Run Windows on an Apple computer? Not only is it possible, it’s getting easier all the time. As soon as Apple announced, in 2005, that it was going to use Intel chips in its Macintosh personal computers, the once clear line dividing the PC and the Mac became blurry.
The long-time rivalry between PCs and Macs has been about software—operating systems, specifically—more than hardware. Microsoft’s operating system and the programs that run on it are designed for Intel chips, not the PowerPC chips from IBM and Motorola that Apple had been using. When Mac computers started shipping with Intel chips, it was only a matter of time before Windows made the jump.
Why run Windows on a Mac? Apple purists laugh at the thought, but the truth is that this makes Macs more appealing to people who need to have access to Windows. Some business users, for example, need to run proprietary programs that only work with that operating system.
If you want to run Windows on your Apple computer, you should know this: first, only Intel-based Macs can run Windows, so if you’re running a Mac that’s pre-2006, stop here. Second, you’ll need to set aside a portion of your hard drive for Windows to live and run. In this era of cheap hard drives, if needed, you can get a replacement or add-on drive for under $100. Third, getting your Mac ready to install and run Windows isn’t as simple as inserting a disk and clicking Install. It requires some configuration, so it’s not for the casual user to attempt. Instructions are available from Apple and on-line, but if you’re not comfortable partitioning drives, you might want to get some help.
There are two ways to run Windows on a Mac: by booting directly into the operating system or using a virtual machine. Apple’s latest operating system, Mac OS X Leopard, is equipped with Boot Camp, the software required to perform the former operation. Boot Camp allows you to set up multiple operating systems on your computer. However, if you want to switch from Leopard to Vista, or from Vista back to Leopard, you’ll need to reboot your computer.
Running an operating system on a virtual machine means using Windows—or Linux, for that matter—in a frame located on your Leopard desktop. That means you can shift from one system to another just by moving your mouse. The two best software options for running Windows on a virtual machine are Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. (They both work great, but I prefer the VMware interface.)
The most recent releases of both Parallels and Fusion make it easy for those programs to use the partition created by Boot Camp, so you can run Boot Camp and either Parallels or Fusion without having to give up any additional hard-drive space.
This route has its advantages because not all programs run optimally on virtual machines. Having both options means that when you want to play a graphically intensive Windows game you can boot up the system, but if you only want to open up an Excel spreadsheet, you can just click on the Parallels or Fusion frame running Vista. Using a virtual machine also simplifies the copying of files from one operating-system desktop to the other.
There’s another option for those who don’t need or want to run Windows, but who do need access to Windows programs. CrossOver Mac is a program from CodeWeavers that enables Mac computers to run certain Windows software. The program not only lets you open Windows files without having a
virtual machine or rebooting, it does so without the need to purchase a licence for Windows. Although CrossOver doesn’t support every Windows application, it works with many major software releases, including Microsoft Office, Outlook, and Visio, as well as the Creative Suite 2 versions of InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop.
Running Windows on a Mac isn’t exactly hassle-free. I decided to install a copy of Vista on my MacBook Pro, and getting it to work well took some tweaking. (I know all about the reviews of Vista, but this operating system isn’t going away, people. At some point you’ll have to switch, and I’m not waiting another four years for a proper upgrade.)
I had to manually install a couple of drivers to get the graphics and wireless-networking cards working. Some Apple-specific features, like the trackpad’s expanded functionality that lets you use it like an iPod Touch, don’t work at all in Windows. But despite those minor limitations, Vista ran just fine on the MacBook Pro using Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, and VMware Fusion. In fact, the MacBook ran Vista as well or better than any of the PC laptops I tested over the past few months, and scored 5.9 on the Windows Experience Index. That’s the top rating possible, for those of you keeping score.
Yes, you can run Windows on an Apple computer. A Mac isn’t the cheapest option if you just want to run Windows, mind you, but isn’t it nice to know you have the option?