How To Easily Run Windows In Your Mac

According to StatCounter, while Microsoft Windows is still the most popular OS, Apple’s macOS is used by 17% of desktop computers worldwide, 27% of computers in the United States, 29% of computers in the United Kingdom, and 25% of computers in Canada. Although Windows has traditionally been the platform of choice in the business world, macOS has made inroads in several important areas, including programming, design, and marketing.

Despite the IT industry’s Windows bias, the Mac is a capable business computer. It’s also more likely than ever before that a worker is using a Mac for work, thanks to the rise of the remote workforce.

Windows, however, is the reality and will remain the dominant corporate OS. Is it possible to use both macOS and Windows? In a word, yes. You just need the proper equipment.

How to Install Windows on a Mac: Five Different Methods

There are three reliable methods available for using a Mac to run Windows 10 (and often other operating systems). These tools require a Mac running macOS 10.13 High Sierra and, in most cases, a Mac that was released in 2011 or later (with the exception of early Mac Pros). Wait until your preferred Windows-on-Mac tool supports macOS 11.0 Big Sur, expected in the fall of 2020, as an upgrade may be necessary.

Desktop virtualization software, such as VMware Fusion, allows Windows (as a “guest OS”) and its applications to be run within macOS. You can use Boot Camp to run Windows in a window as a completely separate environment, or you can use the merged mode to make it appear as though Windows applications are running natively in macOS.

Fusion 11.5 supports Windows XP and later, macOS 10.11 El Capitan and later, and a number of Linux and Solaris distributions. (VMware’s $250 WorkStation Pro software is also available for use on Linux and Windows computers as a “guest operating system”).

Fusion comes in two flavors: the $80 Standard version and the $160 Pro version, the latter of which includes features like specialized networking and virtual-disk-linking for cloud developers and VMware vSphere integration. However, the Pro version is unnecessary for most business use; the Standard version should be your standard. Both editions include 18 months of email support and have a perpetual license.

Parallels Desktop is the first desktop virtualization software for macOS that could run guest operating systems like Windows. Similar to Fusion, Windows can be used in a separate window or its applications can be used within macOS. Parallels Desktop 16, the latest version, is compatible with Windows 2000 and later, Mac OS X 10.6 Leopard and later, and a number of Linux distributions.

Both the Pro developer subscription and the Business subscription cost $100 per year, while the perpetual license for home users in the Standard edition costs $80. Higher-memory virtual machines (for better performance) are supported in the subscription versions, with centralized management being supported in the Business version.

Boot Camp is a free feature of macOS that allows you to install Windows on a separate partition of your hard drive and boot into Windows from there. As opposed to Fusion and Parallels, you cannot use both macOS and Windows simultaneously. Macs that are compatible with Boot Camp and macOS 10.14 Mojave can only use the 64-bit version of Windows 10. (Windows 7 can be run in Boot Camp on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion through macOS 10.13 High Sierra, and either Windows 7 or Windows 10 can be run in Boot Camp on macOS 10.12 Sierra and macOS 10.13 High Sierra.)

Please be aware that the upcoming ARM-based Macs will not be compatible with Boot Camp.

Alternatives for people to consider. For exceptional circumstances that IT might not be willing to support, you have two additional choices:

Free and open-source virtualization software from Oracle. Windows 8.1 and later 64-bit editions, macOS 10.13 High Sierra and later, and select Linux and Solaris distributions are all supported by the latest 6.1.12 release.

You can run some Windows programs on macOS with the help of Codeweavers CrossOver Mac, a tool based on the open-source Wine project. CrossOver for Mac is perpetually licensed at $40 without technical support, $60 with one year of support, or $500 with unlimited support for Version 19. CrossOver requires macOS 10.11 El Capitan or later on your Mac.

Except for CrossOver Mac, which is not a Windows emulator, you will need to provide your own Windows license and installation media (ISO file) for the other tools. As with any other guest operating systems you might want to set up. You must also provide your own applications.

A 27-inch iMac Retina 5K from late 2014, powered by a 4GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, an AMD Radeon R9 graphics processor with 4GB of cache, and 24GB of RAM, was used to run the programs for testing. By the standards of the year 2020, that Mac is plenty powerful. For desktop virtualization software, the 8GB of RAM that comes standard on most Macs is tight, but doable.

Virtual Machine Fusion by VMware vs. Parallels Desktop, a popular alternative

Fusion and Parallels are the only two viable options for most users. Why? For the simple reason that you can use Windows in a simulated environment within macOS. That means a business user can easily run corporate Windows apps on their personal Mac, a developer can run or test Linux or Windows software developed on the Mac, and a web designer can run multiple Windows browsers from a Mac to ensure compatibility with their work.

