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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

CrossOver Mac Professional 7 review

Virtualisation software such as Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion let Mac users run the Windows operating system and Windows-only programs on a Mac, but the install process is complex and time-consuming, and the programs can slow down even a speedy Mac. As an alternative, Codeweavers CrossOver Mac Professional 7.0.2 uses just the Windows application programming interface (API) to run Windows apps on your Mac, without the Windows OS.

CrossOver is a kind of ‘translator of a translator’ and relies on an open-source program called Wine. When you install and run Windows apps, Wine is actually translating the API calls that allow a Windows program to run, such as “pull up this dialog box” or “save this file”. CrossOver hides the clunky interface of the open-source Wine software behind a more Mac-like interface.

CrossOver is an ingenious idea for a program that can save time and costs less than buying a separate copy of Windows.

Performance issues

Still, before you dream of storming the beach in Call of Duty 4 or running the latest Windows version of Adobe Photoshop (maybe your company has a Windows-only site license), be aware that CrossOver really only supports a handful of commercial applications, many of them from Microsoft; otherwise, it’s hit or miss.

CrossOver supports several games, including Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Counter-Strike. Both ran like they were on their native platform. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the latest PC games, such as Crysis and Call of Duty 4, are not fully supported yet. For productivity tools, CrossOver fully supports Microsoft Office 2000, and also supports more recent software – including Office 2003, Quicken, and Lotus Notes – but with
known bugs.

The Pro version of CrossOver (£44.99) we used for testing includes two distinct versions of the program, one for productivity and one for games. The Standard version (£25.99) doesn’t support games. This is a little confusing – we would prefer one program that ran both applications and games in a Pro version instead of having two icons in the Dock.

For supported applications, installation works well. For example, if you insert the installation disc for Adobe Photoshop CS2, CrossOver launches automatically and prompts you to install it. The installation takes place using the Windows API. CrossOver also adds newly installed programs to the Mac Applications folder, and you can launch them from the Dock. When you print, CrossOver uses your Mac print driver. In daily use for fully supported apps, CrossOver worked like a charm: it rarely got in the way of running Windows software.

Supporting role

For unsupported apps, Codeweavers hosts a forum where users can report their experiences in testing software and award colour-coded badges to indicate the program’s level of support. For example, you can find out if Quicken 2008 runs well, has some minor or major issues, or won’t run at all. CodeWeavers oversees the forums, but doesn’t provide a standard testing methodology or distinguish test results by hardware specifications. It also provides some Wine testing scripts.

We would like to see CrossOver maintain a database of supported commercial software and when you attempt an install, it presents an alert box with information about whether the program will work. This would save you a trip to the website. For example, we tried to install Photoshop CS3 before checking the support forums. During the installation, CrossOver merely acted as if it were waiting for the installation to complete. It never did, so we had to quit CrossOver and, eventually, reboot entirely. A simple alert that CS3 applications will not work would have helped immensely. CodeWeavers says it is working on more alerts for the next release.

CodeWeavers does offer exceptional email and telephone-based tech support. For one problem – running the unsupported version of Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Windows – tech support responded in three hours and provided a concise answer: the application is not supported at all. For another problem – printing to a PDF file in Word – the support was much more helpful, providing a clear solution (use the CUPS-PDF driver and print to PDF) in the same time period.

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