HomeTechnologyNews5 Ways to Run Windows Software on a Mac

5 Ways to Run Windows Software on a Mac

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Hannah Stryker / Instructional Geek

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

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

Run Windows in a virtual machine

One of the easiest ways to run Windows applications 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 were natively installed on a Windows PC, which means compatibility is excellent, especially on Windows 11.

If you have a modern Mac model with an Apple Silicon chip (M1, M2, and the like), you’ll be limited to the version of Windows 11 on ARM, which works surprisingly well. This ARM version of Windows supports 64-bit apps written for the “stock” x86 version of Windows, meaning Windows 11 on ARM can run just about any app you throw at it without experiencing a huge performance penalty.

Windows 11 on ARM running on Parallels Desktop

If you have an Intel Mac, then you’ll be able to run the most widely used x86 version of Windows in a virtual machine. 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 up your wallet. Parallels Desktop will download, install, and configure Windows 11 in a matter of minutes. It also supports 3D acceleration for games on Apple Silicon, which other solutions lack. Check out our Parallels Desktop review for more details. Other virtualization options include VMware Fusion (with a free version of VMware Fusion Player), VirtualBox, and UTM.

Virtualization is useful as you can launch an application and have access to Windows in moments. Applications like Parallels have modes that allow you to effectively hide the Windows user interface and use applications as if they were running natively on your Mac. Many virtualization applications do not require you to sacrifice disk space for your virtual machine; unlike a dedicated installation of Windows.

Note: These virtual machine apps do not 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 annoying “Activate Windows” reminder, you’ll also need to pay Microsoft for a license.

Windows 11 on ARM on 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 the performance of applications using Wine is generally very good. That being said, not all apps will work and some will exhibit strange behavior. Applications are more likely to crash or behave unexpectedly compared to virtualization or running native Windows.

With that said, Wine could be the solution you were 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 dock just like native Mac apps do.

Wineskin Winery running on macOS 13 Ventura

The Wine project is still in active development, but the Mac packages are no longer maintained. Fortunately, you can use a community-maintained tool called Wineskin to create wrappers for your Windows applications. 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 begin installing the Windows software. Wineskin works on both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs using Apple’s Rosetta 2 transpiler.

Use CrossOver Mac to run Windows apps

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

CrossOver is particularly popular with 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 CrossOver’s free trial to try any app before you buy it, 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 as well.

Use Boot Camp to install Windows on a Mac with Intel

If you have an Intel Mac, you can install Windows natively on your Mac using Boot Camp, Apple’s dual-boot Windows partition tool. If you have a modern Apple Silicon Mac with an M1, M2, or later chip, you won’t be able to use Boot Camp, which means you can’t natively install Windows. (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 Boot Camp Assistant in Applications > Utilities. Run it and follow the instructions to partition your drive for a Windows installation. Boot Camp officially only supports Windows 10, as Windows 11 requires support for Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM 2.0).

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 still receive Windows Updates (for now), though Microsoft has started displaying watermarks on machines that don’t make the grade.

Running Windows natively has some advantages and disadvantages, assuming your Mac supports it 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 for 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 primary use for Windows, this is possibly your best bet.

RELATED: How to install Windows on a Mac with Boot Camp

Access Windows remotely with remote desktop tools

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

This can work both over the Internet and a local network, but be aware that using a machine over the Internet can result in a severe latency penalty. You may be able to help fix a friend’s computer over the Internet or find files in their Documents folder, but you don’t want to play games or use most software this way.

Chrome Remote Desktop Panel

Local network connections will be much more stable, especially if you have a wired network inside your home. Wireless will work too, but Wi-Fi is subject to all sorts of interference and bottlenecks. Faster is always better, whether you’re connected to a wired or wireless network.

The applications required to achieve this are virtually the same, regardless of the type of connection. 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, Chrome Remote Desktop is worth a try. It is a completely free remote desktop application that uses your Google account for remote access using a browser extension. DWService is another free solution that provides access to your computer through a web page. Other free remote access tools include AnyDesk and TigerVNC.

Consider looking into native Mac alternatives

If none of the above solutions appeal to you, it might be worth spending some time looking for a suitable Mac alternative that runs natively. You can use websites like Alternative To, ask on message boards like Apple Support Community or/MacApps, or just browse 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 every day.

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