Switchers Guide

Switchers Guide: Run Windows on a Mac

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These days, buying a Mac doesn’t mean you have to leave Windows behind. In 2005, Apple started building Macs with Intel processors. Among the other benefits of that switch: You can run Microsoft’s operating system on Apple’s hardware.

That’s a huge help, particularly at work, if you’ve got Windows programs that you just can’t live without and that aren’t available in Mac versions. It can also be handy for maintaining compatibility with Windows-using co-workers.

There are three main ways to run Windows on a Mac. First, OS X itself includes Boot Camp, a utility that lets you install a copy of Windows (which you supply) on your Mac. You can then boot into either OS. Windows will run just as fast as on any PC with comparable specs, and all Windows-compatible applications and peripherals work. The disadvantage of Boot Camp is that it’s either/or: You have to boot into one operating system or another; you can’t Command-Tab to switch between Windows and Mac apps.

To do that, you need to use one of two programs that let you create a virtual PC within OS X: Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. Both of these programs let you run Windows in an OS X window, either in full-screen mode or side-by-side with your OS X apps. And both have tools to help you transfer your old copy of Windows to your new Mac—applications, settings, and all. The $80 VMware Fusion 3 lets you do it via a wireless or wired network; Parallels’s $100 Switch to Mac Edition includes a similar feature, except it does the transfer over a bundled USB cable.

Virtualization has its downsides: There’s a performance hit (particularly when you’re running games), and battery life on notebooks can suffer. While most peripherals work in both OSes, some won’t. Still, a Mac running Snow Leopard and a virtualized copy of Windows delivers the best of both computing platforms on one machine.

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