Does Windows-based software work on a Mac?

by on October 29, 2008

Q: Does Windows-based software work on a Mac? Also, I’ve always heard that one of the benefits of a Mac is that the majority of malware won’t affect them. But if they will run Windows-based software, won’t they also run any malware that works on Windows?

A: The Macs that are capable of running Windows-based software are: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini (Intel-based only) iMac (Intel-based only) and Mac Pro. There are three different methods that you can use to get Windows software running on your Mac. I will describe these methods and then answer your question about malware.

One of these methods is called Boot Camp. The Boot Camp software is included in Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard). The main advantage of Boot Camp is that your Windows programs will run very fast. This is great news for gamers! But Boot Camp has two critical disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that, in order to use Boot Camp, you will need to purchase a full retail version of either Windows XP or Windows Vista. The second disadvantage is that you will have to restart you Mac whenever you want to switch between Windows and OS X, which could prove disruptive to your workflow. Visit the Wikipedia entry on Boot Camp for additional information including information about Boot Camp’s compatibility with 64-bit versions of Windows.

The second method for running Windows-based software on a Mac is called virtualization. Virtualization is accomplished by using software called a virtual machine. The main advantage of virtual machines is that you can run your Windows-based programs from within OS X, which is great for anyone who wants to simultaneously run their Mac-based programs and Windows-based software! One disadvantage of virtual machines is that some Windows software — especially newer games — will run too slowly for practical use.

The other disadvantage of virtual machines is that they require you to purchase a retail version of Windows (upgrade retail versions may work in some cases). Examples of virtual machines include: VMware, VirtualBox (free), and Parallels. Click on the names of the virtual machines for more information, including descriptions of which versions of Windows are supported.

The third method is called CrossOver Office. The CrossOver Office method is special; it does not require Microsoft Windows. Instead, CrossOver Office pretends to be Windows. That is, it fools Windows-based programs into running on your Mac. This is great news if you dislike Microsoft and/or if you cannot afford to purchase a retail version of Windows. Like, virtualization, CrossOver Office will allow you to run your Windows-based software from within OS X. The huge disadvantage of CrossOver Office is that some Windows-based software will not run so we suggest you visit the CrossOver Office.

Windows-based programs are indeed susceptible to security threats, such as viruses and malware. If you choose to use either Boot Camp or a virtual machine, you will need to install a good security program in Windows. I recommend a program called Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 but other options can be found in our other answers Anti Virus Products for Casual Online Users, Free Virus Scan Options, and Which Anti-Virus Software Should I Use. If you choose to use the CrossOver Office method, you will need to install Mac-based security software. A program called ClamXav is a highly respected yet free security program that runs in Mac OS X.

TIP: Many Windows-based programs have Mac-based equivalents. For example, did you know that there is a version of Microsoft Office made especially for Macs?

4 Responses to “Does Windows-based software work on a Mac?”

    I run Windows XP on a Macbook Pro. The track pad does not work correctly using bootstrap. It is frustrating not having the tapping feature for mouse clicks. Scrolling with the track pad can be erratic. I would not buy a Macbook Pro if I wanted to run Windows.


    Hi headhog70,

    Thanks for your comment. Which version of the MacBook Pro are you using? That is, when did Apple release your version of the MacBook Pro?


      I purchased the 15″ Macbook Pro in early 2008. It is not the latest version, but the version just previous. From some Mac forums I’ve read the latest Macbooks have the same problem. The problem is with the Bootcamp program.


    Hi headhog70,

    Thanks for the interesting information! I’ve only used Boot Camp on desktop Macs, but I’ll keep your warning in mind whenever I finally get around to testing Boot Camp on a laptop.