Both programs offer equivalent features. For the average user, the differences between the two are negligible, making compatibility with existing infrastructure or budget the primary considerations when deciding between the two. For businesses, I recommend VMware Fusion due to its lower price.

The use of desktop virtualization tools will likely result in some delays, most notably during the loading of applications and the rendering of high-resolution images and videos. But once an app is opened, it usually functions without any hiccups.

The container files for the virtual machines may be too large to include in a Time Machine backup on macOS, weighing in at 40GB or more. If you don’t do this, each time you use Windows, Time Machine will think that the container files have changed and create a new backup copy of them. Or, you can use desktop virtualization and turn off Time Machine’s automatic backups to ensure that only the most recent changes to container files are backed up. This, of course, prevents your Mac from being backed up during that time.

Keep in mind that VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and other x86 virtualization environments will not work with the upcoming ARM-based Macs, as Apple has informed developers. If you decide to switch to an ARM-based Mac, you will need to upgrade to a version of your desktop virtualization software that is compatible with ARM.

In common with Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion

Create virtual machines on which to run an alternate operating system, applications, and data with either VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop. There is no limit to the number of virtual machines you can create, load, or switch between. Since each virtual machine requires tens of gigabytes of storage space, you can keep the ones you don’t use often on an external drive and free up space on your Mac’s internal drives.

Fusion can import Parallels virtual machines and open Parallels virtual machines, while Parallels can open Fusion virtual machines and import Fusion and Parallels virtual machines.

Fusion and Parallels both separate Windows into its own window by default. In most situations, that’s your best bet, as it visually confirms that you’ve switched to a new OS with a unique user interface. Windows can also be used in full-screen mode.

On-the-fly resizing of the Windows window is a feature shared by both Fusion and Parallels, as is the ability to toggle an integration mode that hides the Windows UI and instead places your Windows applications in the macOS Dock so you can run them like macOS apps (called “Unity view” in Fusion and “Coherence mode” in Parallels, respectively). When you do this, macOS will show the menus from the Windows applications you’ve opened.

You may find the integration mode more helpful for your work than I do, but I find it confusing because I often forget that I’m using a Windows app and thus encounter Windows-specific behavior without the context that I’m in Windows.

From the VMware Fusion menu, select View > Unity to enter Unity mode. To exit Unity mode, select Fusion from the macOS Dock, then from the menu bar select VMware Unity > Quit VMware Unity. Only the Unity perspective crashes, not Fusion itself.

Select View > Enter Coherence from Parallels’ menu bar to enter Coherence mode. Select View > Exit Coherence from any Windows app’s menu bar on macOS to exit Coherence mode.

You can set the Mac’s Safari as the default browser for opening links from the virtual machine, customize the macOS Dock to show Windows icons, and map keyboard shortcuts in both Fusion’s Unity view and Parallels’ Coherence mode.

With either desktop virtualization tool, you can easily share files between Windows and macOS by mapping familiar Windows folders like Documents to their macOS counterparts. To grant Windows access to other folders and drives on a Mac, you can also create virtual folders to those locations. Alternatively, you can accomplish the same shared-storage goal by using the same cloud storage service on both macOS and Windows.

Fusion and Parallels both allow you to use your Mac’s networking, Bluetooth, audio, printers, input devices, and other hardware in Windows by mimicking the Mac’s special keys and gestures on your PC keyboard. A DVD drive or other USB drive attached to your Mac can be used by Windows, but usually only one OS can use the device at a time, so you’ll need to mount and unmount it before Windows can access its contents. You can customize these mappings as a default in both desktop virtualization tools.

The virtual machines can be expanded or shrunk with either program, allowing you to allocate more or less space to macOS if the Windows “disk” fills up.

Both programs allow you to fine-tune a virtual machine’s performance by modifying its allocation of system memory and the number of processor cores. The more resources you allocate to the Windows VM, the fewer resources are left for macOS, so you’ll have to play around to find the sweet spot that suits your needs.

Fusion and Parallels both provide options to encrypt and secure your virtual machine with a password. Content can be copied and pasted between the Windows VM and macOS, and files can be dragged and dropped as well.

You can import your Boot Camp partition and turn it into a virtual machine using either of these tools. This is especially helpful for software and web testers, who can set up multiple virtual machines and load a specific environment as needed. Be aware, though, that the more virtual machines you launch at once, the slower your Mac will run overall.

