Having a single laptop that can take the place of two computers makes perfect sense.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


3 ways to run Windows programs on your Mac

Jan. 31, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   The last time I gave a presentation on Windows 7, I took my Apple laptop out of its carrying case and began hooking up the projector.
   Nobody cried foul. Nobody complained that I was turning on a Mac in order to show off Windows.
   That's a big change from a few years ago, when few PC users realized that Macs make great Windows PCs. These days, having a single laptop that can take the place of two computers makes perfect sense. Best of all, there's no sacrifice in Windows or Mac performance; the Mac is unaffected by its companion operating system, and Windows runs just fine on the Mac.
   You have a choice of two methods of running a complete Windows PC on a modern Mac (one based on an Intel chip design, which all Macs currently are).
   The first method is clunky but easy to do. You simply run Apple's built-in Boot Camp software -- it comes with all new Macs, so you don't need to buy it -- and install Windows (XP, Vista or Windows 7) on the Mac's hard drive. You get a complete Windows PC, but it runs in either-or mode. At bootup, you choose either the Mac or Windows by pressing an appropriate key.
   Obviously, this means you can't run Windows at the same time you're running your Mac. This might not matter if the main reason you need Windows is to play Windows games and entertainment programs, but you'll probably find Boot Camp too limiting if you have a few Windows programs you need to run while working on your Mac.
   That's where the second method comes in. You can buy virtual machine software that lets you run Windows on your Mac while your Mac is running also. You install the virtual machine manager and then install Windows (XP and Windows 7 work best). Pressing a special key combination switches Windows from being confined within a frame on your desktop to taking over the entire desktop, just as if your Mac were not running.
   Both commercial programs that do this -- Parallels Desktop ($80, from www.parallels.com) and VMWare Fusion (also $80, from www.vmware.com) -- allow easy copying to and from the virtual computer.
   A huge advantage to a virtualized Windows installation is the way the entire virtualized Windows PC is stored within a single folder on the Mac. Backing up Windows is simply a matter of copying that folder.
   An option if you don't want to buy virtualization software is a free Windows virtualization program for the Mac created by Sun Microsystems, VirtualBox (from www.virtualbox.org). I have no experience with VirtualBox, but the price can't be beat.
   Finally, there's a third method. You can run Windows software without the need for Windows at all with Crossover Mac ($40, from www.codeweavers.com). Not all Windows programs work with Crossover, but when Crossover does the right thing it's splendid. Microsoft Access works especially well under Crossover, a real boon since Access is not available for the Mac. I use Crossover to run many photo-editing programs that have not been made available on the Mac.