5 Ways to Run Windows Software on a Mac


A MacBook Pro with a web browser open.
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek

We recommend using virtual machine software like Parallels to run Windows software on a Mac. If you have an Intel Mac, you can get the best performance by installing Windows in Boot Camp. You can also use Wine via Wineskin or CrossOver Mac, or access Windows software via a remote desktop solution.

It’s surprisingly easy to run Windows apps on a Mac, and you don’t always need to run Windows to do so. Use these solutions to play PC games, run productivity software, or access Windows tools that lack a native Mac version.

Run Windows in a Virtual Machine

One of the easiest ways of running Windows apps is to use a virtual machine. This involves running Windows on top of macOS by virtualizing the hardware required to do so. Software installed in a virtual machine behaves as if it’s installed natively on a Windows PC which means that compatibility is excellent, particularly in Windows 11.

If you have a modern Mac model with an Apple Silicon chip (M1, M2, and similar,) you will be limited to the Windows 11 on ARM release, which performs surprisingly well. This ARM version of Windows has compatibility with 64-bit apps written for the “standard” x86 version of Windows, which means that Windows 11 on ARM can run almost any app you throw at it without experiencing much of a performance penalty.

Windows 11 on ARM running in Parallels Desktop

If you have an Intel Mac, then you’ll be able to run the more widely used x86 version of Windows in a virtual machine instead. You can also use virtualization to run other operating systems on top of macOS, including Linux distributions or other macOS installations.

If you want the smoothest virtualization experience, you’ll need to open your wallet. Parallels Desktop will download, install, and set up Windows 11 for you in a matter of minutes. It also supports 3D acceleration for games on Apple Silicon, which other solutions lack. Check out our review of Parallels Desktop for more details. Other virtualization options include VMware Fusion (with a free version of VMware Fusion Player), VirtualBox, and UTM.

Virtualization is useful since you can just launch an app and have access to Windows in moments. Apps like Parallels have modes that allow you to effectively hide the Windows UI and use apps as if they were running natively on your Mac. Many virtualization apps don’t require that you sacrifice disk space for your virtual machine, unlike a dedicated Windows installation.

Note: These virtual machine apps don’t come with a Windows product key. You can install and use Windows 11 without a product key, but if you want to get rid of the pesky “Activate Windows” reminder, you’ll also need to pay Microsoft for a license.

Windows 11 on ARM in Parallels Desktop 18

Use Wine to Run Windows Apps With Wineskin

Wine is a compatibility layer that allows Windows software to run on top of macOS. It works by translating Windows API calls in real time so performance in apps that use Wine is generally very good. That said, not all apps will work, and some will exhibit odd behavior. Apps are more likely to crash or behave in unexpected ways compared to virtualization or running Windows natively.

That said, Wine might just be the solution you’ve been looking for. You don’t need to install Windows natively, which means you don’t need to dedicate disk space to Windows or run additional virtualization software. Wine apps appear on your desktop and in your dock just like native Mac apps do.

Wineskin Winery running on macOS 13 Ventura

The Wine project is still under active development, but Mac packages are no longer maintained. Fortunately, you can use a community-maintained tool called Wineskin to create wrappers for your Windows apps. It is recommended that you install and maintain Wineskin using Homebrew, a package manager for macOS.

You can easily install Homebrew on your Mac using a few Terminal commands. With that out of the way, install Wineskin by running the following in Terminal:

brew install --cask --no-quarantine gcenx/wine/unofficial-wineskin

This will install the Wineskin Winery app on your Mac, which you can then use to create wrappers and start installing Windows software. Wineskin works on both Intel and Apple Silicon Mac using Apple’s Rosetta 2 transpiler.

Use CrossOver Mac to Run Windows Apps

Also built on Wine, CrossOver Mac is paid software that can help simplify the process of getting a Windows application working on your Mac. Available with a free trial, CrossOver Mac costs $74 and walks you through the process of installing Windows software with installation profiles available for many popular apps. Where apps lack profiles, CrossOver can help you make your own.

CrossOver is particularly popular among gamers who want to run Windows games on Apple hardware. CrossOver works on both Intel and Apple Silicon models, though Mac owners with Apple’s ARM-based chips will (currently) need to rely on Rosetta 2, which can introduce a small performance penalty.

You can use the free trial of CrossOver to test out any apps before you buy, and it’s cheaper than buying a Windows license (or a premium virtualization tool like Parallels Desktop). You can use a single CrossOver license to run Windows apps on macOS, Linux, and ChromeOS too.

Use Boot Camp to Install Windows on an Intel Mac

If you have an Intel Mac, you can install Windows natively on your Mac using Boot Camp, Apple’s dual-boot Windows partitioning tool. If you have a modern Apple Silicon Mac with an M1, M2, or later chip, then you won’t be able to use Boot Camp, which means you can’t install Windows natively. (Windows 11 on ARM can’t be installed directly on a Mac; you can only install it in a virtual machine.)

Intel Mac owners will find the Boot Camp Assistant under Applications > Utilities. Run it and follow the instructions to partition your drive for a Windows installation. Boot Camp officially supports Windows 10 only, since Windows 11 requires Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM 2.0) support.

Boot Camp on macOS 13 Ventura

You may be able to install Windows 11 by creating a custom .ISO if you’re desperate to do so. These machines are still getting Windows updates (for now) though Microsoft has started displaying watermarks on machines that don’t make the grade.

Running Windows natively has some benefits and drawbacks, assuming your Mac is compatible in the first place. You’ll need to reboot every time you want to use Windows, which can be a hassle. You’ll also need to sacrifice a good chunk of your available drive space to Windows if you want to install a decent amount of software.

On the plus side, performance is as good as it gets since you’ll be using the full potential of your hardware in a native Windows environment. If gaming is your main use for Windows, this is arguably your best choice.

RELATED: How to Install Windows on a Mac With Boot Camp

Access Windows Remotely With Remote Desktop Tools

Do you have a Windows PC already but are simply looking for a way to interact with it on your Mac? Maybe your Windows machine is in a bedroom, but you primarily use your Mac in the study. Remote desktop software lets you make use of the hardware you already have—remotely over a network.

This can work both over the internet or over a local network, but keep in mind that using a machine over the internet can incur a severe latency penalty. You might be able to help fix a friend’s computer over the internet or check for files in your documents folder, but you wouldn’t want to play games or use most software in this way.

Chrome Remote Desktop dashboard

Local network connections will be far more stable, particularly if you have a wired network inside your house. Wireless will work too, but Wi-Fi is subject to all sorts of interference and bottlenecks. Faster is always better, whether you’re networking over a cable or the airwaves.

The apps required to accomplish this are largely the same, regardless of the connection type. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop lets you connect to your Windows 10 or Windows 11 machine using dedicated apps for macOS or iPad and iPhone (as well as other Windows computers.)

If you use Google’s Chrome browser then Chrome Remote Desktop is worth a shot. It’s a completely free remote desktop app that uses your Google Account for remote access using a browser extension. DWService is another free solution that provides access to your computer via a web page. Other free remote access tools include AnyDesk and TigerVNC.

Consider Looking For Native Mac Alternatives

If none of the solutions above appeal to you, it might be worth putting in some time to hunt for a suitable Mac alternative that runs natively. You can use websites like Alternative To, ask on message boards like Apple Support Community or r/MacApps or simply scour the web in your favorite search engine.

You might even find the app you’re looking for in our list of Mac apps you should be using everyday.




Source : https://www.howtogeek.com/187359/5-ways-to-run-windows-software-on-a-mac/

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