Microsoft Is Now Totally Happy About You Running Windows on Your Mac

You can have it all with desktop virtualization

  • Microsoft now approves of virtualizing Windows on a Mac.
  • You can now run Windows officially on a virtual machine. 
  • Switch between Windows and Mac without restarting your Mac.
A Mac desktop and laptop computer running Windows in a virtual PC.


Microsoft has officially blessed Windows on Apple Silicon Macs, making the Mac maybe the best PC you can buy.

When Macs used Intel chips, Apple’s Bootcamp let you easily install Windows—and its ever-requisite drivers—on a Mac so you could shut it down and reboot into Windows. With Apple Silicon, Apple ditched Bootcamp, and, thanks to a clause in Microsoft’s small print, left Windows users in limbo. Now, that has changed, and while you can’t turn your Mac into a PC, you can get more than close enough. 

“Virtualization is a useful tool that allows you to run multiple operating systems on a single physical machine simultaneously. It has several advantages over using BootCamp on an Intel Mac,” technology writer Shahnawaz Sadique told Lifewire via email. 

Parallels, a Virtual Machine App

There’s more than one way to run Windows on a Mac. One is to use desktop virtualization, which creates a virtual PC computer inside an app on your Mac, onto which you install Windows, just like it was an actual PC computer. 

Previously, Microsoft wouldn’t let you activate a Windows license in a virtual machine, as these instances are called. It was possible to work around it by using prerelease versions of Windows, but that wasn’t officially supported. 

A virtual machine on a Mac desktop.


Now, Microsoft has blessed Parallels Desktop, a virtual machine app, allowing officially-licensed versions of Windows to run inside it. This means that anyone with an M1 or M2 Mac can now buy a Windows license, install Windows on their Mac, and do office stuff, play games, or experience their Windows antivirus software slowing down their beautiful new MacBook, for example. 

Virtualization vs Emulation

You may be familiar with emulation. This is when one computer runs a software version of another computer, so you can run that second computer's programs on the first. This is commonly used for emulating game consoles. You might emulate a SNES console on your PC, for example, and then load the original game software to play it. 

This can have a performance hit. Your computer is running software that is running more software, and this slows things down. That's fine for old game consoles, which can be easily recreated in modern, fast computers, but when it comes to emulating an entire PC operating system, that's a trickier task. 

The alternative is desktop virtualization. Think of it as kind of punching a hole in the host machine's operating system (in this case, a Mac), and letting Windows run on the underlying hardware, just as if you had installed it directly. The virtualization player (Parallels Desktop) translates between the two, letting you drag files from the Mac's Finder into PC apps, for example. 

"Virtualization also allows for multiple Windows installations to be run on a Mac, whereas BootCamp only allows for a single installation," cybersecurity expert Harmandeep Singh told Lifewire via email. 

Windows in a virtual machine on an iMac.


The host Mac is still running two operating systems simultaneously, but both are running on hardware. The catch here is that the virtualized operating system has to be compatible with the hardware. When Macs and PCs both ran on Intel chips, that was easy. Now, you have to make sure to use an ARM-compatible version of Windows, so it can run on the ARM-based Apple Silicon.

Why Run Windows on a Mac?

There are several advantages to using Windows on a Mac. If your job requires that you use a Windows-only app, you can run it in a window on your Mac. You can also play Windows games and drag and drop files between the Mac and Windows instances. 

It won’t be quite the same as booting your Mac into Windows, as you used to be able to do with Intel and Bootcamp (this was great for PC gamers who preferred Macs for everything else), but it’s good enough. 

Also, if you’ve been following the progress of Apple’s M1 and M2 MacBooks, you’ll know that they are not only extremely powerful but that they keep running at full speed even when on battery power, unlike some high-end PC laptops. This means that you can play games at full-tilt on battery power. The downside is that those games might not be as fast on the Mac, to begin with, thanks to the lack of dedicated, beefed-up graphics hardware. 

Virtualization, then, is about convenience, with a few tradeoffs in performance. For many folks, this will be a perfect compromise—Windows, in a window, when you need it, and not there when you don’t.

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