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More Ways To Run Windows On A Mac

Today's column addresses something that's been on the wish lists of Mac users for a long time--a way to run the occasional Windows program when they need to, without having to set aside their usual Mac programs at the time.

This was an advertised feature of Macs more than a decade ago: When Apple first rolled out Macs with PowerPC processors, it bragged that these new processors were fast enough to run Windows in emulation mode, via Insignia Software's SoftWindows program. But neither SoftWindows nor Connectix's faster Virtual PC lived up to that promise; you'd need the fastest Mac available to get Windows performance close to what the slowest PC would deliver.

When Apple announced its move to Intel chips in 2005, Steve Jobs made no such promises of Windows compatibility. But this time around, he would have been right to do so--as I wrote at the time, a Mac with an Intel processor inside would no longer need to emulate that complex hardware and so could run Windows at a normal speed.

And so here we are, with a choice between Apple's Boot Camp, Parallels' Parallels Desktop and CodeWeavers' CrossOver.

A fourth option, VMWare's Fusion--a rough equivalent of Parallels--is in beta testing, but I didn't try it out for today's column. If you're a little adventurous (and budget-minded), there are also two free options. One is Darwine, an open-source project built off the same code as CrossOver. The other, named simply Q, is a simpler, slower open-source emulator that could suffice for running old Windows or DOS apps.

What if you want to run Mac OS X on your Windows PC? Not so simple--Mac OS X is set up to prevent that from working, although some determined programmers have had success in working around that.

If you're content with Mac OS 9 (and older) programs, you can try a handful of emulators, such as SheepShaver and Executor. I haven't tried out any of these solutions in years, if ever, but maybe I'll fire one of them up again... of course, inside a copy of Windows XP running in Mac OS X.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 8, 2007; 8:24 AM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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I finally made the switch a couple of weeks ago. Bought a MacBook with a 2 gig processor and 2 gigs of memory (and 200 gig hard drive). I'd been a windows user since the beginning and was trapped there because of my extensive use of the Access database.

I've always admired Macs. We have a 10 year old iMac at home that has outlasted several windows machines. With the Intel chip and Parallels, I know have both in one machine.

Parallels installed perfectly and I installed Windows 2000 on the Mac (it was what I had). Works better on the Mac than on the Dell I had been using. Installed my copy of Office 2003 with no problems. Access, Word, and Excel all work perfectly. I immediately found and joined my network (although I still haven't been able to get my Outlook to point to my Exchange server - but it is more likely my fault, not the system).

Had the same glitch with the CD: if Windows is running, it sees the CD first, but doesn't thinkit can run it. Need to stop windows to run a CD or DVD in the Mac OS.

I'm sold. Never going back. When I saw the system demands for Vista I said forget it. Like they say, the Mac 'just works' right out of the box.

Posted by: Mark Fisher | March 8, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I purchased the MacPro Notebook last year, with the new intel duo core chip, only because it was said the notebook could run WINDOWS (I had a propriety Database program I used to track oil and gas revenues that ran only on Windows). I had no success in loading the Apple BETA Bootcamp - too many error messages. I purchased Parallel Desktop, and my Windows XP loaded smoothly and quickly. It performed flawlessly. When I then attempted to load my proprietary DB program it would not run - kept asking for a file that was there but couldn't, apparently, be seen by the DB software. I wrote Parallel - asking for help - and got no response. I've removed Parallel and Windows and cannot use my DB program.

Posted by: Larry Jines | March 8, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

As a long-time Mac user, I adore the new Macs. I'm forced to use a Dell Windows-based machine for work email, and there is simply no comparison. The more I have to use that Dell, the more I hate it.

