Macs have a thriving software ecosystem, but some programs are still only compatible with Windows. Whether you want to use business software or play Windows PC games, there are many 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. This includes virtual machines, dual booting, Wine compatibility layer, and remote desktop solutions.
We recommend using a virtual machine program, ideally Parallel or VMWare Fusion, to run Windows applications on a Mac without restarting. For maximum performance, which is particularly necessary for gaming, we recommend dual-boot Windows with Boot Camp.
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’s desktop. Windows will think it is running on a real computer, but it is actually running inside a piece of software on your Mac.
You also don’t have to use your Windows program in the virtual machine window; Many virtual machine programs allow you to break Windows programs outside of your virtual machine window so that they can appear on your Mac desktop. However, they are still running inside the virtual machine in the background.
You will need a Windows license to install Windows on a virtual machine. If you already have a product key, you can download the Windows installation media for free and install it in a virtual machine program.
RELATED: How to smoothly run Windows programs on your Mac with Parallels
Popular virtual machine programs for Mac include Parallel Y VMware Fusion. Each of these is a paid program, so you will need to purchase a Windows license and a copy of the virtual machine program of your choice. You can also use the completely free and open source software. VirtualBox for MacBut its 3D graphics support and Mac OS integration aren’t that great. Parallels and VMWare Fusion both offer free trials, so you can try all of these programs and decide which one is the best for you.
Note: We do not usually recommend paid software, but in the case of Parallels Desk, is something we use at How-To Geek every day to test software and run Windows. The integration with macOS is incredibly well done and the speed beats VirtualBox. In the long run, the price is worth it.
There’s a big downside to virtual machines – 3D graphics performance isn’t surprising, so this isn’t the best way to run Windows games on your Mac. Yes, it can work, especially with older games, but not you will get the best performance, even in an ideal situation. Many games, especially newer ones, will not be playable. That’s where the next option comes into play.
RELATED: How to install Windows on a Mac with Boot Camp
From Apple Training ground allows you to install Windows alongside macOS on your Mac. Only one operating system can be running at a time, so you will have to restart your Mac to switch between macOS and Windows. If you’ve ever dual-booted 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 applications that need as much performance as possible. When you install Windows on your Mac, you will be able to use Windows and Windows applications with the best possible performance. Your Mac will perform just 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 alongside your Mac apps, a virtual machine is probably 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.
RELATED: How to run Windows programs on a Mac with Wine
Wine originated from Linux. It is a compatibility layer that allows Windows applications to run on other operating systems. Basically, 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 not anywhere near perfect. It will not run all Windows applications and will have errors with many of them. the Wine AppDB it can give you an idea of which applications are supported, although it focuses on Linux compatibility.
However, Wine is a way of trying to run Windows applications on a Mac. Because it doesn’t require you to actually use Windows, you don’t need a Windows license to use Wine. It is completely free. Just download Wine or WineBottler for macOS and see how well it works for your application.
CrossOver Mac by CodeWeavers is a paid application that will run Windows programs on Mac. It uses the open source Wine code to achieve this, but CrossOver provides a nice graphical interface and focuses on officially supporting popular programs. If an officially supported program doesn’t work, you can contact CodeWeavers and hope they make it work for you. CodeWeavers brings its enhancements 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 also can see a list of programs that run fine in CrossOver before buying. While CrossOver is focused on compatibility, it is still based on Wine and will not work with everything.
Most people will probably be more than happy to opt for a virtual machine program and a Windows license. With CrossOver, you don’t need to run a Windows virtual machine, but if you run a Windows virtual machine, you can run almost any Windows program with less risk of errors. Theoretically, CrossOver allows you to run Windows PC games on a Mac with better performance than you would in a virtual machine, but you risk running into bugs and unsupported programs. Boot Camp may still be a better solution for that.
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 entirely and use remote desktop software to access the Windows machine from your Mac desktop. Organizations with business software running on Windows they 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 connect to it whenever you need a Windows application. Note that this is not ideal for visually intensive applications such as PC games.
If you are a Chrome user, you can even use Chrome Remote Desktop to connect to a Windows PC running Chrome from your Mac running Chrome.
All of these tricks obviously require more work than simply 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 for the best compatibility, whether you are using a virtual machine or installing Windows in Boot Camp. Wine and CrossOver are good ideas, but they are not perfect.