How To Run Windows Applications On Your Mac

Whichever way you look at it, there are times when something you need to run doesn’t exist for Mac OSX, or simply isn’t quite the same as the Microsoft Windows counterpart. This can be particularly true when it comes to games, but other packages such as the Australian version of QuickBooks or various applications that make life in Eve Online easier might not exist either.

Do you really need to run a Windows App on your Mac?

Before reading this article, we strongly recommend that you search Google for alternatives to the Windows software that you’re trying to run that might exist for Mac. Even if you find an alternative though, there can still be compelling reasons to run the Windows version. For example, you may have already purchased the Windows license and a Mac OSX license for the same software could be prohibitively expensive. But check anyway, because the benefits of running native Mac software might outweigh the extra costs. For example, the company may not provide support for running your software under OSX using the Windows version. The native Mac OSX version will integrate better into your dock, menubar and workflow, potentially saving you productivity in the long run.

But, if you’ve done all the research and the best way to achieve your goal is to run a Windows version of your software under OSX, then the rest of this article provides a few ways of achieving that.

Virtualisation

vm-latest-platforms-large-1843205Virtualisation is the term that’s used for running Windows within OSX. The application, such as Parallels DesktopVirtualBox or VMWare Fusion creates a ‘computer within a computer’. For the Windows operating system running under one of these applications, the OSX system does not exist. It’s a box within a box. The virtualised environment appears to the Windows operating system to be a whole separate and different machine. It has its own hardware with its own drivers and screen display etc – but it’s running alongside all your normal OSX applications. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need to reboot your Mac in order to run your Windows apps, and in some cases (such as Parallels Coherence mode) the application actually appears to be running as a Mac app, even though it’s actually a Windows app. A downside of this approach however can be that programs don’t run as fast as they would if they were running natively under windows without the virtualisation layer.

Other downsides to virtualisation can be that badly written virtualisation platforms (or bugs) can bring down the whole machine. In one case with Parallels my network ceased to function as soon as I brought up the Windows machine because the Windows machine was issued with the same IP address as the main OSX machine. Parallels support helped me fix it but it was a little annoying for a couple of days.

You’ll also need a valid Windows License to legitimately run Windows under a virtual environment.

But overall virtualisation does provide a very good way of maximising your hardware and allowing you to run Windows and OSX applications concurrently. The next question then is to find which virtualisation platform you wish to use. You can check out our reviews of ParallelsVirtualBox and VMWare Fusion for more information and help to compare.

Wine

wine-logoWine Is Not an Emulator (WINE) is the name of an open source package which enables Windows programs to run on a UNIX based system, so long as the machine on which it is running has an Intel processor (which modern Macs do). Programs running under WINE usually run at close to native speed and will usually enable you, with some jiggery pokery, to add desktop shortcuts or dock bar icons for instant startup. Because you don’t need to start up the whole Windows environment separately the startup time for an app is much reduced compared to virtualisation.

But there is a downside. Wine, being open source – and not being Windows itself – is not fully complete. So some applications may not run correctly – or even at all. There is a database of applications available at WineHQ which give you an idea of how well you can expect your application to work under Wine.

Wine does not need a valid Windows license as it doesn’t use any Windows components, the windows library calls that an application makes are actually provided by Wine itself and are usually rewritten by the Wine developers without having access to any Microsoft code. Hence why some applications don’t work as expected.

Whilst Wine may be fast and well integrated, if it works for your app, it isn’t as easy to install. Indeed, it’s definitely not for the faint of heart – if you want to install a customised version at least. Various packages are emerging for Mac OSX based Wine installations that make things significantly easier. Have a look at WineBottler or Codeweavers Crossover for easier ways to install.

Unless you’re reasonably geeky and happy to get your hands a bit dirty configuring things and tweaking, we’d recommend the virtualisation route or Bootcamp. But WINE is getting better every week and becoming easier to use, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Bootcamp

imac-bootcampBootcamp comes with your Mac and allows you to install a legitimate version of Windows onto a separate partition on your hard drive. Bootcamp Assistant (found in Finder under Applications->Utilities) does all the heavy lifting for you, including asking how much space you want to allocate to your windows installation and then adjusting startup disks and boot partitions so you don’t need to stress about it at all.

You will need a legitimate Windows license, as you’re going to be installing an actual copy of Windows onto your Mac, alongside your OSX.

Bootcamp provides the fastest and most compatible way to run Windows applications on your Mac, but it does so at a price. With the Bootcamp method you’re either running Windows or you’re running OSX. This is because you have to reboot into one or the other. You can’t run your OSX applications alongside your Windows applications. So if you have a Windows app you want to run, but you want to be able to get your e-mail using Mail.app, or browse using the OSX Safari, or lookup a location using Apple Maps under Mavericks – well, you can’t, because your Apple Mac is running Windows now instead. You’ll need to reboot back to OSX in order to run those.

So, while Bootcamp is fast, reliable and the most compatible way of running Windows apps it’s also the least flexible.

Some virtualisation platforms ( Parallels in particular ) will let you run the virtual Windows from the Bootcamp partition, which means if, at this moment in time, you don’t want to reboot you can fire up the VM and run within OSX. Slower, less reliable, for this instance – but allowing you to run alongside your OSX apps. Then when you need the raw speed of native Windows you can reboot using Bootcamp. Many 3D gamers tend to use Bootcamp and virtualisation in this way.

Bootcamp can be quite annoying if you only want to boot into Windows for a once off – this is because you either need to reboot then hold down the Alt-Option key until the boot items come up. Or you need to go into System Preferences and choose a new startup disk. A small utility called Bootchamp can help out with this by placing an icon in your task menu and allowing you to reboot into Windows easily without all that nonsense. Check out our review of Bootchamp for more information.

 

Final Thoughts

So, we’ve presented 3 different ways of running windows applications on your Apple Mac. Each has their own merits and disadvantages as outlined here. Hopefully this How-To has been useful for you.

If you have any comments or need help with any aspect of this How-To, please leave a comment below and we’ll try to help you out

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