February 22, 2007

Six and Three-Quarters Ways to Run Windows on a Mac

“Hello, I’m a Mac…and I’m a PC too.” Yes, you really can have the best of both worlds. Now that Macs run on Intel processors, it’s easier than ever for Windows and Mac OS X to coexist on the same computer. So whatever your biases against the “other” system, just get over it and run them both. Of course, you still need a Mac to do that—not that I’m complaining.

I’ve written an ebook called Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac ($10) that goes into all the details about why and how to do this, and I was surprised to find out how many different ways you can get Windows software to run on a Mac. Not counting heavy-duty hacks and fringe projects, here they are:

  1. Boot Camp: Apple’s official solution, Boot Camp lets you divide your hard disk into a Mac partition and a Windows partition, install Windows XP on the Windows volume, and then switch between OSes by rebooting. Only kinda works with Vista at the moment, but that’ll be dealt with as soon as Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard ships this spring. Intel Macs only. Free for now during the public beta program; that may or may not change with Leopard.
  2. Parallels Desktop: The current favorite among many Mac users, including me, Parallels puts Windows windows side-by-side with Mac windows. No rebooting, drag and drop between OSes, support for pretty much every version of Windows in existence (plus DOS, Linux, and so on), and plenty fast for most needs. Intel Macs only. Costs $80, but my book includes a $10-off coupon.
  3. VMware Fusion: VMware has the latest entry in the Windows-on-Mac competition, but they’re hardly newcomers to virtualization. The beta version of their product, code-named Fusion, looks pretty hot, and is better in some respects (including raw speed) than Parallels. Runs many different operating systems without rebooting, including hundreds of prebuilt “virtual appliances.” Intel Macs only. Price not yet announced.
  4. Q: This open-source app is based on QEMU, a popular way for Linux geeks to run Windows (or other OSes). You can’t beat the price, and versions are available for both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, but the performance on the former is glacial, while the latter is merely painfully slow. Free.
  5. [Virtual PC for Mac](http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products/ virtualpc/virtualpc.aspx): Unlike Parallels, Fusion, and Q, which are virtualization programs, Virtual PC is strictly an emulator. It runs with legendary slowness on PowerPC processors only, but at least it’s expensive: $249.
  6. GuestPC: Regarded by some as superior to Virtual PC and by others as unusably slow, GuestPC has fewer features, but also less overhead—not to mention a lower price. Unlike Virtual PC, you can’t get it bundled with Windows, though; you must buy Windows separately. PowerPC Macs only. $70.

Entries 6.5 and 6.75 belong to software that lets you run Windows applications—but not Windows per se—on a Mac:

  • [6.5] CrossOver Mac: Based on an open-source project called Darwine (which is in turn based on WINE, “WINE Is Not an Emulator”), CrossOver lets you install and run some Windows applications without having to install Windows itself; it uses the X11 system to draw the UI. If you happen to need one of the few apps for which CrossOver offers full support and don’t mind the weird interface, it can save you some money. Intel Macs only. $60.
  • [6.75] Cider isn’t something ordinary users can buy and install. It’s code game developers can license and build right into their applications. To oversimplify somewhat, programmers wrap an existing Windows game in this thing and it’ll run on a Mac as though it were written for Mac OS X in the first place. That’s the claim, anyway.

4 Responses to “Six and Three-Quarters Ways to Run Windows on a Mac”

  1. Article Feed » Six and Three-Quarters Ways to Run Windows on a Mac said:

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  2. Kimbro Staken said:

    Q is an emulator just like Virtual PC. That’s why it’s so slow even when running on the Intel platform.

  3. Joe Kissell said:

    Kimbro: You’re approximately correct. However, there are drop-in virtualization modules for QEMU, qvm86 and KQEMU; if and when (as is planned) such a module is adapted for, and rolled into, Q, the story will change.

  4. David Hall said:

    I use and like Parallels for the times I am forced to run a program in Windows XP. I have heard that the new version (still beta) will integrate Parallels with Boot Camp. What I don’t understand is why you would use Boot Camp if you have Parallels installed. What are the advantages/disadvantages?