Ways To Run Windows Applications On Your Mac

Which is better, Mac or PC? Why choose? After all, your Mac is a PC, it just runs Mac OS X instead of Windows. And it looks pretty. But what if you need to run an application that is Windows-only? Like a piece of accounting software, an engineering simulation, a database application, or even Internet Explorer to access an IE-only site. But who’s kidding who — we know you probably just want to run a Windows-only game on your Mac.

So there are various options for running Windows software on your Mac. They come in three flavors: virtualization, a Win32 API or rebooting completely into Windows.

VMware FusionA MacMost poll showed that the two virtualization giants were used by most people, with VMware Fusion beating out Parallels in popularity. Both of these run as an application in Mac OS X and create a virtual PC inside your Mac to host the Windows operating system.

They both work extremely well, allowing Windows direct access to the Intel processor in your Mac so it can run at nearly full speed. And since both are several generations past the first version, they can support advanced graphics required for most applications and game, although they are far from perfect.

ParallelsTo use either of these, you would need a full copy of Windows to install. XP, Vista or Windows 7 will work, as well as alternative operating systems like Ubuntu. The application will then create a large file representing the virtual Windows hard drive and walk you though installing Windows on it.

When you launch the program it would boot Windows, giving you the option to view it as a large Window on your Mac, take of over the entire screen, or mix Windows windows with Mac windows. You can even drag and drop and copy and paste between Mac and Windows.

VMware Fusion weighs in at $80 and so does Parallels, although it seems like the actual retail price of Parallels is often cheaper.

Next in popularity is Boot Camp. This is Mac OS X’s ability to allow you to reboot into Windows using a separate Windows partition. The ability to do this is free with Leopard and Snow Leopard, but you still need to provide your own Windows discs. At present, Windows XP and Vista are supported, although Apple promised Windows 7 soon.
The main drawback to Boot Camp is that you need to shut down your Mac and reboot completely. And then do it again when you are done working in Windows and want to return to Mac.

But the main advantage of Boot Camp is the near 100% compatibility. You are essentially running Windows on a PC when you reboot. The only loose ends are drivers for Apple hardware like mice and keyboards and right button clicks when using MacBooks. But these have mostly been ironed out.

VirtualBoxNext down on the list was VirtualBox. Another virtualization application. While not as feature rich as VMWare Fusion or Parallels, it has a better price point: free. You’ll still need to install your own copy of Windows, however.

CrossoverA few people reported using CrossOver or Darwine. These solutions allow you to run Windows applications without having Windows installed. They contain versions of the parts of Windows that applications rely on to run, so they can run in Mac OS X with that help.
DarwineThe drawback is that few Windows applications are supported. Application support almost has to be added one-at-a-time, meaning that it is only a viable solution if your application happens to be on the list. And many of those applications are already available in regular Mac versions, so running them with a Win32 API application isn’t very valuable.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the poll here at MacMost.com. We’ve now got a good picture of how people run Windows on their Mac. I should point out that there were also quite a few messages along the lines of “I don’t run Windows at all — that’s why I bought a Mac!”

Here are the complete results of the original poll:

Since Apple switched to Intel processors for Macs, it has become much easier to run Windows applications on your Mac. You can use a virtualization application like Parallels, VMware Fusion or VirtualBox to run Windows while still in Mac OS X. You can reboot into Windows with Boot Camp, and you can run a custom implementation of the Win32 API like with Darwine and CrossOver.

Which is your preferred way to run Windows applications on your Mac?

  • VMware Fusion (32%, 61 Votes)
  • Parallels (29%, 54 Votes)
  • Boot Camp (22%, 42 Votes)
  • VirtualBox (13%, 24 Votes)
  • CrossOver (4%, 7 Votes)
  • Darwine (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Q (kju) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 189

Comments: 9 Responses to “Ways To Run Windows Applications On Your Mac”

    11/25/09 @ 12:53 pm

    I actually use VMware Fusion 3 because its very comfortable, but it slows down more intense Apps, so is just usefull for simple Applications like my banking software.
    Bootcamp makes it complicated, because of its necessity to Restart, and still existing bugs regarding the identification of peripherals. But it is fast like a real machine and also usefull for more sophisticated apps. (I use it for my very photorealistic helicopter training machine which is way too slow on VMware)

    11/26/09 @ 6:00 am

    I use VMware, but very rarely. I tried using Quicken on Windows but it was just a pain, and I eventually migrated to iggsoftware’s iBank for the Mac and have been pretty happy.

    But if I want to play a game I restart with BootCamp.

    11/26/09 @ 6:33 am

    Parallels on my Mac and VM Fusion on my wife’s. We got in this pickle because I passed my Mac to her and had bought Fusion first. I believe the software is right out of the Microsoft playbook. They have re-written the English language and it is the LEAST user-friendly program I have used in years. Recently replaced her hard drive and had to download the new activation code on mine. The frustration has been overwhelming and consequently her trial download has run out, I own the upgrade, but unable to use it because of Fusion website problem.

    11/26/09 @ 3:00 pm

    We love Parallels! Haven’t had a problem yet! I can use all my old Windows software… and am reminded each time why I hate using Windows!!!


    Rick Gillette
    12/1/09 @ 10:19 am

    Using VMWare Fusion 3
    Parallels got really screen goofy after SL upgrade
    Virtualbox would not allow XP to load software that used normal graphics settings for some reason – saying packages require higher settings – XP settings did not detect proper drivers – everything “unknown”…

    Fusion 3 in XP allowed XP to pick up the Mac’s vid capabilities, and software loaded as expected.. So I guess if you just want to BOOT Windows, anything that works will do.. If you really want to USE Windows, just know there are some gotchas in apps that need graffix.

    12/3/09 @ 6:05 pm

    What about the over12 thousand Bill gates’ Windows viruses ? Do they come with it ? Or is it really safe ?

      12/3/09 @ 6:56 pm

      It is just as safe as any other copy of Windows :)

    9/1/10 @ 7:25 pm

    just bought a secondhand mac5 it does not have an intel processer tried to use virtualbox tells me can only run on x86 or later any help would be good

      9/1/10 @ 7:58 pm

      Right. Older Macs that don’t have Intel processors can’t run Windows in a virtual environment because Windows runs on Intel processors.

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