Posted by: weatherlady | March 8, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

I LOVE my Mac mini, which was an emergency buy off the shelf of my college bookstore last year to replace an aging, siezed-up, virus and adware infected Dell. For 800 bucks, I got the maxed out system, with a huge harddrive. Even with only 512 RAM, it is fast, clean, smart and I feel oh-so-much safer on the web now. It has the Intel chip, but I have yet to find anything other than Internet Explorer that I wish I could run on it (Safari drives me crazy, and Foxfire is better, but not IE). My kids complain they can't use their games for Windows machines on it, but I see that as somewhat of a blessing! I have Microsoft Office for Mac, Quiken for Mac (which is a little different, though) etc. and they all run fine, although sometimes a little slow when I have several programs open and am switching between them. (I should have gotten 1000 or 1500 RAM!!) I HATE the way my old HP printer works on this operating system, though! Even with a downloaded updated driver it will simply NOT print anything directly off the internet like my old computer, the printer options are inconvenient and frustrating because I must reset them everytime I print ANYTHING. Would any of my minor frustrations be solved by installing Windows, eg. for games, IE, and better compatibility with printers? I really wonder if it would be worth the expense.

Posted by: lgreene | March 8, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

*What if you want to run Mac OS X on your Windows PC? Not so simple--Mac OS X is set up to prevent that from working, although some determined programmers have had success in working around that.*

It is my understanding that running Mac OS X on a non-Apple machine is a violation of the Mac OS X license agreement.

Posted by: JohnK | March 8, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

For lgreene at 10:22. HP's printer drivers are written by demons who hate all of humankind. They are no more pleasant to Windows users than to Macs. I would not spend money on Windows in the hope of making your H-P troubles go away. You're better off saving that money toward a new printer from a different company.

Posted by: Tom T. | March 8, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

what is the point of this article? why not spend a few hours testing the options out and giving us some basis for comparison instead of just providing us with links and names.

Posted by: bill b | March 8, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

bill b: He did. Read the article linked to in the very first words of this post (under "Today's column").

Posted by: KA | March 8, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I have not had problems with HP printers on Windows systems. They run just fine.

But I find it interesting that MAC users do need some Windows programs. I have been told ad nauseam that MAC's are like California - perfect in every way.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | March 8, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

This is a pretty stupid question, but I need to clarify this before I drop any money -- Parallels and Boot Camp and the rest all require you to own (or I guess have) Windows, right? You'd need Windows installation software aside from the Mac-Windows hybrid software, is that right?

Posted by: farley | March 8, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: rob | March 8, 2007 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Personally I just don't get the appeal of running Windows on a Mac. By the time you've shelled out for Parallels and XP you're 1/2 - 2/3 of the way to a new cheap PC (and with Vista you'll be even closer). If you're switching from PC to Mac once you've moved to the Mac why not wipe the PC's drive, reinstall the OS and the handful of apps you'll need then run both boxes on a network to share files. If your old peripherals will work with your new Mac, $30 for a KVM switch and there's no need for a separate keyboard, monitor, or mouse. Windows on a Mac is just as vulnerable as Windows on a PC so there's no savings there.
I do run a dual boot system at home, but it's XP and Suse Linux. The box already had XP on it, and all of the Linux software was free (or rather it only cost me in time not in money).

Posted by: Norm | March 8, 2007 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Wanted to respond to the post about the cost of using Windows inside Parallels or Boot Camp: This is a real concern, and especially with Boot Camp (which won't let you use just any old version of Windows).

With Parallels Transporter, however, you don't actually need that Windows disc at all--this program hoovers up the entire Windows system, then dumps it on the Mac. Bear in mind, however, that doing this may violate the license agreement for your old PC's copy of Windows. If you had XP installed you will certainly need to reactivate it--XP will see that it's on a new machine.

OTOH, you could keep the old computer around--but then you need to make space for it on the desk or on the coffee table, and you can't move data from Windows to Mac without USB keychains or setting up file-sharing on a home network. I can very easily see why it would be preferable to keep a handful of Windows apps on a Mac, even if it costs more.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | March 8, 2007 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Igreene, why on earth would you want to run IE at all... especially on a mac? It is possibly the worst browser in the world and the only time I use it ever is when Microsoft forces me to use it for some security updates. Even when I use other computers, I take my flash-drive and load Firefox onto them if they do not have it. There is no advantage to running it, and several disadvantages... this just does not make sense to me.

