Even if you prefer to work on a Mac, chances are you may need to run some Windows apps on your system. You may even need to run another operating system like Linux on your Mac.
This is where virtual machines (VMs) come into play. With the virtual machine software, you can run a simulation of a secondary computer on your laptop or desktop.
With a virtual machine, you can use Windows apps (or apps on other platforms) on your Mac without having to buy a second computer. Here are the best virtual machine apps for Mac.
VirtualBox is free, open source software for Oracle virtual machines. It's designed specifically for developers and IT professionals, so VirtualBox gives you a high level of control over your virtual environments.
VirtualBox supports a large number of guest operating systems dating back as far as Windows 98, and you can even run your own servers. The user interface looks pretty dated and not as optimized as other virtual machine software, although VirtualBox has made some improvements that polish it up.
The VirtualBox interface can be intimidating as it has a lot of technical details and specs without many tips or descriptions for beginners. Creating a new virtual machine is much more time consuming than in Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion Player. You need to know details like RAM, CPU cores and disk space to allocate to your VM.
Using VirtualBox: User Guide
With VirtualBox you can easily install and test multiple operating systems. We'll show you how to set up Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux as a virtual machine.
VirtualBox makes the process even more difficult and does not provide any technical support to users. Hence, you need to find help in the free manuals on the website or in the user forums. While the VirtualBox software itself is free, you may need to license your copy of Windows installed in the VM if you want to use it long term.
Download: VirtualBox (free)
2. Boot Camp
Boot Camp is a free utility that came with your Mac that allows you to run Windows alongside macOS. The Boot Camp Assistant app reserves part of your hard drive for installing Windows. That way, every time you start your Mac, you can choose whether to log into Windows or macOS – a process known as dual-booting.
While signed in to Windows, you can run Windows applications at full speed using all available memory and processing cores. This is in contrast to virtual machines, which can only use a set percentage of resources (because your host operating system is still running).
While Boot Camp is free, you must purchase a Windows license if you want to use all of the features of the Windows edition you have installed. While signed in to Windows, you lose access to macOS, so you cannot use your Windows and Mac apps at the same time.
Unfortunately, if you have an Apple Silicon Mac (with the M1 chip), you won't have access to Boot Camp at all. Otherwise, it's one of the easiest ways to get the full Windows experience on your Mac without losing power or functionality.
Visit: Boot Camp (free)
3. VMWare Fusion Player
VMWare is a big hit in the field of virtualization. VMWare Fusion Player is primarily focused on large-scale business solutions and is specially designed for home users.
VMWare Fusion can run either as a full-screen Windows emulation or in Unity mode, so you can use Windows apps from your macOS desktop. The latest version at the time of writing, VMWare Fusion 12 Player, is compatible with the latest versions of macOS (including Big Sur).
This latest edition has been designed to be more user-friendly than previous versions while still offering advanced features that appeal to app developers or tech hobbyists. The price for home use is a bit high, especially on top of the Windows license. Fortunately, there is a free personal use license for Fusion for home users, students, and similar groups.
Download: VMWare Fusion Player ($ 149 Free License Available)
4. Parallels Desktop for Mac
Parallels Desktop is an easy-to-use virtual machine app that lets you run Windows from your macOS desktop. Parallels has two modes: Coherence mode lets you hide the Windows interface while still using Windows apps from your macOS desktop. In standard mode, the Windows interface fits the entire screen, giving you the feeling of using a PC.
Version 16, the latest version at the time of writing, is compatible with all versions of macOS including Big Sur. It has many useful functions such as: This includes, for example, the sharing of printers between MacOS and Windows, zooming and rotating using multi-touch gestures, and support for DirectX and OpenGL 3.2. You can also copy, paste, and share files between your host and guest desktops and have 24/7 access to technical support.
Parallels Desktop has a streamlined user interface that is easy to learn even as a beginner and less expensive than other full-featured virtual machine software. Note, however, that to activate your copy of Windows, you still need to purchase a Windows license for the VM.
Download: Parallels Desktop (starting at $ 79, 14-day free trial available)
5. Crossover network
Crossover is an app developed by Codeweavers. It uses the open source Wine software to run Windows apps right from your Mac desktop without the need for a virtual machine.
Because Crossover doesn't create a separate desktop, you don't need to purchase a Windows license to run Windows apps. It also means that crossover doesn't require additional memory or processor to run a second operating system, so you get better performance for tasks like graphics editing software.
The downside of crossover is that not every single Windows app can run and it can take a while for brand new versions to be added to the compatibility catalog. However, you can easily see the list of available apps from Crossover to make sure it supports all of the software you need to use before buying and has a form to request new software.
Overall, crossover is a great, budget-friendly solution if you just need to run Windows apps without rebuilding the entire Windows operating system.
Download: Crossover (starts at $ 39.95, 14-day free trial available)
The best apps for Mac virtual machines
Now that you know which virtual machine apps for Mac are your best choices. If you know which Windows apps to use, this is where you can make your decision. Most virtual machine software programs are not powerful enough to run resource-intensive video games or graphics editing software.
You shouldn't be spending a lot of money on an advanced virtual machine program either if all you need to do is use basic apps like Internet Explorer.
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About the author
(3 articles published)
Nicole has been a freelance writer and IT system administrator for 12 years. Her specialties are network security, cloud computing and VoIP. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland with two cats and a friend who is almost as big a gamer as she is.
By Nicole Rennolds
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