Using Crossover to Make Windows Programs Run on OS X
As I expected, I had mixed success with my experiments using Crossover: bridging software that allows some Windows applications to run on Macs with Intel processors. Crossover has an installers menu which lists several applications that are known to work and I opted to start with Internet Explorer 6, so beloved of banks in Thailand. The last version of IE for the Mac was 5.
The software automatically downloaded the necessary components, including the licencing agreement. At the end (and I loved this bit) it simulated a Windows reboot.
The first attempt failed because of my wrong selection of a Wine "bottle": a virtual operating system environment. I had chosen Win 2000 and it did not like that. When I tried again with a Win 98 bottle we were sucessful. I must admit it felt odd to double-click that "e" icon and open Explorer 6 on a Mac; but there it was, alive and kicking along with Outlook, Windows Media Player, Notepad and a couple of extras.
IE would not display Thai. A download of the required language plugin package was not successful and it was not possible to use Thai text: there were no language alternatives shown in the "Encoding" menu item.
I then downloaded MSN Messenger 7 but that did not work. However, Messenger 6.2 did install. Like IE, it would not display Thai. The application also failed to recognise the built-in iSight camera.
The strength of Crossover is not so much in the use of an application where there are robust alternatives on OS X, but when there are none.
A complete installation of Windows using Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop would have all the components needed for languages other than English so, as tests often do, I was pushing this in the wrong direction. It still came up working, if a little muddied.
The problems I was having with regard to the use of Thai were not with the programs themselves but with the extra requirements I was trying to add. English pages (IE) and English names (MSN) were properly displayed.
I worried that the use of Crossover might draw heavily on OS X resources. I checked in the OS X Activity Monitor and while a specific application was being used there was a peak, but this was not more than 30% of processor activity. The instant the program was hidden, that activity dropped to minimal levels. There was no massive overhead penalty when Crossover was being used. Indeed, one or two of my inactive OS X applications showed as much processor activity.
I tried some simple freeware from Versiontracker: Solitaire Forever and Nice Text Editor. I double clicked on the icons when they apeared on the desktop. Each time the Windows installer appeared and the program appeared to be accepted but I was unable to find it in any of the bottles.
I hunted through the files in the folder that contained the virtual C: drive. In both cases, the relevant executable file was in the Windows folder and not, as I expected, in the Program Files folder. A double click got each running, but still they did not appear in the bottle program list. Once used, however, they were available in a "Recent Files" item in Crossover's "File" menu.
One frustrating download was Dark Story which I had successfully run on the Boot Camp installation on a 17" MacBookPro (12 July 2006). This time the updater would not function, while none of the Thai displayed at all. Although it installed properly and started to run, a lack of support in my Crossover installation meant this could not be used properly.
Where Crossover would earn its spurs would be with a program that could only be run on Windows: the sort of industry-specific application that companies might develop. My students and colleagues often use an application called PSpice for developing PCB boards. This has now been taken over by Cadence and I downloaded the demonstration version of ORCad (almost 800MB) which I managed to run, by creating a new XP bottle and installing the program in that.
The list of software on the Crossover site includes over 2,500 applications. Many are marked "not tested". Users themselves have put up information concerning these. Those known by the Crossover team to work (or not) are labelled accordingly. A number of well-known games are listed and some of these have been positively tested by the team. I had no problem copying and pasting data between Windows and OS X applications.
Although some programs work with ease, on occasion there can be a somewhat fiddly process to complete an install and then make the program run. If a user has a collection of programs, then the alternatives (Boot Camp, Parallels), including a partition with a full Windows installation, might be preferred; but if the need is for just one or two programs that would not otherwise run on a Mac, then Crossover, which is continually under development, is worth investigation.
I will stick to OS X.
See also: A Third Way: Windows Programs on OS X.
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