What it is: Wine is an open source program that lets you run Windows programs on a Macintosh.
Many programs only run on Windows. Even though Microsoft Excel originated on the Macintosh, Microsoft has improved the Windows version of Excel far faster than the Macintosh version. The end result is that Excel on Windows is still more capable than Excel on the Macintosh. Because many people absolutely need the advanced features of Excel on Windows, they have to run Windows even if they’d really want to use a Macintosh.
For many people, it’s often cheaper and easier to just use a Windows PC. While the initial cost of a Windows PC may be less, there’s the hidden cost of time later when dealing with security and confusing user interface options on Windows. For that reason, many people prefer to pay more up front to use a Macintosh so they’ll have fewer problems in the future.
Of course, if you want to use a Macintosh but need to run Windows programs, you have several choices:
- Boot Camp
- Virtual machine software like VirtualBox, Parallels, VMWare Fusion
Wine is an open source program that anyone can use for free. The main idea behind Wine is to run Windows programs on a Macintosh without needing to buy or install a copy of Windows. Since a copy of Windows costs around $100, you can avoid this extra expense by simply avoiding Windows altogether, yet use Wine to run Windows programs on a Macintosh.
The big problem with Wine is that it may be technically intimidating to install and set up for many users. If you like the idea of Wine but prefer having support to help you install and troubleshoot the process of running Windows programs on a Macintosh without an actual copy of Windows, you may prefer CrossOver. CrossOver is simply the commercial version of Wine so you’re paying for support. The idea behind both Wine and CrossOver is to let you run Windows programs without buying or installing a copy of Windows.
The drawback of both Wine and CrossOver is that not every Windows program is supported. If you need absolute Windows compatibility, then the safest option is to use either Boot Camp or a virtual machine program like Parallels. Boot Camp lets you install a copy of Windows on your hard disk so when you turn on your Macintosh, you have a choice of either using macOS or Windows. Essentially Boot Camp turns your Macintosh into a Windows PC for ultimate compatibility.
The huge drawback with Boot Camp is that turning your Macintosh into a Windows PC negates any advantages of using a Macintosh. To use macOS, you have to exit out of Windows and Boot Camp and load macOS. That means you either use macOS or Windows, but you can never use both at the same time. For occasional use, Boot Camp may be fine (and it’s free with every Macintosh), but for extended use, Boot Camp probably isn’t the solution.
Perhaps the best option is to use virtual machine software. If you’re adventurous and willing to wade through technical details, use VirtualBox, a free, open source program. If you’d rather have better support and simplified installation, then choose Parallels or Fusion.
The main idea behind a virtual machine is that you must install a copy of Windows on your Macintosh, but the virtual machine software runs Windows in a separate macOS window. That means you can run macOS and Windows at the same time. Even better, you can copy data from a Windows program and paste it into a Macintosh program and vice versa, so virtual machine software provides the most flexibility.
The drawback is that you need to buy and install a copy of Windows on your Macintosh, and virtual machine software is slightly slower than running Windows in Boot Camp. Yet the advantages typically outweigh the drawbacks so if you absolutely need to run Windows on a Macintosh and need guaranteed compatibility, then you’ll need to buy a copy of Windows and install it in a virtual machine program like VirtualBox or Parallels.
So the free options for running Windows on a Macintosh include:
- Wine — may not be compatible with all Windows programs
- Boot Camp — forces you to choose running either macOS or Windows and requires buying a copy of Windows
- VirtualBox — requires buying a copy of Windows and may be difficult for novices to set up and install
The paid options for running Windows on a Macintosh include:
- CrossOver — may not be compatible with all Windows programs
- Parallels — requires buying a copy of Windows
- VMWare Fusion — requires buying a copy of Windows
At one time, Parallels and Fusion were heated rivals where Fusion was slightly more stable than Parallels but Parallels offered more features. Lately, VMWare seems to have neglected Fusion to the point where Parallels is now the undisputed leader being both more stable, faster, and more feature filled than Fusion for the same price. Given a choice, you’d be better off choosing Parallels than Fusion although you can’t go wrong with Fusion.
No matter how you run Windows on a Macintosh, the combination of Windows and macOS running on the same computer gives you greater versatility than any Windows PC. With a Windows PC, you can never run macOS legally. With a Macintosh, you can run Windows and macOS, making the Macintosh the best value for someone who needs to run Windows programs but wants the greater security and ease of use of the Macintosh.