Macs in the Enterprise

Windows on Macs: Three Paths for Integration

- 2008.05.14 - Tip Jar

Running Windows applications on a Mac has long been seen as the holy grail of acceptance in the workplace. These days there three ways of ways to make that integration happen. Between Crossover Mac to run individual applications, Parallels and VMWare Fusion to run Windows itself under emulation, and Boot Camp, which lets you dual-boot your Mac into OS X or Windows at need, there are fewer reasons than ever not to make the switch in your office or school.

Boot Camp

Boot Camp, Apple's dual-boot utility, became available under Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) at a time when many enthusiasts had been trying to shoehorn Windows onto the new Intel-based Macs. Officially supported, it wasn't especially easy to configure, and driver support was iffy at best. With the release of Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5), Boot Camp emerged from beta and became an easy-to-use option, even providing drivers for Mac hardware on the Leopard installation CDs.

To say that Boot Camp was a resounding success is an understatement. PC Magazine ended 2007 by declaring the MacBook Pro to be the "fastest Windows laptop" that they had ever seen. For people who wanted to make the switch, but who didn't want to lose out on Windows-specific software (especially games), this was a surefire way to ease their transition

It is not, however, a panacea. Much like dual-booting with Linux (which, coincidentally, Boot Camp also allows), you can be in either OS X or in Windows, but not in both simultaneously. This makes Boot Camp a solution for gaming, and for some it allows them to live a double life, booting into Windows when they need their Windows-specific software, and then returning to OS X for everything else.


For people who need access to one or two Windows packages, but who don't want to give up the stability, efficiency, and power of OS X, VMWare, Parallels, and Sun offer products that run a complete instance of Windows in a window. This allows complete access to OS X while simultaneously running Internet Explorer, for example, to access an especially poorly designed website. Or perhaps to run a Windows-only accounting package or graphic design tool.

The benefits are many, of course. You don't ever have to leave OS X, and you can continue to use the mail, browser, and other applications that you are familiar with. If you're a recent convert to the Mac, you can slowly wean yourself off of Windows applications while you learn your way with the OS X equivalents.

The drawbacks, however, can be severe. Even with a dual-core processor and significant amounts of RAM, applications tend to run more slowly in Windows under emulation than they would running Windows in Boot Camp. This is less of an issue if you're only running Internet Explorer for cross platform testing, but no 3D application is going to run well on anything short of a souped up Mac Pro. Your mileage may vary, of course, but when tested on a 2.2 GHz MacBook with 2 GB of RAM, nothing ran especially quickly. I imagine the same would not necessarily be the case with a MacBook Pro.

A Third Option

The final option, and one that should provide a speedier experience, is to employ Wine (an acronym that stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator), or its commercial counterpart, Crossover Mac. Crossover and Wine, instead of emulating a PC on which to install Windows, provide a layer of programming that translates system calls (known as the Application Programming Interface or API) from Windows applications directly, converting them into calls that the hardware and operating system can understand, in much the same way that Rosetta allows PowerPC applications to run on an Intel Mac.

Without the overhead that running a full install of Windows entails, this solution is often faster than running the application under Windows in Boot Camp. The drawback is that while many applications are supported (see the Wine Application Database), not every Windows application is supported, and some applications are either too old or were designed too unconventionally to run well under Crossover.

Running Windows applications on a Mac is always going to require a sacrifice of some sort, but given these three options, there are fewer reasons to keep Macs out of business environments all the time. Given their relatively easy support needs, the breadth of software available, the move by many businesses towards more Web 2.0 models in their applications, and now these venues for running Windows applications when you must, the nay-sayers are going to need to come up with some new excuses. LEM

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