As a Mac user, you may occasionally need to run Windows apps and software. While Macs and Windows machines are very different, there are several good options for getting Windows apps working on macOS. This guide covers the main methods available.
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Use a Virtual Machine
One of the most popular and hassle-free ways to run Windows apps on a Mac is to use virtual machine (VM) software. This allows you to run a “virtual computer” with Windows installed inside your regular macOS system. The virtual Windows thinks it is running directly on hardware but is actually sharing resources with macOS behind the scenes.
- Allows you to run Windows and macOS side-by-side
- Easy to set up and use
- Provides good Windows compatibility
- Can reduce system performance compared to native apps
- Requires you to purchase Windows
Some good virtual machine options include:
- Parallels Desktop – The leading commercial option, with excellent performance and macOS integration
- VMware Fusion – Another solid commercial choice for running Windows VMs
- VirtualBox – A free and open source VM platform
Use Windows Compatibility Software
Instead of virtualizing the entire Windows system, compatibility software aims to run Windows apps directly within macOS. This approach uses translation layers to convert Windows API calls into macOS equivalents.
Popular compatibility options include:
- Wine – An open source Windows API implementation for macOS and Linux
- CrossOver – A commercial Wine variant focused on ease-of-use
- Allows running apps without needing Windows
- Good performance since apps integrate tightly with macOS
- Limited Windows app compatibility
- Can have stability/compatibility issues
Use Remote Desktop Software
If you have access to a remote Windows computer, you can connect to it over the network from your Mac. This allows your Mac to remotely display and control Windows apps running on the remote machine.
- Microsoft Remote Desktop – Official RDP client for connecting to Windows PCs
- AnyDesk – Excellent proprietary remote desktop app
- Provides full native Windows app support
- Works with remote access to office computers
- Requires a separate Windows machine
- Limited by network bandwidth and latency
Use Cloud Streaming
New cloud gaming services can stream Windows apps and games directly to your Mac. This runs the Windows software remotely on cloud servers, encoding the video output and sending it down to your Mac over the internet.
- Amazon AppStream – Cloud-hosted Windows application streaming
- Rainway – Open source game streaming technology
- Runs intensive Windows software not supported natively on Mac hardware
- Allows access from any Mac device
- Requires high internet speeds for good performance
- Can have streaming latency issues
Dual Boot with Boot Camp
Apple’s Boot Camp allows you to install Windows directly onto your Mac hardware, dual booting between macOS and Windows when you restart your computer. This provides full native compatibility but prevents running macOS and Windows side-by-side.
- Provides the best Windows gaming performance
- Allows support for unsupported Mac hardware in Windows
- Requires restarting to switch between Windows and macOS
- Not compatible with M1/M2 Macs
Find Mac-Native Alternatives
Before resorting to running Windows apps on your Mac, check if there is a macOS-native alternative available that can meet your needs. Many popular apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud are available for macOS.
Some useful sites for finding macOS app alternatives:
- AlternativeTo – Discover Mac app alternatives
- MacUpdate – Reviews of Mac apps
- Setapp – Mac app subscription service
Thanks to impressive progress in compatibility layers and virtualization technology, you have quite a few options for accessing Windows apps and software on a modern Mac.
For most users, a virtual machine like Parallels Desktop provides the best combination of usability and performance. But alternatives like Wine and remote desktop software serve other specialized use cases.
With the right tools, you can run even intensive games and professional software designed solely for Windows. While native macOS apps are preferable where possible, you need not be limited by the Mac’s operating system.
Hopefully this guide has provided a good overview of the main methods for running Windows apps on macOS. Let us know if you have any other questions!