Posted by: Bob Smith | March 8, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Larry Jines - re: your propriatory DB program. I had a similar problem with Parallel. So, because I had too much time on my hand, I installed BootCamp. It works great! I'm a DBA at work and run SQL2005, including the Business Studio AND SQL2000. It all works...flawlessly. P.S. I installed the databases on an external hard drive that I access via firewire.
As for "Office", forget it! Download NeoOffice. It's 100% compatible with Word, Excel, et al...the entire business studio that you pay $500 for from Microsoft and NeoOffice is FREE!

Posted by: MikeB | March 8, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Got the Mac, okay - love it, go Apple you hit the ball out of the park on that one. Got Parallels, so I could run my PC apps. However, the odd thing is that I really don't find myself using Parallels all that much; Apple's default bundle of software with OS X just removes the need to really us Microsoft. Sure, there are the occasional games, but that's what a gaming console is for. I can't see spending two grand to run a $50 game, no matter how "good" it is. Even still, the growing number of titles that work on the Mac is quite enough to provide high quality entertainment. Sure there are a lot of games out there for the PC, but most of them are quite disappointing. I have to say this though, Parallels actually lets me run the older games in my collection which no longer work on newer versions of Windows.

Posted by: Walt S | March 8, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I'll buy the space argument especially given Apple's penchant for the petite, but you make it sound like setting up a home network is some onerous task. It doesn't strike me as any more difficult than installing software, but maybe I'm just spending too much time in front of a computer.

Posted by: Norm | March 8, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

The big difference between Parallels and Boot Camp is that you can only run 3D games under Boot Camp. As much of an inconvenience as it is to reboot everytime you want to switch, that is reason enough for me to use Boot Camp. My copy of Parallels sits idly on the shelf. Anyone want to buy it?


Posted by: John L | March 8, 2007 5:57 PM | Report abuse

There is another option for those who do not want to give up their Macs. Do a search for "Northstar software as a service" on Google and take a look. I've been using the service for several months. I won't say that it's been a completely trouble-free relationship, but I prefer it to dragging out the Windows XP notebook that I used to rely on when I absolutely had to have a PC.

To use the service, you have to have high-speed internet access and must have Apple X11 installed on your computer. You purchase a basic subscription to Northstar, then subscribe to Windows applications that you want to use on a monthly or yearly basis and access them via the internet. They have the basics available - MS Office, Visio, Project, etc. but you can also pay them a small monthly fee to host other Windows applications that you own.

You access your applications via a Northstar website. When you launch them, they open up on your Mac in an X11 Window. Your documents are stored on a Northstar server until you download them. Each subscriber has his/her own "desktop" where you can upload, download, store, and delete files. Its somewhat poorly designed but functional.

If I had to use Windows every day, it wouldn't work for me, but for occasional use, it's fine. If you need occasional access to programs like Project, Visio, you can rent them for a month when you need them for about $20 a pop rather than spending hundreds of dollars to buy something you almost never use.

Posted by: exicom | March 8, 2007 7:43 PM | Report abuse

MikeB: thanks. I do believe there's an issue with PARALELLS. My DB folks (Orlando Products, Inc) tell me they have customers who run the DB successfully with BootCamp.

I'm waiting for the new LEOPARD this spring with the BootCamp included and hope that will allow the DB to work smoothly.

thanks. again.

Posted by: Larry Jines | March 8, 2007 10:22 PM | Report abuse

You Mac freaks are all just a bunch of skunks, especially Pegararo. If Macs are so great, why run Windows at all; why rummage through such software trash. The fact is: Windows is better in every respect than anything Mac.

Posted by: joejeo | March 9, 2007 2:42 AM | Report abuse

I have a Pinnacle ShowCenter which runs a server on my Windows XP to server up music, video, photos to my entertainment center. Can you set up Parallel to autorun applications whenever the Mac is rebooted?

Posted by: craig | March 9, 2007 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Not to start a flame war or anything, but cant we all just get along? I know that it seems like a hard thing to do, but I believe that in a few years, when the monopoly is gone, there will be one "hybrid" operating system. one that includes the best of Windows, Mac and Linux, without using ANY Virtualization or 3rd pary applications. Everything will be run natively. Untill then I can only dream...

Posted by: BeanBag | March 9, 2007 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I'm not quite getting why people criticize Macs because there still may be an occasional need to run Windows for specialized purposes. Some software companies choose to put their resources into only one operating system. You have Windows-only programs and you have Mac-only program. But the fact is, Mac owners are the only ones who have a choice to go in either direction. Apart from being a superior OS, that's the beauty of the situation.

