Even the most diehard Apple Macintosh user must sometimes use (albeit reluctantly) a program or game made only for use on personal computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system. Additionally, thorough web developers and bloggers should view their work in browsers running on Windows to ensure cross-platform compatibility. In the past, this would have required the purchase of a separate Windows PC in order to complete those tasks. Thankfully, Mac users today have many options available which allow them skip the purchase of a Windows PC and continue to use their beloved Mac in order to run the Microsoft Windows operating system.
This article will introduce and explain some of the best options, starting with the simplest and moving toward the more complex.
OPTION 1: Windows Remote Desktop – If you only need to use Microsoft Windows infrequently and you don’t want to install large amounts of software and the Windows operating system on your Mac, using the Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client may be the best solution for you. This free program from Microsoft (download link here) will allow your Mac to connect to a Windows host machine over a computer network and, assuming you have a valid login, display the Windows screen on your Mac. While you are connected, you can interact with that Windows PC just as if you are sitting in front of it. If you want to try this solution, you should know that the Windows host computer must be running either Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista or Windows 7. Also, the Remote Desktop function must be activated on the Windows host (see link below). Lastly, you will also need a valid login on that host Windows machine. For more instructions on how to activate and use this helpful Windows function, see the web links provided below.
OPTION 2: Apple’s Boot Camp – Apple has also made using Windows very easy on the Mac with their free and useful program, Boot Camp. Boot Camp is an easy to use application that helpfully takes you through the steps needed to install a full, licensed copy of Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista and Windows 7) on a separate partition of your Macintosh hard drive. Once the installation and configuration process is complete, you will then have the ability to start your Mac up into one of two operating systems – Mac OS X or Windows. If you boot into Windows, the machine will behave just like any other computer running Windows and you can install and run the programs or games that you need to use. This option is ideal because it gives you full control of the Windows OS install and it allows Windows to use the full resources of your Mac’s hardware.
OPTION 3: Virtualization Software – This option is slightly more costly, a little more complicated and potentially system resource intensive, but is well worth trying if you want or need to install a full copy of Windows on your Mac and run it at the same time that you are using the Mac OS. Two commercial
programs exist for Macs that allow you to do this – VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac. There is also a free open source software option available from Oracle, called Virtualbox, which has become a real contender in this space. As stated above, all of these will allow you to install a licensed copy of Windows on your Mac and let you run Windows alongside the programs you may be running on your Mac. There is much debate over which program is better and I believe the jury is still out. Each is very good at what they to do and all three are adding features and improving performance with each release. Therefore, I would recommend that you choose the one that you are most comfortable with purchasing based upon your budget and the features and benefits that appeal most to you and your situation. The downside of this option is that running two operating systems simultaneously can work your Mac pretty hard and push the limits of your computer’s CPU, RAM and video, depending upon the age of your Mac and what you are doing.
OPTION 4: Darwine – Some very enterprising and intelligent programmers have developed an open source application called Darwine which allows Macs users to run some Windows programs on a Mac without the need for an installed Windows operating system. Though not complete, this effort shows decent future potential. I mention this program more as a point of interest rather than a true option for Mac users requiring Windows access (though I suspect some Mac geeks out there will want to try it out!). See the link below for more details and the download, if you are adventurous. As stated, since this effort is not complete and because only a few Windows programs are supported, I do not recommend this as a viable option for the general Macintosh user.
OPTION 5: Crossover Mac - This program, created by a company named CodeWeavers, is a commercially viable solution that offers functionality similar to the WINE/Darwine project mentioned in the step above. Like Darwine, CrossOver Mac allows you to install many popular Windows applications and games on your Intel Macintosh computer without the need to install the Window operating system. This is a good solution that, according to CodeWeavers own claims, supports many popular Windows applications like Quicken, Microsoft Office, Project and Visio as well as games like World of Warcraft, Quake and Half Life 2. They also state that the list of supported games and programs will continue to grow (see list). Plus, unlike Darwine, you will get support of the product after your purchase (which is relatively inexpensive). See link to the CodeWeavers below for full details and pricing.
As you can see, Mac users are well-positioned in a Windows dominated world to be both frugal and functional with just a little bit of extra software and effort. Happy cross-platform computing!
Additional Links & Resources
- Apple Boot Camp
- How to Turn on Remote Desktop in Windows 7 or Vista
- Download Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2
- Parallels Desktop for Mac
- VMWare Fusion
- Switch to a Mac!
- Crossover by Codeweavers
- VirtualBox – FREE Open Source Virtualization
- Darwine Project
- Check out the Apple Store at Amazon.com