Software

CrossOver lets Windows apps run on OS X, sans Windows

CodeWeavers has announced plans to release CrossOver Mac this summer. The $60 software will allow Intel Mac users to run Windows applications — including some games — without having to buy or install Windows itself.

Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop both provide this capability for Intel Mac owners already — Boot Camp, software from Apple currently available in beta form, makes users reboot their Macs and run Windows. Parallels Desktop is a “virtualization” utility that enables the Windows operating system and Windows applications to run in Mac OS X, within another window (or, alternately, in full screen mode).

CrossOver Mac will take this one step further — it eschews what CodeWeavers Chief Operating Officer Jon Parshall calls the “box within a box approach.”

“What you see running is an application sitting in your Dock or your Applications folder,” Parshall told Macworld.

Both Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop work because the new Macs utilize the same microprocessor that’s found in Windows-compatible computer, and CrossOver Mac employs the same basic principle. This wasn’t possible before January, when Macs depended solely on PowerPC-based microprocessors made by IBM and Freescale. The presence of an Intel processor inside the Mac forges a close enough resemblance to get Windows and Windows applications to work.

Although Boot Camp is free and Parallels Desktop is reasonably priced, both software applications require an expensive copy of Windows in order to work — and that’s the biggest benefit for CrossOver Mac. It works without having Windows installed all together, thanks to the underlying code that powers the software.

WINE-powered

CrossOver Mac is based on the same core technology that powers CodeWeavers’ Linux-based offering — an open-source project called WINE. WINE — a self-referencing acronym that stands for “WINE Is Not An Emulator” — is a compatibility layer that provides alternate implementations of the code referenced by Windows applications in order to work. CodeWeavers uses publicly available versions of WINE in order to develop the CrossOver product, and contributes its code changes back to the WINE project, according to Parshall.

Applications running on CrossOver Mac will offer performance comparable to apps running natively on Windows, according to Parshall, with all the same capabilities and functionality as they would if you were running Windows.

CodeWeavers’ specific focus is getting CrossOver to run commonly used business applications, he said. Right now the company’s Linux product runs Microsoft Office applications, Access, Project, Vision, Lotus Notes, Quicken, FrameMaker and other products.

Gaming possibilities

Gamers have a strong interest in Boot Camp, as it allows them to play games that won’t run natively on Mac OS X — Parallels Desktop has disappointed gamers because it doesn’t include native graphics driver support so it isn’t suitable for running 3D games. CrossOver Mac won’t suffer that problem, though Parshall cautions that CodeWeavers’ specific area of focus isn’t on games.

The company said it hopes “to offer support for a limited number of games,” but hasn’t yet determined the final mix of supported applications. Parshall told Macworld that the popular shooter Half-Life 2 is on the list, and while he said that it isn’t technically on the supported list of application, the new 2K Games-published FPS Prey also works well.

Viruses, malware not as much of an issue

Another benefit of CrossOver Mac’s approach to running Windows software is that it’s much less susceptible to infection by Windows-based viruses or malware than a true Windows-based solution, according to Parshall.

“A virus needs to affect the guts of Windows,” he explained. “Theoretically, if you were really, really good you might be able to get your virus to run under WINE, but we’ve yet to hear about anyone who has, even in the laboratory.”

Parshall said he expects that this protection will extend to CrossOver Mac as well.

CodeWeavers plans to release CrossOver Mac in July or August, 2006. It will cost $59.95 for a single-user license. The company said it has a backlog of beta testers, but advisers users who are interested to e-mail them anyway.

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