Posted by: Tim | March 9, 2007 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Actually CrossOver and Darwine do NOT require owning windows.

CrossOver has a 60 day free trial.

Posted by: Responding to Farley | March 9, 2007 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Mac owners do have the choice to run either OS, though Mac doesn't allow you to run OSx on another box, whereas Windows does... In terms of resources, doesn't it make a little bit of (business) sense to try to go for that ~90% marketshare as opposed to the ~3-5% that Mac represents?

Posted by: Patriot | March 9, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Gotta love the trolls.

For the record, we (the office Geek and I) have been unable to get Q to function as an emulator on (non-Intel) OSX Tiger Macs.

Not sure what's wrong but we've been unable to install/run either Ubuntu or XP on it.

As I noted at the end of another column, however, I've had GREAT success with Parallels on an intel-based MacBook. The MacBook has 2gb RAM installed but the XP partition is running with only 512, and doing so quite nicely. Well, as nicely as XP manages to do ANYTHING. I should note that on every XP install I do, I turn graphics back to Win2k-level to maximize performance.

Think we can do that with Vista, when our new machines arrive with it *shudder* preinstalled?

Posted by: Bush (not related) | March 9, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

I've been using VMWare's Fusion since it came out. Very few problems. Since the new build Version 1.0b2 (41385) I've upgraded Microsft Office 2003, doPDF for .pdfs, I've set a Brother HL_20040 laser printer using Airport Express (the Apple Store in Oakbrook ,IL said it could'nt be done !! - make sure the printer has CUPS drivers) etc. It's, as Tony the Tiger said -"GRRRRRReat!"

Posted by: Howard Bernier | March 9, 2007 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Purchased Parallels to run on my MacBook before Xmas and worked moderately well. About 1/2 the time the USB ports would not work with Windows, but I could use my Acrobat and Quickbooks programs for Windows and saved a few bucks.
But lately wondering if Parallels is still in business. Have been trying to download the latest build for over a week and all I get is error messages. Unable to contact on the phone, gave up after 45 minutes on hold. Emails just bounce back with a "we'll get back to you message" that never happens.
Is this company still solvent? Suggest you don't send any money till you find out.

Posted by: Fred Dennis | March 9, 2007 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Over Labor Day weekend, 2002, the World Science Fiction Convention was in San Jose. There was a bumper sticker for sale in the dealer's room. I have regretted not buying it. The message contained therein was brief:

"Microsoft will make products that don't suck when they start manufacturing vacuum cleaners."

It was true then. Some things just don't seem to change.

Posted by: robert jansen | March 10, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

the MacBook c2d i'm writing on is my 8th or 9th Mac, also have a DP PowerMac G5 & a 17" iMac G4 in use & all are online via Airport Express. i've never owned a PC/Wndows box & have nothing against them, it's just not for me. i write, create movies & music, occasionally play solitaire while waiting @ the doctor's office. i don't care how my computer works, only that it does & does it well enough to meet my needs. for me, it's Apple/Mac. i've bought every version of iLife since the 04 version, Final Cut Express since version 1 & use a most killer hardware/software combo for making music & scoring some of my movies--Mark Of The Unicorn(MOTU), made only for Mac. i make art & like many other creative people i know, we use Macs because they work for us. i can think(& creative processes are not like analytical/linear) about something & i can do it-simply, easily. for me it works- i'm happy. i'm working w/ a couple of writers now who use Windows/Word, when i go to meetings w/ my MacBook & read their Word docs, show them a demo from FCE or iMovie w/ a score made in MOTU, Soundtrack or even GarageBand they're dazzled, as are my clients. my Macs are my livelihood & my life. my MacLife. for those that prefer a PC/Windows box, i'm happy for you. congrats on finding what works for you & makes you happy.

Posted by: dk jones | March 11, 2007 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Hi all,

I'm a retiree who currently runs an old Gateway with Windows 98. I use some applications are available for Windows only, but for everything else (email, internet, writing), I think that the Mac would work just fine. It looks attractive, especially since Windows has been a security nightmare -- mostly because I am not, and have no plans to be, a computer security expert.

