Like many Mac users, I use Apples Boot Camp to switch between the Mac OS and Windows as required. However, I also usevirtualization tools - Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion - which have the added convenience of allowing you to run Mac and Windows programs side-by-side.
Codeweavers CrossOver: run PC games on a Mac
Codeweavers CrossOver now provides a third alternative for running Windows software on a Mac – and one that doesnt require a copy of Windows. CrossOver is actually a paid-for version of the open-source Wine project, which provides technical support and a new graphical interface in return for the £26 licence fee.
There are two versions of CrossOver available. CrossOver Mac is designed for running general productivity apps such as Microsoft Office, while CrossOver Games focuses on running entertainment software.
There are separate versions of general apps (left) and games
Regardless of finer technical details, the two versions work in a very similar fashion. To install the program you simply download the CrossOver disk image file from the Codeweavers web site, open it, and then drag and drop the CrossOver application onto your hard disk.
Prime CrossOver with the name of the app you want to install
Rather than simply copying the program files onto your Macs hard disk, CrossOver creates a "bottle" – a file that Codeweavers describes as a "virtual Windows environment" – and then installs the program into it. The bottle contains elements – such as a virtual Windows registry – that, in effect, fool the program into thinking that its running on Windows.
This approach can be very effective – but only if CrossOver is compatible with the specific Windows programs that you want to use. Codeweavers maintains a compatibility database that rates hundreds of Windows apps according to a rather convoluted system of "medals". For instance, my copy of Microsoft Publisher 2003 gets a gold medal rating, which means that it should run well enough for everyday use.
Check for app compatibility first
I tested the Office 2003 and Office 2007 suites, and those programs did run well – more smoothly, in fact, than using either Parallels or Fusion. CrossOver even makes Windows programs look a bit more Mac-like by adding a new title bar complete with the Macs candy-coloured control buttons.
Windows apps get it little of the OS X look & feel
Another old favourite is Guild Wars, which also gets a silver rating. This installed easily and was quite playable on a MacBook, although the frame rate under CrossOver was only about half of what we got when running the same game under Boot Camp.