A Third Way: Windows Programs on OS X

By Graham K. Rogers

In recent months, particularly since the arrival of the Intel processors, Macs have become popular among a wider range of users, including corporate clients. Early on, solutions were found for running Windows on Macs. The most well-known are Apple's own Boot Camp, which will eventually be incorporated into OS X Leopard, and Parallels Desktop.

While Boot Camp needs a reboot to switch from one system to the other, Parallels can be run inside OS X, although it is reported to be slower. The disadvantage that both of these solutions have is that they need a full installation of Microsoft Windows: not the Home or other basic versions.

Personally, I have no interest in running Windows at all, although I know that some lost souls do. A few months ago, Apple lent me a 17" MacBookPro for about a month with a Boot Camp installation running Windows XP. I was able to try out various applications, including some hefty games.

To me it all seemed such a waste: to overload the Mac with a third operating system (remember it already comes with Unix underneath), but if that is what people want to do with their computers, that is their choice. Once they get to grips with OS X they will soon learn the errors of their ways.

Crossover On the other hand, occasionally an application comes along that I think I would like to play with, but it is just not worth it to install all that Windows stuff just for a single program.

With that in mind, I have been following the Wine Project and particularly the Codeweavers implementation, Crossover, with some interest. The Wine Open Source project has been running for some while with the aim of allowing Windows applications to be used on Unix. The website describes it as a compatibility layer.

The Codeweavers use of the Wine project, which they also support, recognises a more commercial need for transforming Mac OS X and Linux into Windows-compatible operating systems and so provide a "bridge" to enable Windows software to run on these systems.

nice red With Crossover, I can have my cake and eat it too: OS X as the usual operating system with all its integrated software and, once in a while, I can use a Windows program without the overhead of the intermediate software. Or Windows.

The Crossover pages are rich with suggestions and explanations of what the software can and cannot do. Several pages list programs that are known to run (and some that are known not to run). When I checked there were just over 2,500 applications with more regularly added. Many of those listed were untested. A program not listed may also run: it is simply that the Codewaevers team have not tested it.

They suggest that potential customers download a trial version to check if a specific application they want to use will work. The trial version is for 30 days. If it does work, then a purchase can be made online. The price is $59.95 (about 2,000 baht), although I was given a 30% discount for an education purchase. As a comparison, Parallels Desktop is currently listed for $79.99 (about 2800 baht). Then there is the cost of Windows.

Crossover downloads and installs like any other program. It allows the user to set parameters on installation or later. There is no need for any partitioning. It uses the Windows API (application programming interface). Space for any Windows program is allocated when, in its turn, it is installed by Crossover.

The user is asked to create a "Wine Bottle" (or use one that already exists) and it is in this bottle environment that the application will run. There are several environments that can be made, including Windows XP and 2000. A user can create multiple bottles and have these running at the same time.

creating a wine bottle

One of the problems that exists for those who want to run Windows itself on a Mac is that that part of the environment is subject to viruses. Anyone using those methods should install the same type of protection as on a normal Windows installation.

I checked with Codeweaver as to the risks that might exist with this method of using Windows programs. A helpful reply from Jessica Nunn, told me that "in theory, a virus could affect a Mac system running a Windows program, but that it would require a pretty extremely unlikely scenario and it has not, to our knowledge, ever happened."

However, with the way that Crossover works within OS X, if a virus "destroys your entire virtual C: drive, well that's very easily recreated and you've lost no data".

For someone like me, who has nothing from Microsoft on my disk, but who may want to use a Windows program once in a while if there is no OS X version, this is an admirable alternative.

Next time: Running the programs.

Made on Mac

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