Four Simple Ways to Run Windows 7 on Your Mac

It’s widely accepted that Microsoft have done a fairly good job with Windows 7, managing to overcome many of the problems associated with Vista. Although I’m a content Mac user, I’m the first to accept that there are circumstances where it would be great to run a copy of Windows on my machine. Whether it’s for playing a little Modern Warfare 2, testing a website in Internet Explorer, or just experimenting with the latest Microsoft have to offer.

Today I’ll be looking at four different ways you can quickly and easily set up a working copy of Windows 7 on your Mac.

Option 1: Boot Camp


Boot Camp is bundled with OS X, and provides a simple way to “dual boot” your computer into Windows or OS X. It’s the best way to have a fast, native copy of Windows running on your Mac, but means that you have to choose to run Windows 7 or OS X at any one time.

Boot Camp is fully compatible with Windows 7, and is definitely the best option if you’re wanting to use Windows for playing games. It will give you far better performance and graphics support than using one of the “virtualization” options explained below.

This guide is a great walkthrough of how to install Windows 7 step-by-step, though Apple have done their best to make everything fairly self explanatory.

Option 2: Parallels


Parallels Desktop costs $79.99, and is one of the most popular commercial “virtualization” applications for OS X. In essence, it means that Parallels allows you to run Windows 7 within OS X, so both operating systems are available at the same time. Whilst this has the huge advantage of not needing to choose one over the other, it comes with a slight hit in performance (though this is becoming less of an issue with each release of the software).

Parallels Desktop 5 supports Windows 7 with the “Aero” user interface, so you can enjoy the full graphical experience (for better or worse!). It also integrates well with your Mac, so that Windows applications blend in fairly seamlessly. Sharing files between the two operating systems also works in a snap.

If you’re looking for a virtualization solution and are happy to pay, Parallels Desktop is definitely worth giving a try. This walkthrough will take you through the process, and should help if you encounter any problems.

Option 3: VMWare Fusion


Priced at the same $79.99 mark, VMWare Fusion is the other main commercial player in the virtualization space. Again, their latest release is fully optimised for Windows 7 and supports the “Aero” interface. VMWare integrates a virtual “Start” menu into your OS X menu bar, and is also fairly proficient at seamlessly merging Windows and OS X together.

For a full comparison of the features available in Parallels and VMWare, this article at Wikipedia is fairly conclusive. If you decide to go with VMWare, this guide offers a good overview of the installation process.

Option 4: Sun VirtualBox


The final project we’re featuring here is Sun VirtualBox, a free application for running both OS X and Windows 7 together. If you’re running on a budget, experimenting with VirtualBox could be a good option. It doesn’t offer the same feature set as the previous two virtualization apps, but does support Windows 7.

We have previously written about how to install Windows XP in VirtualBox, and the process is fairly similar for Windows 7. This slightly more recent walkthrough may also help, though you’ll need to bear in mind that it is aimed at the Windows 7 Beta, rather than the final release.

VirtualBox isn’t as powerful as Parallels or VMWare, but could be an excellent option for deciding whether you’ll use Windows enough to make the purchase worthwhile.

What Are Your Thoughts?

These are the four main options available, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this subject in general. Which of the above do you prefer, and why? Do you feel the need to run a copy of Windows at all?

Let’s leave any “fanboy” attitudes at the door, and keep the comments positive. Both Windows 7 and OS X have their strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t want to come across as know-it-all Mac users!