The Mac OS vs Windows argument is a long continuing war between home users, professionals and geeks alike. Maybe you have recently decided to jump ship, over to Apple’s Mac OS. It is understandable that a major paradigm shift, such as from Microsoft’s Windows to Apple’s Mac OS brings with it a lot of complexity and habitual changes in our usage pattern.
One of the major pain points people worry about is Apps. Will their existing apps work on Mac, or do they need to find alternative applications for their use? It won’t be unfair to say that change is not always a good thing, so often, sticking to the apps they are used to, is better for productivity.
Mac OS by itself has a thriving software ecosystem and great developer support, but some applications still only support Windows. Be it games, or professional software, rest assured, because today, we are going to discuss methods to run Windows apps on Mac OS.
How to Run Windows Apps on Mac
Table of Contents
1. Virtual Machine
In simple words, a Virtual Machine or VM is an emulation of a computer OS. They provide the full functionality of the virtualized OS, while actually running on top of your primary OS.
Virtual Machine is one of the easiest methods to run Windows desktop applications and games on a Mac OS computer. The virtualized Windows OS will think the apps are running on a real computer, while in reality, it is running on a virtualization software on your Mac.
So, what do you need to get started?
- A Virtualization Software: There are both paid and free alternatives, like Oracle VM VirtualBox (Free), VMWare Fusion (Paid), Parallels Desktop (Paid). Out of these three, we recommend Parallels Desktop. It supports full Direct3D acceleration, and general emulation performance is the best in the business.
- A copy of Windows: Since a virtualized OS is basically a full copy of Windows, we need a Windows ISO and a license key for activation. Microsoft Windows can be purchased from Microsoft’s website or via third-party retailers.
After procuring the required software and Windows installer, setting up a VM is surprisingly easy. We install the OS as we do on any normal computer, and that’s it. Now, any Windows application can be installed on top and ran without any issues.
Modern VM software has come a long way in allowing users to use their software seamlessly. For example, Parallels Desktop supports opening Windows Applications in a native window, outside of the OS itself. It also supports mapping disk drives from your Mac to your virtual operating system. This improves the user experience and is easy to use as well. You can treat your virtualized applications with the same ease as your native applications.
There is one major downside to running Windows OS as a virtual machine. Since the resources like CPU and GPU are emulated inside the virtual operating system, the pure performance, especially graphics performance is not very good. While older games and lighter GPU tasks will be absolutely fine, any modern games or heavy apps like Adobe Photoshop will bog down the system.
That’s where the next option comes into play, running Windows natively via Apple Boot Camp Assistant.
2. Install Windows via Apple Boot Camp
Apple provides a piece of software called Boot Camp Assistant with every Mac OS based computer. Boot Camp is basically utility allowing users to dual-boot Microsoft Windows alongside Mac OS. It contains the whole bevy of drivers and software required to support the hardware of your computer.
Installing Windows as a real operating system is a fairly easy process. The Boot Camp Assistant takes all the hassle of actually installing the operating system, and allows the user to choose how much disk space they want to allocate and which Operating System they want to boot as primary. The only requirement for this method is that you must have a copy of Windows ISO file and a license key for activating Windows. You can procure a license from Microsoft’s website or via third-party retailers.
The main benefit of installing Windows via Boot Camp is the performance. Since Windows is running natively, CPU and graphics performance will be equivalent to any proper Windows computer with the same specifications. This is the absolute best idea when your requirement is to run heavy-duty business applications or proper 3D games.
The downside to this method is that you cannot use both Windows and Mac OS at the same time. As with any multi-boot system, only one OS is running at a time, so you have to choose. Whenever you want to use some other applications in the other operating system, you have to reboot your laptop.
3. Emulating Software via Wine
Wine (backronym for Wine is Not an Emulator) is an open source compatibility layer which aims to allow software developed for Microsoft Windows to run on UNIX like operating systems. Wine supports Linux, Mac OS, BSD and Solaris Operating Systems.
Wine was initially developed with Linux in mind, but eventually, it was ported over to Mac OS. There are other compatibility layers built on top of Wine, such as PlayOnLinux and CrossOver for Mac. It allows users to directly run Windows apps on Mac OS.
Wine emulates the Windows environment by translating the system calls from the emulated application into standard UNIX like system calls. The application thinks it is running on Windows and passing commands like it would do on Windows. Wine acts as the middleman and facilitates the process. It can translate system calls in real time, thus eliminating the performance penalties with true emulation like Virtual Machines.
Installing Wine is fairly simple. You can download the app from WineHQ’s official website and install it as you would any other app. Then, you can simply run .exe files from your file manager (or ‘Finder’ as Apple likes to call it) by double-clicking it. There are also packages like CrossOver and WineBottler, which can automate the process for you, and resolve any dependencies that might be missing.
One of the major benefits of Wine is since it does not actually use the Windows operating system, you are not needed to buy a license key. Thus, it is actually a fully free method of getting your software on Mac. However, not all programs play nice with Wine. Wine’s website has a comprehensive list of compatibility with various common applications.
Wine is mostly a workaround solution if your needs are not too demanding. The solution isn’t fully perfect, still, we suggest you check it out, before making your final choice.
4. Find Alternative Applications for Mac OS
This is not so much of a tutorial to get your Windows applications on Mac OS, but rather, one of the straightforward solutions. Instead of depending on tips, tricks and hacks to get your software to run on Mac OS, the easiest solution is to migrate to native Mac OS apps.
Unlike what you might be thinking, a lot of common applications exist for Mac as well. These include software like:
- Microsoft Office
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Google Chrome
- VLC Media Player
- Mozilla Firefox
What’s even better, is that your app purchases and subscriptions like Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office 365 and Game purchases inside Steam are perfectly valid in both Windows and Mac.
If you are new to the Mac OS, it is a worthy consideration to research the world of Mac OS applications first. Who knows, you might find that the software you were looking for is already available on Mac OS.
Conclusion – How to Run Windows Apps on Mac
Whether we are computer purists, or simple users, switching to a new operating system doesn’t have to be a panic situation. Applications and Programs are the backbones of our computer usage, and switching to Apple’s Mac OS is certainly not a compromise with the user experience we get. Be it alternative software, or using the same applications we are familiarized with, there is always a solution.
All these tips and tricks are obviously more hard work than simply installing a software on a Windows PC. If you have a Mac or are planning to switch to Mac OS, we recommend you focus on using Mac OS software as much as possible. There’s a lot to learn in a new operating system, and we hope you enjoy your new operating system as much as we did helping you master your technology.
For everything else, that’s where this guide comes in! Let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.