The VMware Tools package should run automatically when you launch a virtual machine, but if it doesn’t, you can install the drivers by selecting Virtual Machine > Install VMware Tools (in macOS) after launching a virtual machine. Select Virtual Machine > Reinstall VMware Tools after updating Fusion to make sure you have the most up-to-date drivers.

If the Parallels Desktop tools are not installed automatically during the virtual machine setup process, you can install them by selecting Actions > Install Parallels Tools (in macOS) or by selecting Actions > Reinstall Parallels Tools. Please be aware that the Standard edition does not automatically update the Parallels Tools; you will need to check for updates and reinstall them as necessary.

Keep in mind that if you install or reinstall VMware Tools or Parallels Tools, Windows will require a restart.

How Parallels Desktop is different from VMware Fusion

The two desktop virtualization tools have different user interfaces but are otherwise very similar in terms of features.

However, when comparing additional features, Parallels is superior to Fusion. The Picture in Picture feature, exclusive to Parallels, allows you to keep an eye on what’s happening in Windows while still making use of your entire macOS display. It’s a helpful Windows feature if you frequently execute lengthy batch jobs.

When you’re not using your Parallels virtual machine, the pause feature can automatically shut it down to free up resources for macOS. The duration of inactivity required to activate the suspension can be altered.

To see how much your Mac’s resources are being taxed by the virtual machine, Parallels provides the Resource Monitor. However, you can glean the same crucial details simply by keeping an eye on how the virtual machine functions in practice.

With Parallels Pro and Business, you can even lock down individual preferences for each virtual machine, preventing unauthorized users from making changes.

If you use Fusion instead of Parallels, you can move the Windows app icons to the Applications folder on your Mac for even more convenient access.

There is no game-changing difference between the two, and even though Parallels has more features overall, the subscription requirement and higher price compared to Fusion Standard may not be worth it for many businesses.

Apple’s Boot Camp: When to Use It

If you anticipate infrequently running Windows, the Boot Camp feature in macOS is a great way to do so. It’s faster than Windows in a virtual machine because Windows 10 is running natively on your Intel Mac’s hardware. Additionally, there is no financial outlay required.

However, every time you switch to Windows, you’ll need to restart your Mac, and every time you switch back to macOS, you’ll need to restart again. Therefore, it is most useful in situations where you will be using Windows exclusively for an extended period of time, such as when working from home on a Mac and switching between Windows and macOS.

It’s important to remember that the upcoming ARM-based Macs won’t have Boot Camp, so you can’t use them to run Windows. Users and businesses who want to use Boot Camp uniformly will need to steer clear of the latest Macs. Since Boot Camp will be phased out in the coming years when Apple stops producing new Intel-based Macs, I advise Mac-centric users and businesses to find an alternative.

You can use Windows on your Mac with Boot Camp, and if you get tired of constantly rebooting, you can switch to either Fusion or Parallels and still use your existing Boot Camp installation without reinstalling Windows or its applications. Before upgrading your current Intel-based Mac to a future ARM-based Mac, you can use either of these tools to migrate your Boot Camp partition, provided that your desktop virtualization software offers an ARM-compatible version.

Boot Camp requires you to create a Windows partition on your Mac’s internal hard drive (external drives are not supported) using the Boot Camp Assistant utility found in the Utilities folder. This partition should be at least 128GB in size, even though 64GB is the minimum, because it cannot be resized later like a partition in desktop virtualization software. Then, put in your Windows 10 disc, ISO file, or USB drive and begin the installation process. This necessitates a full installation package for 64-bit Windows 10 being available; an upgrade installer will not work. Apple has included an installation manual.

After installing Windows on a partition, you can boot into that environment by restarting your Mac. To restart from the Windows partition, simply select it in the Startup Disk system preference. However, the Windows 10 boot partition is just one of many that can be accessed by holding the Option key during the Mac’s restart process. After a Windows restart, you can either access your macOS partition by holding down the Option key, or you can use the Boot Camp icon in the Windows system tray to restart into macOS.

The Windows operating system is the Windows operating system. All of the Mac’s hardware (network, drives, keyboard, pointing device, monitor, etc.) will be accessible to Windows via the Boot Camp drivers.

When using Boot Camp, the Windows OS has restricted access to the internal hard drive, and can only access the Windows partition. Files stored on a cloud drive to which both macOS and Windows have access, on a thumb drive connected to your Mac, or on an external hard drive formatted for MS-DOS (FAT32) are the exception; both operating systems can read and write to these media.

When to Think About Using VirtualBox

The fact that Oracle’s open-source VirtualBox desktop virtualization app allows you to use Windows 10 (or another guest OS) at no cost is the program’s biggest selling point. Even though there is a chance of incompatibility with newer versions of macOS, VirtualBox has been around for a while and has received regular updates.

