the trash

Now in beta, Web floppy will ship in the 3rd or 4th week of February for about $10-to-$15, and will be sold at the Connectix web site.

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