Macs have a thriving software ecosystem, but some programs still only support Windows. If you want to use commercial software or play Windows PC games, there are many ways to run Windows on 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, Wine compatibility layer and remote desktop solutions are all included here in how to run Windows on Mac.
A virtual machine is one of the best ways to run Windows on a Mac. They allow you to install Windows and other operating systems in a window on the 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 the Windows program in the virtual machine window – many virtual machine programs allow you to interrupt Windows programs from the virtual machine window so they can appear on the Mac desktop. However, they still are running on 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 Windows installation media for free and install it into a virtual machine program.
- Original Lifetime Activation License
- Digital Product - Check your emails after purchase
- Upgrade Home version to Pro
Popular virtual machine programs for Mac include Parallels and VMware Fusion. Each of them is a paid program, so you will have to buy a Windows license and a copy of the virtual machine program of your choice.
You can also use VirtualBox for Mac completely free and open source, but its support for 3D graphics and integration with the Mac OS are not so good. Parallels and VMWare Fusion offer free trials, so you can try all of these programs and decide which one is best for you on how to run Windows on Mac.
Note: We don't often recommend paid software, however the integration with macOS is incredibly well done and the speed of VirtualBox is amazing. In the long run, the price is worth it.
There's one big downside to virtual machines: 3D graphics performance isn't amazing, so this isn't the best way to run Windows games on your Mac. Yes, it might work – especially with older games – but you won't get the better performance, even in an ideal situation. Many games, especially newer ones, cannot be played. That's where the next option comes into play.
Apple's Boot Camp lets you install Windows alongside macOS on your Mac. Only one operating system can be running at a time, so you'll have to restart your Mac to switch between macOS and Windows. If you've ever dual booted Linux on your Windows PC, that's how it is.
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 all the performance possible. By installing Windows on your Mac, you will be able to use Windows applications with maximum performance. Your Mac will perform as well as a Windows PC with the same specs.
The downside here is that you cannot 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, then a virtual machine is probably ideal. On the other hand, if you want to play the latest Windows games on your Mac, Boot Camp is ideal.
As with virtual machines, you will need a Windows license to run Windows on Mac.
Wine originates on 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 they can run on other operating systems.
This means that Wine is far from perfect. It will not run all Windows applications and will have bugs in many of them. O Wine AppDB can give you an idea of which applications are supported, although it focuses on Linux support.
However, Wine is a way of running Windows on Mac. Because it doesn't require you to actually use Windows, you don't need a Windows license to use Wine. It's completely free. Just download Wine or WineBottler for macOS and see how it works for your app.
O CodeWeavers CrossOver Mac is a paid application that runs Windows programs on the Mac. It uses Wine's open source code to do this, but CrossOver provides a nice graphical interface and focuses on official support of popular programs. If an officially supported program doesn't work, you can contact CodeWeavers and expect them to do the work for you.
CodeWeavers contributes its improvements back to the open source Wine project, so paying for CrossOver Mac also helps the Wine project itself.
CrossOver offers a free trial, in case you want to try it first on how to run Windows on Mac. You can also see a list of which programs work well in CrossOver before purchasing. Although CrossOver focuses on compatibility, it is still based on Wine and doesn't work with everything.
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Most people will probably be happier with 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 bugs.
CrossOver theoretically allows you to run Windows PC games on a Mac with better performance than a virtual machine, but you run the risk of encountering bugs and unsupported programs. Boot Camp may still be a better solution for this.
If you already have a Windows system, you can completely skip running the Windows software on your Mac and use the remote desktop software to access the Windows machine from your Mac desktop. Organizations with enterprise software running on Windows they can host Windows servers and make their apps available to Macs, Chromebooks, Linux PCs, iPads, Android tablets and other devices.
If you're just a home user who also has a Windows PC, you can set up that Windows PC for remote access and connect 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 connect to a Windows PC running Chrome from your Mac running Chrome.
How to run Windows on Mac
All these tricks of running Windows on Mac 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 whenever possible. Windows programs will not be as integrated or will work as well.
You may have to purchase a Windows license for your Mac for best compatibility, whether you're using a virtual machine or installing Windows from Boot Camp. Wine and CrossOver are good ideas, but they're not perfect.
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