So that's my plan, to try the Macintosh for the first time. I am willing to pay a little more for a Mac if it is as intuitive, secure, well built, and supported as I read that they are.

Before I upgrade, I would like to know how best to run Windows applications on it. I don't see a through analysis of which solution is best. I have read that Crossover does not require the user to install and run Windows, which sounds like the best option. What are the downsides? Has anyone experienced a problem with Crossover? What are the limitations, and how would one know about application compatibility before trying it?

Is the performance of one of the emulators (Parallels, etc) better than Crossover? For the amateur user, what advantage does an emulator give you over Bootcamp? If i need to purchase a Windows disk, what version is best? I assume XP is much less bloated than Vista, and probably cheaper too. Or would installation of Windows 98 do just fine if the Macintosh OS is providing the security for the computer?

Posted by: New computer? | March 13, 2007 11:02 AM | Report abuse

To "New Computer ?",

I just got a Mac mini last week to add to our complement of two iMacs (all PowerPC-based) and a Linux machine. I've since bought a copy of Parallels, and have also been working with an evaluation of Crossover.

My first mission has been to get as many of the online resources at to work for my daughter as possible - while the Flash games work just fine on MacOS or Linux, the videos and the Virtools animations refuse to run without Windows 2000 or better, and associated Microsoft ware. Next are to get Windows Media Player 9 or better to operate with a USB port so that I can download eAudiobooks from NetLibrary to our MP3 player, then get a Windows-only Java Application Loader to work with my cell phone (also needs USB access).

Parallels is the most expensive route - $80 for the software, plus you provide your own full copy of the Microsoft OS of your choice (not OEM, I understand). All I have to work with was NT 4, and while Parallels claims support for every Windows OS from 3.1 up (and even MS-DOS 6), I discovered after trying to install it and then checking out their customer forums that their 'latest and greatest' builds seem to have a few kinks to iron out. Presumably, the version in the box is more stable, though not as feature-rich; I only noticed the problems after an online upgrade, and reinstalling the original copy took care of them.

Since I didn't want to throw another $200 or so into software just yet, I then proceeded to download an evaluation copy of Crossover. An examination of their website and FAQs and such lists some supported applications, and also has commentary on a great number of applications which work to varying degrees (as well as a voting / donation system to direct the development team's efforts in whatever direction that the user base appears to want the most). I was able to get IE 6 installed, but so far all attempts to get Media Player 9 going have failed for me. In addition, while Adobe (Macromedia) Flash Player 7 appears to be the most likely to operate successfully under Crossover, all the Adobe site appears to offer is version 9.

My next effort will be going back to Parallels to work on getting Media Player 9 to operate with USB, and hopefully also get the JAL loader to work.

Fortunately, both Parallels and Crossover offer a free evaluation period for online installations, so if you know all the Windows-based applications you're likely to want to use, and have the time to test them, that would probably be the best route to go.

What I expect to find is that a Parallels installation with 2000 or XP will be the most flexible and successful environment (including booting XP directly via Boot Camp (not supported for 2000) where necessary), though if all my apps could be confirmed to run correctly under Crossover within the evaluation period, I'd be sorely tempted to go that route to avoid the additional software expense involved with the Parallels + Windows solution.

Posted by: Charles | March 16, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

This problem of availability of programs for the Mac is a great illustration of how market theory does NOT work. The superior product has attracted fewer but better informed users, and there is a smaller base of software. Same happened with Beta/VHS. Adam Smith thought all buyers would be INFORMED buyers, but that isn't real life.
I could never work without the Nota Bene word processor and free-form text-base which is only available on Windows (and my old DOS machine works just fine). Writers need keyboard commands, not mousing around.
What I need to know is whether I can use a Mac OS window for browsing, then clip text and artwork and transfer them to a Windows window. Is it possible with any of these solutions to run both simultaneously and exchange data?

Posted by: Kacey Nelson | March 22, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

I am thinking of switching to Mac, but still use word perfect as my word processing program. Does it run on boot camp or parallel?

Posted by: Randy | April 4, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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