updated 04:30 pm EDT, Thu June 19, 2008
First Look: CrossOver Mac
No matter how much you may love your Mac, there may still be programs that you may need to run on Windows. The simplest solution is to buy a copy of Windows to use on Boot Camp, Parallels, or VMware's Fusion. Unfortunately, Boot Camp only lets you run either Windows or Mac OS X, but not both at the same time. Parallels and Fusion let you run Windows at the same time as Mac OS X, but all three solutions still force you to buy a separate copy of Windows. To avoid the cost and hassle of buying and using Windows, just get CrossOver Mac 7.0.
The idea behind this program is to run a Windows program without buying or using Windows. Essentially, this app tricks a Windows program into thinking it's running on Windows when it's really running on Mac OS X.
After installing and running this program, you just need to insert a Windows CD/DVD into your Mac. Now you have a choice. If the disc contains a Mac program, then let Mac OS X take control of the disc. If the disc contains a Windows program, then CrossOver Mac can take control and install the software.
Unlike programs such as Parallels and Fusion, which create a virtual machine file that mimics an actual computer, CrossOver Mac creates separate files called "bottles," where a single bottle mimics a particular version of Windows. This allows you to install a program in an optimum version of Windows, such as Office 97 in Windows 98, or Office 2007 under XP.
Effectively, bottles allow you to run many Windows programs on your Mac without the fear of any of them interfering. Since each bottle gets stored as a single file on your hard disk, you can also easily make backup copies of each one, or copy them to run on another Mac running CrossOver.
To run a Windows program, you just launch Crossover Mac to reach its opening screen. From this interface, the CrossOver Applications link displays all your installed Windows software.
By double-clicking on an installed Windows app, you'll load the bottle that contains it, and see it presented inside an ordinary Mac OS X window.
Sharing data between Mac and Windows programs is as simple as copying and pasting it from one program to the other, or vice versa. Every Windows app can also save a file directly to your hard disk through its normal Save dialog box.
When running a Windows program, its icon appears in the Dock like any of its Mac peers. Clicking on the icon switches you to the app, and you can also save the icon in the Dock for fast access.
Windows programs appear in the Dock as a regular icon
While CrossOver provides the ability to run Windows software on a Mac without running or buying a copy of Windows, do be aware that it doesn't work with every Windows title. The CrossOver website lists all Windows software tested and verified to run properly.
Ratings for programs range from Gold (the most compatible) through Silver, Bronze, Honorable Mention, Untested and Known Not to Work. The most popular programs -- such as Office 2007, Quicken 2002 and Photoshop CS2 -- tend to run flawlessly, but other apps have more limited compatibility, falling between minor glitches and certain features not working at all. If you want to run a Windows title that hasn't been tested yet, it's best to download a trial version of CrossOver and test your Windows library to make sure it performs smoothly.
Because of this limited support, CrossOver can only meet the needs of a smaller audience, specifically those who want to run the most established Windows programs. For $39.95 though, this program is far less expensive than buying a separate copy of Windows, and if it does support your library, you'll find it's far more convenient than competing solutions. CrossOver Mac 7.0 is definitely worth a look for anyone who needs to run Windows software on their Mac, even if it can't perform miracles.