Dumb Q: Will a Mac run PC/Windows software?

Here’s the scoop: I’m daydreaming about buying a new laptop. My old one, aka the “craptop” by a crappy company is acting up constantly–the screen fails to work on bootup. Thus, I’ve been daydreaming about a new laptop next year.

I’d like to buy a Mac–I hear good things, and have seen a few clever features I like. However, if I have Office 2007 and a few other programs I use quite often that I’d like to load onto the new laptop, whatever make/model it is.

If I do eventually buy a Mac, will my PC/Windows-based programs work on it? Has anyone noticed any difficulties doing so?

(mods, can I post the name of the “craptop’s” company to warn other Dopers?)

Help feed my daydreamin’ deliquency.

All the new Macs can run Windows, but they don’t COME with Windows - you need to buy (or have) a Windows install disk. You can run Windows simultaneously with OS X by using Parallels or Fusion, or you can use Bootcamp to make a dual-boot machine. Either solution works well.

On the surface: No. A Windows program is a .exe file, and OS X doesn’t support that.

In reality: Kinda. Macs are now shipping standard with Boot Camp, which is a nifty utility that lets you run Windows on your Mac. Or, you can get Parallels, which is a Mac application that provides a Windows desktop environment ‘within’ OS X.

I just made the great big Mac switch about two months ago. So far, I’m very very happy with it. If any compatibility problems arise, I just do a real quick reboot into Windows, and voila, no more problems. There are a couple other solutions out there, too - here’s a pretty good list.

For what it’s worth, they do make Office for Macs, but of course it costs an arm and a leg. Apple also produces iWork, which is their equivalent of Office, which also costs an arm and a leg. It’s pretty likely that if you buy a mac you’ll get a free trial of both pre-installed on it. But if you’re looking for something that won’t cost you several limbs but will do everything that software does, I recommend OpenOffice. It’s free and, IMO, functions better than MS Office.

For years and years Macs have been able to install and run Windows using a program such as Virtual PC. IME, Windows actually booted up and ran Office faster than friends’ PC’s, but it couldn’t handle graphics intensive things like video or high-end video games.

Nowadays, all Macs are using Intel processors and the Mac OS comes with what’s called Bootcamp, which allows you to install Windows (you have to buy Windows, of course) running natively on your Mac but you have to reboot your machine and basically choose which OS you want to use.

However, there’s also third party apps now such as Parallels, which will let you run Windows, Linux, and a bunch of other stuff right alongside the Mac OS without rebooting.

ETA: Oh, and yes Office 2008 for Mac is due out soon if it isn’t already, and that will be the latest version of Office available, so if you don’t want to shell out for a copy of Windows because all you want is the latest Office, I’d go that route.

Summary: “a Mac”, meaning the hardware Macintosh computer, can run Windows in more than one way, and Windows can of course run Windows software. But MacOS X, the standard/default operating system of a Mac which is the primary significant difference between a Mac and a PC, cannot run Windows software.

As the others have said, Intel Macintosh hardware can run Windows. Here’s a screenshot showing it running OS X, Windows and Linux at the same time. There are three ways to do this.

Way 1:

Create a new partition and install Windows on it.

In Mac OS X 10.5, Apple provides a utility called “Boot Camp”, which lets you partition your OS X hard drive to allow for a second partition. You then install Windows onto the second partition from your install disc. (The Windows install disc must me Vista or XP service pack 2. No earlier versions of Windows will work.)

This gives you the ability to boot either into Mac OS X or into Windows. When you start the computer, hold down the Option key to select which partition to boot from.

Once you start Windows, you insert the OS X 10.5 install disc, and install the drivers for the Apple hardware from it. Then Windows can use the trackpad, webcam, eject button on the keyboard, etc.

This is a regular Windows installation, so once Windows is in, you should go to Windows Update and download all the updates. When I put Windows on my MacBook Pro, in the first week of January, there were 106 updates. There have been more since.

I also downloaded drivers for the ATI X1600 video card in my machine, plus drivers for my scanner, tablet, and printer.

You’ll also need to install the standard Windows anti-malware tools. I used AVG Antivirus, Spyware Search and Destroy, and Zone Alarm. All have free versions.

All in all, it’s a standard Windows installation process.

Windows runs very fast natively on the MacBook Pro hardware, and very hot. I ended up getting a little utility valled SMCFanControl, which enabled me to crank up the fans in OS X, and when rebooting into WIndows, the fans stay at high speed and the machine is cooler.

Then there’s Way Two:

Buy virtualisation software, create a virtual machine, and install Windows on the virtual machine.

I bought VMWare Fusion. This enables you to create “virtual machines” (VMs) in software. The virtual machines are Intel based (no emulation of other processors here), and provide a generic video card, memory, hard drive, processors, etc. You can install just about any Intel operating system on them as a ‘guest’. Fusion treats the whole installation as a big file, and you can pause the virtual machine, save and restore it, and copy it.

VMWare Fusion’s competitor is Parallels, and it has many of the same features. Both have free trial versions.

