The 5 Best Ways to Run Windows on Your Mac

Find out which option best fits you

While macOS is made to run using Mac hardware, it is not the only operating system that can run on a Mac computer.

Plenty of other operating systems, including Window and Linux, will work on a Mac device. That makes the Mac among the most versatile computers you can buy. Here's what we'd use to install Windows on a Mac.

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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 Mac hardware for best performance

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

  • Cannot run Windows and Mac OS concurrently.

Perhaps the best-known option for running Windows on a Mac is Boot Camp. Included free with your Mac, Boot Camp allows you to install Windows and then choose between Mac and Windows on 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 a 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 needs for special Apple hardware.

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Parallels Wizard used for installing guest OS.
What We Like
  • Run both macOS and a guest OS side-by-side.

  • Not limited to Windows; a large number of guest operating systems are supported.

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

  • May impact the performance of your Mac.

Virtualization allows several operating systems to run on computer hardware at the same time. Virtualization abstracts the hardware layer, making it look like each operating system has its own processor, RAM, graphics, and storage.

Virtualization on the Mac makes use of a software layer called a hypervisor to emulate all of 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 run at the same time.

There are three primary virtualization apps for Mac:

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

Installing the virtualization apps is similar to any other Mac app. Guest OS may be more involved with some customization required to obtain the best performance. All three apps have lively forums and support services to help with tuning the performance.

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

  • Large database for checking app compatibility.

What We Don't Like
  • Not compatible with all Windows apps.

  • Apps may break when macOS is updated.

Wine takes a different approach to running Windows apps on a Mac. Instead of virtualizing the hardware and running Windows in a virtual environment, Wine forgoes the Windows OS completely; instead, it converts the Windows API calls made by the Windows app into POSIX (portable operating system interface) calls, which are used on Linux and Mac operating systems.

As a result, the Windows app can run using the host operating system's API instead of Windows. At least, that’s the promise. 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 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.

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 we 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 app, though once a Windows app is up and running you will be using the standard Mac GUI.

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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 compatible with all Windows apps.

  • 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 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 working correctly. Your best bet is to use the database of working apps on the CrossOver website to ensure that the app you want to run will work.

You can use the trial version of Crossover Mac to make sure everything works as expected.

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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. After Windows Remote Desktop is set up, Windows runs on a PC and you connect 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, launch apps, move files around, and play games, though graphic-intensive games or apps are not a good choice due to the bandwidth demands.

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

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