The 5 Best Ways to Run Windows on Your Mac

Find out which option best fits you

While Mac hardware is perfectly matched to the macOS, but it is not the only operating system that can be run on your Mac's hardware.

Regardless of the reasons you'd want to, plenty of other operating systems, including many of the Window and Linux operating systems, are able to run on your Mac. That makes the Mac among the most versatile of computers you can buy. Here's what we'd use to install Windows on a Mac.

of 05

Boot Camp

Boot Camp Assistant partitioning a Mac's startup drive
What We Like
  • Supports Windows 7, 8.1, and 10

  • Windows runs natively on the Mac hardware for best performance

What We Don't Like
  • Requires a full Windows license for the initial install.

  • Can't run Windows and Mac OS concurrently.

Perhaps the best-known option for running Windows is Boot Camp. Boot Camp, included free with your Mac, allows you to install Windows and then lets ​dual boot between Mac or Windows when you startup.

Because Boot Camp runs Windows directly on your Mac's hardware (there is no virtualization or emulation to be performed) Windows can run at the best possible speed your Mac is able to deliver.

Installing Windows on your Mac is no more difficult than installing Windows on any PC. Apple even provides the Boot Camp Assistant to partition the startup drive to make room for Windows as well as to install all the drivers Windows will need for all of the special Apple hardware.

of 05


Parallels Wizard used for installing guest OS.
What We Like
  • Concurrent operations let you run both the Mac OS and any guest OS you wish side-by-side.

  • You're not limited to just Windows, a large number of guest OSes are supported.

What We Don't Like
  • Performance tuning and customization is needed to achieve the best performance.

  • May impact the performance of your Mac.

Virtualization allows multiple operating systems to run on computer hardware at the same time or at least for practical purposes it seems like the same time. Virtualization abstracts the hardware layer, making it look like each operating system has its own processor, RAM, graphics, and storage that it needs to run.

Virtualization on the Mac makes use of a software layer called hypervisor to emulate all the underlying hardware. As a result, the guest operating system running on the virtual machine does not run as fast as in Boot Camp. But unlike Boot Camp, both the Mac operating system and the guest operating system can be running at the same time.

There are three primary virtualization apps for the Mac:

  • Parallels: The first to bring virtualization to the Mac. Parallels supports a wide range of guest OSs including Windows, Linux, and Mac.
  • VMWare Fusion: Fusion is the Mac virtualization app offered by VMWare (a long time leader in virtualization technology.) Fusion supports the installation of many different operating systems including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.
  • VirtualBox: Oracle supports an open source virtualization app known as VirtualBox. This free virtualization app runs on multiple computer systems including the Mac. Like the other virtualization apps, VirtualBox can be used to run many different operating systems including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.

Installing the virtualization apps themselves is similar to any other Mac app you install through the installation of the guest OS can be a bit more involved with a bit of customization required to obtain the best performance. All three apps have lively forums and support services to help with tuning the performance.

of 05


Pegasus Mail running using the Wine project.
What We Like
  • Free and requires no Windows license.

  • Large database for checking app compatibility.

What We Don't Like
  • Not all Windows apps will run.

  • Apps may break when the Mac OS is updated.

Wine takes a different approach to running Windows apps on your Mac. Forgive us, this gets a bit nerdy: Instead of virtualizing the Mac hardware and running Windows in the virtual environment, Wine forgoes using the Windows OS completely; instead, it converts on-the-fly Windows API calls made by the Windows app to POSIX (portable operating system interface) calls that are used on Linux and Mac operating systems.

The results are the Windows app being able to run using the host operating systems API instead of those used by Windows. At least that’s the promise, the reality tends to be a bit less than promised.

The problem is that trying to convert all of the Windows API calls is a huge undertaking, and there is no guarantee that an app you want to use has had all of its API calls successfully translated.

Although the task seems daunting, Wine does have quite a few app success stories, and that's the key to using Wine, checking the Wine database to make sure the Windows app you need to use has been successfully tested using Wine.

Installing Wine on the Mac can be a challenge for those not used to installing open-source Linux/UNIX apps. Wine is distributed via tarballs or .pkg though I would recommend using the .pkg method which includes a semi-standard Mac installer.

After the installation is complete, Wine has to be run from the Terminal, though once a Windows app is up and running you will be using the standard Mac GUI.

of 05

Crossover Mac

Crossover Mac running Windows Solitaire
What We Like
  • Easy installation of the Crossover Mac app and Windows apps.

What We Don't Like
  • Not all Windows apps will run.

  • Some Windows apps run but may have features that will not work.

Crossover Mac is an app from Codeweaver designed to make the best use of Wine translator (see above) in a Mac environment. It includes an easy to use installer for both the Crossover Mac app and for installing Windows apps on your Mac.

There is no need to venture into Terminal as is required with Wine, Crossover Mac hides all the underlying UNIX bits and bobs behind a standard Mac user interface.

While Crossover Mac is a better user experience, it still relies on the Wine code for translating Windows APIs to their Mac equivalents. This means Crossover Mac has the same issues as Wine when it comes to apps actually working correctly. Your best bet is to use the database of working apps on the CrossOver website to ensure the app you want to run will actually work.

And don’t forget you can use the trial version of Crossover Mac to make sure everything works as expected.

of 05

Microsoft Remote Desktop

Microsoft Remote Desktop App.
What We Like
  • Free.

  • Easy to set up and use.

What We Don't Like
  • Performance limited by network bandwidth.

  • Possible security concerns with allowing connections to a remote PC.

This option is listed last because you aren't actually running Windows on your Mac. Once Windows Remote Desktop is set up, Windows is actually running on a PC and you are connecting to it with your Mac.

The results are the Windows desktop appearing in a window on your Mac. Within the window you can manipulate the Windows desktop, launching apps, moving files around, even playing a few games, though graphic-intensive games or apps are not a good choice due to the limits of how fast the remote Windows desktop can be sent across a network connection to your Mac.

Installation and setup are easy enough, you can download the app from the Mac App Store. Once installed you need only enable remote access on the Windows system, and then select the Windows system within the Remote Desktop app to access and use its apps.