Choosing to use a Mac doesn’t mean you have to leave behind Windows OS and all of the software. You can set up a dual-boot system to run both in parallel, or use a Windows emulator for Mac. In fact, if you have to deal with various platforms then a Mac would even be a great choice.
With powerful hardware, Mac computers can run any operating system flawlessly. Using Mac computers is also the only way to run (legally) Windows, macOS, and Linux. That’s obviously one of the advantages.
For those of you who are looking for an easy way to run Windows on your Mac, just keep reading and I will show you everything you need right below.
In this article, I’m going to show you the list of best Windows emulators (FREE & PAID) that I have used and had good experiences with. Just scroll down, learn about them and choose a good one for your Mac!
1. Parallels Desktop
Parallels is the virtual machine software that lets you run Windows on your Mac without rebooting and use Windows applications like they are native to Mac or PC. It also supports plenty of other operating systems such as Chromium, Android, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, and Ubuntu.
Parallels gives you several ways to run Windows. You can clone an existing computer by using the “Transfer Windows from a PC”, or install a fresh version from Microsoft. If you’ve used Boot Camp before, you can reuse this existing Boot Camp installation. Parallels also allows you to purchase and download original Windows ISO file right from within the program.
What I love the most about Parallels is its Coherence, which is a view mode that allows you to run Windows apps on your Mac, as though they were native Mac applications.
Under the Coherence mode, you can run Windows apps directly from the Mac Dock and easily switch between both your Windows and Mac apps without managing two separate desktops or rebooting.
Another key feature of Parallels is the ability to install and let users play Windows games. Note that it’s just a virtual software, so using Parallels would be ideal for playing certain games casually or games that don’t require a lot of powerful processing. If you want to try big games that are graphically intensive, I recommend Boot Camp.
2. VMWare Fusion
VMWare Fusion & Parallels do fundamentally the same thing, but they have some differences in features, performance & user subscriptions.
Parallels calls their windowed mode support “Coherence”, while in VMware Fusion it’s called “Unity”. There are some minor differences between the ways that each program handles these modes, but they work in essentially the same way. They both allow you to run Windows apps on your Mac desktop so you can copy, paste between Windows and Mac apps, move and resize them.
About the performance of these two Windows emulators, TekRevue has benchmarked both of them and VirtualBox – the virtual machine I will show you right below. And according to LifeHacker, Parallels tends to do best in CPU-related tests, while VMware does best in graphic-related tests.
When it comes to the costs, both VMware Fusion & Parallels have the same price tag of $79.99 for an annual license. The difference? Well, Parallels is licensed on a per Mac basis while Fusion is licensed per user. So if you have multiple Macs, VMware Fusion would be the best bet.
VirtualBox is another Windows emulator for Mac but unlike Parallels and VMware, it’s open source software and completely free.
With VirtualBox, the set-up process of virtual machines is more tricky than two commercial competitors above. You’ll need to tweak a bunch of system settings, including how many processor cores & how much memory the virtual machine gets. Then, you’ll need an installation disc, USB drive, or ISO file (you can download to your Mac) to install from.
In terms of features and performance, it’s also not as polished as VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop. The windowed mode of VirtualBox named Seamless Mode hasn’t worked with Windows 10 yet. And it has no feature that allows you to open up individual Windows apps from the dock. That means you’ll have to launch the virtual machine manually before using your Windows apps.
However, if you just want a Windows emulator that can run some simple Windows apps on your Mac, a free service like VirtualBox may suit your needs. There are many tutorials on how to set up a virtual machine with VirtualBox out there so I don’t think it’ll be a big hassle. You can give it a try before considering VMware or Parallels.
WineBottler is not a virtual machine application but it can provide you with an easy way to wrap a Windows application into something that will run natively on OS X. This is an ideal solution if you just need to run one application and don’t really want to mess with all other stuff.
Once you’ve installed WineBottler, you can choose a program from the list within the app. WineBottler will then automatically download, install, and configure the program for you.
If you can’t find the program you want, you can download the .exe file of the program and open it by right-clicking on it and selecting Open With > Wine. You can then either execute the .exe file directly or choose to create the .app file for Mac and install.
Note that WineBottler doesn’t work well with some Windows applications. In this case, it may crash or not run at all.
5. Windows Emulator: CrossOver
CrossOver is another commercial choice for running Windows on Mac. It works just in the same way as WineBottler. It is proprietary software with out-of-the-box support for many commercial Windows applications like MS Office, Adobe Lightroom, DirectX, etc.
You can also use this software to play some popular Windows games such as Counter-Strike, Diablo, StarCraft,… CrossOver will be a better choice than WineBottler for professionals and organizations. Its licenses start at $39.95.