As you might expect, the various available options for running Windows on a Mac have been updated to support Windows 10. So it’s time to take another look at how this works, and figure out which is the best approach given your needs.
Last week in Apple Adds Windows 10 Support to Boot Camp, I explained that Apple had released a new version of its Boot Camp software, which enables users of modern Macs to dual-boot those devices between Apple’s OS X and the most recent few Windows versions. Boot Camp 6 adds explicit support for Windows 10, and requires the most recent OS X version, Yosemite, or a pre-release install of the next OS X version, El Capitan.
Hey, I have all that stuff.
Unbeknownst to some of you, but knowest to others—you’re welcome, Spaceball fans—I’ve always kept up-to-date Mac and other Apple hardware on hand, and as I like to note, I’ve owned more—and spent more on—Apple hardware than have most Apple fanatics. Ironic?
No, just pragmatic. From the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple until just a few years ago, my Apple hardware purchases were mostly about keeping up on what the other side was doing so that I could accurately opine on where Apple’s products exceeded, or fell short, of Microsoft’s. But in this new “mobile first, cloud first” age, this experience has paid off doubly: not only do I understand Macs and OS X—and iPods, iPhones, iPads, iOS, Apple TV, Mobile Me/iCloud, and other Apple products and services—more than any other Windows-focused tech writer, I’m also ideally situated to understand Microsoft’s efforts in getting their apps and services on Apple’s products. For the Mac in 2015, that means Office 2016, OneDrive integration, and so on.
But it also means Windows. For many years now—for as long as it’s been possible, in fact—I’ve been testing and evaluating the various ways in which one might run Windows—and, more important, Windows applications—on the Mac. In the early days, this meant software-based virtualization solutions, which were slow and balky. But since Apple switched the Mac to the same Intel-based platforms used by PCs, these capabilities have improved dramatically. You can now use Apple’s Boot Camp software to run Windows directly on a Mac, as you would on a PC, and dual-boot Windows with OS X. And you can use much more sophisticated virtualization solutions, with full hypervisor support and unique OS X integration capabilities, to run Windows “within” OS X, and run Windows applications right next to OS X apps.
Despite what some reviewers claim—I routinely see articles that claim a Mac is somehow the best-possible hardware on which to run Windows—the Mac is not an ideal environment for Windows users. For example, if you use Boot Camp, Apple ensures that Windows runs less efficiently than does OS X, and it does not provide optimized drivers for hardware devices like the otherwise-excellent trackpads found on MacBooks. The keyboard layout is wonky, hard to get used to, and makes it hard to go back and forth between Windows and OS X (or, in a virtualized solution, between Windows applications and OS X apps). And Macs don’t support features I’ve come to love on modern Windows devices, like multi-touch screens and transforming form factors, let alone Windows Hello-compatible cameras or fingerprint scanners.
Too, the Mac remains an expensive option. The least-expensive portable Mac today, the excellent MacBook Air, starts at about $900 for a child-friendly 11-inch version and about $1000 for a more adult-sized 13-inch version. The MacBook Air is a classic—I bought the latest model of several I’ve owned so far last September—and is thin, light and gets great battery life (under OS X, not Windows).
The 2015 version of the Air I own—with a Core i5 processor, and an upgraded 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of flash storage—would set you back about $1300 today. That’s a lot to pay for a non-optimal Windows PC, especially one with a non-Retina 1440 x 900 screen. But you will absolutely need to bump up the specs as I have done: A dual-boot machine will need more storage, and if you’re using virtualization, you’ll need more RAM and more storage than Apple’s default configurations.
The costs don’t end there. You will need to buy Windows 10 as well, since Macs do not include this basic software, as even the cheapest PCs do. Windows 10 Home costs $120 on Amazon.com right now, though you could save $20 and snag the OEM version for $100 instead. And Windows 10 Pro is even more expensive, as you might imagine, at $200 for the retail version. (The OEM version of Windows 10 Pro is $140.)
Long story short, I do not recommend that anyone purchase a Mac of any kind in order to run Windows or Windows applications. It’s too expensive and results in a non-optimal environment. But Boot Camp and various Mac-based virtualization solutions—like the Parallels software I use and recommend—exist for a reason. And that reason is, you own a Mac for whatever reason, but you still need to run one or more Windows applications … for whatever reason. And you have options, options that will make that happen.
I’m going to look at them, again: as noted previously, I’ve been running Windows on Mac in every possible way since it’s been possible to do so, and I’ve used every single version of Boot Camp that Apple has produced, as well as several versions of Parallels and other virtualization solutions.
But now Windows 10 is here. So it’s time to start over.
With that in mind, yesterday I nuked my MacBook Air from space: that is, I booted into its recovery environment, wiped out my previous OS installs—Windows 8.1 in Boot Camp, Windows 8.1 in Parallels 10 under Mac OS X Yosemite—formatted the disk, and reinstalled OS X. Which was Mavericks, the version before Yosemite. Then I upgraded that to Yosemite, and then again to El Capitan Beta 7, and then proceeded to install Windows 10 in Boot Camp and then again under OS X with Parallels 11, which was just released this past week with Windows 10 support.
And in the next few articles, I’ll explain how each of these options works, and how they’ve changed in these most recent updates. And I’ll provide you with the information you need to make a choice, based on your needs, and with the understanding that both Boot Camp and Parallels offer some unique advantages as well as some unique issues. Are you using a Mac, but want to take a walk on the wild side? Stay tuned.