While IT departments often favor commercial software with support, individual users may be willing to make do with a less polished, free alternative if their employer refuses to pony up for a commercial product.

VirtualBox’s installation process is not as simple as that of Fusion or Parallels, but it is still manageable. First, a virtual machine is created (when prompted, accept the default format), and then a disc or ISO file containing the Windows installer is added (to access the file browser, click the Folder icon to the right of the menu where you select a disc).

Once setup begins, the window becomes too small to read the Windows setup options, and increasing the window’s size has no effect. View > Virtual Screen 1 > Scale to 200% is the key to seeing what you’re doing. Greetings, and thank you for choosing open-source software.

When you’re ready to begin using Windows, you can launch your virtual machine and do so within a window. Unlike Fusion’s Unity view and Parallels’ Coherence mode, there is no integration mode.

Furthermore, Windows will not automatically resize the window to fit the new dimensions. The Windows Settings app allows you to modify the window size by selecting a different screen resolution. Alternately, you can use Scaled Mode (accessed via View > Scaled Mode in the macOS menu bar), though this will stretch the screen in only one dimension, creating an unnatural look. When in doubt, Windows’ default settings are your best bet.

Similarly, you won’t find the same level of customization options as you would with Fusion or Parallels, such as the ability to set default USB devices or keyboard mappings. However, the Devices menu in the macOS menu bar allows you to establish connections to macOS folders, USB drives, and audio devices.

Folders like “Documents” on macOS can be mapped to “My Documents” on Windows. You can also configure VirtualBox to support drag-and-drop and copy-and-paste operations between macOS and the virtual machine. Unlike Fusion and Parallels, however, connecting a virtual CD to VirtualBox requires selecting Devices > Optical Drives > Choose/create a disk image, browsing to the VBoxGuestAdditions.iso file, and clicking Choose.

If you’re using 64-bit Windows, double-click VBoxWindowsAdditions; if you’re using 32-bit Windows, double-click VBoxWindowsAdditions-x86. Once the virtual CD is mounted in Windows, open File Explorer, expand This PC to see the virtual CD, click it to get the list of files, and then run the installer. Just do what it says and Windows will restart. (It’s worth noting that, despite expectations, selecting Devices > Insert Guest Additions CD image from the macOS menu bar does not work.)

When compared to Fusion and Parallels, VirtualBox does offer some of the same advanced features. A virtual machine can be encrypted, and its memory and processing resources can be partitioned to improve performance.

It can also feel like you’re using an antiquated computer with limited memory and storage space when compared to Fusion or Parallels. VirtualBox froze on me a few times, and once I was unable to access my virtual machine until it resolved itself. Even worse, my editor’s virtual machines became corrupted and she was unable to restore them. Bad news. Fusion and Parallels both occasionally freeze, but even after I’ve had to force-quit the programs, the virtual machines have always been usable.

Clearly, VirtualBox is rudimentary and has some rough edges. That’s why it doesn’t cost a thing. But if you can live with its restrictions, it gets the job done.

Where CrossOver Mac Makes Sense

If you need to run a small number of Windows programs (even those written for Windows XP) on your Mac but don’t want to deal with the hassle (or expense) of setting up a desktop virtualization environment to run Windows, then CrossOver Mac is the way to go.

There is no desktop virtualization in CrossOver. It’s actually a compatibility layer made to run Windows software. CrossOver emulates Windows by translating Windows instructions into their equivalents on macOS, whereas virtualization recreates the hardware environment necessary to run Windows. A faulty translation is possible.

The developers of CrossOver (Codeweavers) are up front about the fact that not all Windows programs are compatible with CrossOver for Mac. To ensure that your Windows application runs smoothly under CrossOver, we recommend trying out the trial version first. You can use the search bar on the Codeweavers website to see if your software is compatible with theirs. Use it!

Also, the Microsoft Store in the cloud does not offer software installation; rather, you must use either a downloaded setup file or a physical disc.

CrossOver makes it easy to install apps, up until the point where you choose the installer file. Then, a long list of Windows applications appears before you. Even though most of the apps are pretty obscure, you should still search for yours to make sure CrossOver knows to install any necessary helper files. If the application is unknown, choose Unknown Application, name it, and then click Continue.

Full-screen mode will be used during the Windows setup. Once that’s done, a window will pop up containing the application’s “bottle,” or collection of files needed to run under CrossOver. To launch the program, simply double-click its icon. A new window will pop up with the app inside of it.

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