When you start a new VM for Windows, you install Windows in the same was as you would in a new partition. as described above. You also install “VMWare Tools” into Windows, which supports things like drag-and-drop between the Windows desktop and the Mac OS desktop.

VMWare also includes a feature called “Unity view” which causes the Windows desktop to disappear; the XP application windows appear to float over the OS X desktop, can be mixed with OS X windows, can be docked, etc.

You can connect or disconnect peripherals (camera, USB drives, scanner, network, etc, etc) to the virtual machine at will. When they’re in use by the VM, they are not available to OS X (except for the network, which is shared.)

You can have more than one virtual machine running at the same time, even. I’ve had Linux in one machine and Windows in another at the same time. If you set up the networking right, they can communicate. This is great for doing things like testing web servers.

This leads to Way Three:

You can also run the Windows installation from the Boot Camp partition in a virtual machine. This has the advantage of not taking up as much space in Mac OS X, since Windows is already residing elsewhere. You get the drag and drop and all the other fun stuff, though you have to install the VMWare Tools as well.

When I was making this post, I dragged the file containing the screenshot image straight from the listing in the Mac OS Finder to Photoshop running in Windows. It opened it without hesitation. :slight_smile:

Things to Watch Out For

If you run windows off the Boot Camp partition, then run the same Windows in a VM, and back and forth, Windows may think that it is being multiply installed on different machines, and will ask you to reactivate. You can do this over the phone, it’s an automated process with voice recognition in English and no humans involved, but it’s still a pain.

Part of the solution is to not activate your Windows until all your setup and tweaking is done. I learned that the hard way.

One thing that seems to trigger the reactivation is a change in the number of processors that Windows sees. By default, VMWare VMs have only one processor, while current Mac hardware has at least two. I selected two processors for my Windows VMs, and that seemed to avert reactivation.

Also, the virtual video card provided in the VM is much less capable than the Mac’s physical video card. If you’re doing 3D-intensive things like Autocad or certain games, you might not be able to run them from a VM, and you’ll have to boot into Windows directly.

Thanks for all that Sunspace. What made you go with VMWare rather than Parallels?

My friend, who does virtualisation and SANs for a living, recommended it. I had no strong preference one way or the other.

IIRC, the newest versions of Parallels (if it’s not Parallels, it’s some other software for the Mac) allows you to run only the Windows program you want, without having to run the whole Windows OS as well. For anyone thinking about switching to the Mac, my advice is to start listening to Leo Laporte’s podcasts about Macs. While an unabashed Mac fanboy, Leo does also use PCs, and talks about the differences between them, which can have folks who’ve used PCs exclusively to this point, a bit puzzled as to why Macs do certain things.

I’ll also add that there is Codeweavers Crossover, which provides an execution environment for a limited number of Windows programs right inside Mac OS X. No actual Windows required. One could consider it a fourth way to run Windows programs. But unless your specific version of your program is on their ‘it works’ list, you’ll have problems.

Bwuh? iWork is less than a hundred bucks!

OpenOffice on the Mac requires you to install “X11” and then it doesn’t work like a native OS X program. I prefer NeoOffice, which is based on OpenOffice and does run like other OS X programs.

That’s not quite true. Parallels has a feature they call “Coherence”, which allows a Windows app to be displayed all by it’s lonesome in a OS X window (hiding all the hideousness of the Windows desktop), but Parallels still needs to run all of Windows to do it. The is a program called Crossover (based on WINE), that attempts to run PC apps without Windows, but I haven’t had much luck getting it to work on anything but the simplest programs.

Wow! Good food for thought–thanks guys!

I’m gonna subscribe to this thread, that way I can look it up when it comes time. Interesting stuff. . .

I’m glad I asked.


MacOffice 2008 Home Edition, which contains all the Applications and is only missing Exchange Server and Automator actions, which the average user doesn’t really need anyway, costs $130.

iWork '08 costs $79.

I don’t know about you, but I’d charge more than that for my arms and legs.

I’m looking at Microsoft’s Mac Office page, and I’m surprised by the things that aren’t in Office for Mac: Access. Visio. Okay, Entourage looks like Outlook, but is it missing anything?

The flag of Toronto?

All of the above is true, and I meant to add NeoOffice (which is what I’ve switched to recently, in fact). That’s what I get for posting before finishing that first cup of coffee.

I guess I feel that even eighty bucks is a lot of money to pay for a software package when there’s an alternative that does the exact same stuff for free.

And I would imagine that Sunspace was aiming for this (sound starts automatically) rather than Toronto. I’m sure it’s a perfectly nice city, but I imagine it’s a bit bloated to just use as a basic office suite.

Disappointingly, Entourage isn’t a Mac version of Outlook. At least inasfar as things like PST’s and Contacts and Mailboxes can’t all be shared.

I’ve missed Access for years, but having run it under VPC on a Motorola/IBM Mac, I feel like I’m in heaven running it under Parallels on an Intel Mac.

It’s probably worth mentioning that with some versions of Windows Vista, the EULA forbids running it on a virtual machine.

Ooops. I meant this, of course.

Didn’t MS just change their EULA so that all versions may run on a VM?