This is a difficult article to write. Not because the subject is a difficult concept to understand or because it requires a mountain of research, it’s difficult because it requires me to swallow a little bit of my pride and admit that sometimes I need to run a Windows app in OSX. I used to be in denial. Consider this my coming out.
There are several solutions available for running Windows applications on your Mac. Some come at a premium price, some are free. And some work great while others have their limitations. I’ll show you different options and their advantages so you can choose a method that works best for you.
Dual boot Windows
Since Apple started using Intel processors it has been possible to install a copy of Windows on your Mac and dual boot between OSX and Windows. The first Intel Macs were released in January 2006. And in April they officially supported the option to install and dual boot into Windows with the release of Boot Camp.
Boot Camp is a multi-boot utility that helps you install Windows. It guides you through the partitioning of your hard drive and installation of device drivers. After Windows is installed you can choose which operating system to boot into by holding down the Option key at startup.
• Fastest way to run Windows and Windows programs on your Mac
• No program compatibility issues as they’re running in their native environment
• It takes time to shut down and then reboot into a different operating system
• You can’t run any OSX apps at the same time
• Takes up more hard drive space
• Requires you to own a copy of Windows
Best option if you run a lot of memory intensive Windows programs.
A virtual machine (VM) is a separate operating system running inside a host operating system. The VM software is an application that installs on the host, in this case, OSX, and virtualizes the hardware requirements of the second operating system.
There are a number of different virtual machine solutions for OSX. The two most popular solutions are called VMware Fusion ($49.99) and Parallels Desktop ($79.99). There are also a couple of free options worth checking out: VirtualBox and Q.app. The paid for applications have the advantage of being supported, meaning you should be able to get them up and running a lot easier.
• You don’t have to reboot to run Windows apps
• You can drag files from Windows to OSX
• Run Windows and OSX apps side by side
• Running two operating systems at the same time takes up a lot of resources
• Windows runs slower
• Some large programs won’t run at all
• Requires owning a copy of Windows
Best option if you need to run a number of apps fairly regularly. You’re a web developer and need to check websites in different browsers in Windows and Mac.
Try some Wine
Wine is an open source project that aims to allow you to run Windows applications on different operating systems, such as Linux and Mac OSX. Wine doesn’t attempt to simulate a Windows environment like a virtual machine solution, instead it translates API calls into POSIX calls on the fly. Simply put, it aims to let you run Windows applications in an OSX environment as though they were native OSX apps.
With Wine running on your Mac you can then install Windows programs within the Wine app. After you install a Windows program in Wine it will be given an icon you can open like any other OSX app.
There are several Wine based solutions, although some require a bit of work to get set up. The most user-friendly option I have found is called WineBottler.
• You don’t need a separate installation of Windows
• Apps run quicker than with VM
• Apps resemble native OSX apps
• It’s free
• Not as easy to set up
• Not all apps will run on Wine
• Some apps will run but have strange bugs
Best for smaller applications, or for someone who only needs one or two apps. Check WineHQ for application compatibility.
Which solution you choose will ultimately depend on your requirements. If you need to run large or system intensive applications on a regular basis your best option will be to use Boot Camp to dual boot. But then you may as well just get a PC and use both.
Virtual machines are more flexible but use up more system resources. I suggest you only go this route if you have a powerful machine or only need to run it occasionally.
Using Wine to port applications to OSX has the potential to be the ultimate solution, and is what I use. But it suffers from compatibility issues and can be complicated to set up.
So while there is no perfect solution available yet, at least you don’t have to run Windows all the time and, God forbid, call yourself a PC user!