Running Windows (Applications) on a Mac, or not…

So you’ve switched from a PC to a Mac and you find that an application that has been of use to you on the PC is just not there on the Mac. Moreover, you’ve heard that Macs can run Windows apps, so you’re thinking “Well, maybe I can run this Windows app on my Mac…”

A few words of advice:
1) If you can get away with it, just don’t run Windows apps on a Mac. Few reasons for this:
– The Windows app that you are running may bring with it a few of the things that made you switch away from a PC. Most importantly, it might bring home some malware.
– Whatever process you are using to run the Windows apps on a Mac may decide to not work, break, or get tediously complex. Apple’s focus is on making sure Mac OS X and its apps run well. PC support gets a lower level of importance.
– Find an alternative Mac app that does what the PC app does. It’ll look and feel much more Mac-like, it’ll hopefully integrate well into the Mac system and help you get aquatinted with your new Mac.

2) If you really need to run that Windows app…
– Run it only when you have to.
– Preferably don’t run Bootcamp. By running Bootcamp you have to stop whatever you’re doing on the Mac side and switch to Windows – reboots, key presses, out of date Windows… Even worse – your Mac can get viruses and malware on the Bootcamp side. Also the Bootcamp drivers are far from polished. Your Mac will feel odd (to itself and to you). You still need to maintain and manage the PC side – just as if you had another PC computer to worry about!
– Preferably don’t run Parallels or another virtualization software. Your Mac will slow down whenever the virtualization software is running. You still need to maintain and manage the PC side – just as if you had another PC computer to worry about! The virtualization software may break with system updates. If you lose access to your Mac, you lose access to the PC side, too.

3) Running the application from a terminal server or remote desktop to a virtual machine hosted elsewhere is a decent idea – provided you have network access when you need to use the app. Speak to someone knowledgable about virtualization, cloud computing and such…

4) CrossOver (and its free cousin Wine) are options. They specialize in running an application separate from the Windows OS, which in theory decreases security risks. However the Windows app run through CrossOver may have bugs that it wouldn’t normally have if run on a PC. In addition, CrossOver supports a limited set of Windows applications. On the positive side, it doesn’t slow down your Mac as much as the other options.

Ideally, one day all apps that the Middlebury community needs would be available natively on the Mac. Until that day, the best options are terminal server/cloud computing or VirtualBox.

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to bash Apple, bootcamp or virtualization solutions. I love them all. But like most things in the world, there’s a good side, and little less good side to just about everything.