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A Complete Guide to Running Windows Programs with a Mac

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 5/19/2011

If you are making the transition to Mac OS X you are probably concerned about how your favorite programs will run on a Mac. This guide provides in-depth information about your options when you need to run Windows programs with a Mac computer.

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    Once You Go Mac, Do You Ever Go Back?

    If you use an Apple computer with Mac OS X you are probably very happy with the experience. However, there is no arguing the fact that OS X's developer community is much smaller than that of Windows. This is an unfortunate result of the Mac operating system's smaller market share. The Mac operating system also isn't great for gaming because it can only support Open GL for rendering, and most games were coded primarily for DirectX.

    Because of these issues you may occasionally think about running Windows programs with your Mac. Well, I have good news – it is completely possible. In this article we're going to take a look at several methods of running Windows programs with a Mac.

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    Find Mac Versions of Windows Software

    Running Windows Programs on a Mac Although Mac OS X has no where near the market share of Windows, it still has a large user base. It also has a lot of credibility in the eyes of developers and tech-savvy enthusiasts. Before you assume that running your Windows program with a Mac is impossible, check to make sure that a Mac version isn't available. There are a surprising number of programs – including many made by Microsoft – which work with both Windows and OS X. Some of these programs include:

    These are just a few examples. There are many, many other programs which will run on both a Mac and Windows computer. Be sure to check the website of the company or organization that developed your favorite program. They might have a Mac version you don't know about.

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    Boot Camp

    Even Apple knows that there are certain benefits to running Windows and that Apple users might sometimes need to use Microsoft's operating system. Because of this they have included a feature in OS X called Boot Camp. Boot Camp makes it easy to install Windows on a Mac computer.

    To use Boot Camp you need to start the Boot Camp Assistant, which is located in the utilities folder of OS X. The purpose of the Boot Camp Assistant is the creation of a drive partition on which Windows can be installed. You can set the size of the partition to whatever your like (within the limits of your hard drive's capacity, of course). Ideally, the partition should be as small as possible while still being large enough to handle any program you install on it. If you just need to run a few light utilities in Windows you can get by with a 20GB Partition. If you want to run Windows games you'll need a lot more space.

    Once you have created your Boot Camp partition, you can restart your Mac computer and begin to the Windows installation process. Things from here do get a slight bit technical, so please read our dedicated Boot Camp Installation Guide.

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    Mac Virtual Windows While installing Windows with Boot Camp is a great way to ensure that your Windows programs will run without issue, it does have problems. The biggest problem is the simply fact that, in order to use it, you have to go through the process of installing Windows and then booting into Windows. Shutting down OS X and booting into Windows can take a minute or two. This pause is inconvenient, and if you are in a situation where you need to run a Windows program and a Mac program side-by-side it simply won't do.

    In this case your only option, should you want to run Windows on a Mac or Macbook Pro, is to install virtualization software. Virtualization is a technique that allows a computer running certain hardware and software to simulate the operating environment of one or more computers. Because you want to run Windows on a Macbook Pro or Mac, and you don't want to have to deal with any delays, you'll need to find virtualization software.

    There are several programs made for the Mac which do exactly this. For more information, and a detailed guide on how to use them, check out our guide to running a virtual Windows machine on a Mac.

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    Using Windows on a Mac

    These are all of the techniques for running Windows on a Macbook Pro / Mac. You might be wondering, now that we've gone over the options, which is the best.

    Obviously you should try and use the Mac versions of a program if they are available. Most companies which support a Mac version of their software provide a very complete program. The biggest obstacle for using Windows on a Macbook Pro or Mac is still gaming. There are many popular games which can be used on a Mac, but they often don't run as well as on Windows.

    If you can't find a Mac version your choices are Boot Camp or virtualization. The first major difference is cost. Boot Camp is free (except for the cost of Windows if you don't already own it). The virtualization software you can buy is not.

    The second major difference is the convenience. Boot Camp is not as convenient as virtualization. However, with that said, Windows running in a virtual environment will not perform as well as a copy of Windows installed on a Boot Camp partition.