5 ways to run Windows software on a Mac

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Macs have a thriving software ecosystem, but some programs still only support Windows. Whether you want to use professional software or play Windows PC games, there are plenty of ways to run Windows programs on your Mac.

Some of these methods are similar to the ways you can install Windows software on Linux or run Windows programs on a Chromebook. Virtual machines, dual boot, the Wine compatibility layer, and remote desktop solutions are all included here.

Virtual machines

We recommend that you use a virtual machine program, ideally Parallels Where VMware merger, to run Windows applications on a Mac without restarting. For maximum performance, which is especially necessary for gaming, we recommend dual-booting Windows with Boot Camp instead.

A virtual machine is one of the best ways to run Windows desktop software. They allow you to install Windows and other operating systems in a window on your Mac desktop. Windows will think it’s running on a real computer, but it’s actually running inside software on your Mac.

You also don’t need to use your Windows program in the virtual machine window – many virtual machine programs allow you to break Windows programs from your virtual machine window so that they can appear on your Mac desktop. However, they are still running in the virtual machine in the background.

You will need a Windows license to install Windows in a virtual machine. If you already have a product key, you can download Windows installation media for free and install it in a virtual machine program.

RELATED: How to seamlessly run Windows programs on your Mac with Parallels

Popular virtual machine programs for Mac include Parallels and VMware merger. Each of these is a paid program, so you will need to purchase both a Windows license and a copy of your virtual machine program of your choice. You can also use the completely free and open-source software VirtualBox for Mac, but its 3D graphics support and integration with the Mac operating system is not as good. Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion offer free trials, so that you can try all of these programs and decide which one is right for you.

To note: We don’t often recommend paid software, but in the case of Parallels Desktop, it’s something we at How-To Geek use every day to test software and run Windows. The integration with macOS is incredibly well done and the speed is soaring for VirtualBox. In the long run, the price is well worth it.

There is one big downside to virtual machines: 3D graphics performance isn’t amazing, so it’s not the best way to run Windows games on your Mac. Yes, it can work, especially with older games, but you won’t get the best performance even in an ideal situation. Many games, especially newer ones, will be unplayable. This is where the next option comes into play.

Training camp

RELATED: How to install Windows on a Mac with Boot Camp

Apples Training camp allows you to install Windows with macOS on your Mac. Only one operating system can be running at a time, so you will need to restart your Mac to switch between macOS and Windows. If you have ever duplicated Linux on your Windows PC, this is it.

Installing Windows as a real operating system on your Mac is the best idea if you want to play Windows games or use demanding apps that need all the performance they can get. When you install Windows on your Mac, you will be able to use Windows and Windows applications with the maximum performance possible. Your Mac will perform as well as a Windows PC with the same specifications.

The downside here is that you can’t run macOS apps and Windows apps side-by-side at the same time. If you just want to run a Windows desktop app along with your Mac apps, a virtual machine will probably be ideal. On the other hand, if you want to play the latest Windows games on your Mac, Boot Camp will be ideal.

As with virtual machines, you will need a Windows license to install Windows on your Mac.

Wine

RELATED: How to run Windows programs on a Mac with Wine

Wine is originally from Linux. It is a compatibility layer that allows Windows applications to run on other operating systems. Essentially, Wine is an attempt to rewrite the Windows code that applications depend on so that they can run on other operating systems. This means that the wine is far from perfect. It won’t run all Windows apps and will have bugs with a lot of them. The Wine AppDB can give you an idea of ​​supported applications, although it focuses on Linux support.

Still, Wine is one way of trying to run Windows apps on a Mac. Because it doesn’t require you to actually use Windows, you don’t need a Windows license to use Wine. It’s totally free. Just download Wine or WineBottler for macOS and see how well it works for your app.

Mac crossover

CodeWeavers CrossOver Mac is a paid application that will run Windows programs on Mac. It uses the open source Wine code to accomplish this, but CrossOver provides a nice graphical interface and focuses on official support for popular programs. If an officially supported program doesn’t work, you can contact CodeWeavers and expect it to make it work for you. CodeWeavers contributes its improvements to the open source Wine project, so paying for CrossOver Mac also helps the Wine project itself.

CrossOver offers a free trial if you want to try it out first. You can also display a list of programs that work well on CrossOver before buying. While CrossOver focuses on compatibility, it’s still Wine-based and won’t work with everything.

Most people will probably be more than happy to go with a virtual machine program and a Windows license. With CrossOver, you don’t need to be running a Windows virtual machine, but if you are running a Windows virtual machine, you will be able to run almost any Windows program with less chance of bugs. CrossOver theoretically allows you to run Windows PC games on a Mac with better performance than on a virtual machine, but you might encounter bugs and unsupported programs. Boot Camp may still be a better solution for this.

Remote office

RELATED: How to Access Windows Remote Desktop Over the Internet

If you already have a Windows system, you can skip running Windows software on your Mac altogether and use remote desktop software to access the Windows machine from your Mac’s desktop. Businesses with enterprise software running Windows can host Windows servers and make their applications available to Macs, Chromebooks, Linux PCs, iPads, Android tablets, and other devices. If you are just a home user who also has a Windows PC, you can configure that Windows PC for remote access and log in to it whenever you need a Windows application. Keep in mind that this is not ideal for visually intensive applications like PC games.

If you’re a Chrome user, you can even use Chrome Remote Desktop to sign in to a Windows PC running Chrome from your Mac running Chrome.


All of these tips obviously require more work than just installing a Windows program on a Windows PC. If you have a Mac, you should focus on using Mac software when possible. Windows programs will not be as integrated or work as well.

You may need to purchase a Windows license for your Mac to get the best compatibility whether you are using a virtual machine or installing Windows in Boot Camp. Wine and CrossOver are great ideas, but they’re not perfect.

Image Credit: Roman Soto on Flickr


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