Apple is infamous for quickly—often too quickly—dropping support for popular technologies it deems out of date, so it should come as no surprise that the new MacBook—which eschews common expansion ports for a single USB-C port—is dropping support for Windows 7, as are other new Macs. So if you want to dual-boot a new Mac, as so many Mac users do, you’ll need Windows 8 or newer.
Apple’s move to retire Windows 7 on the new MacBook and other Macs is a bit more dramatic than its oft-cited removal of the floppy drive from the first iMac: Windows 7 is the single most popular personal computing operating system on earth, with an estimated 700-800 million active users. So it’s possible that this move is more political than technological.
Mac users have a variety of choices when it comes to running Windows and—more to the point, I suspect—running Windows applications. And the dropping of Windows 7 support only applies to Boot Camp, the built-in tool in Mac OS X that lets Mac users set up their machines to dual-boot with Windows. On 2014- and older era Macs, users can choose between Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 when they configure Boot Camp. But with the new MacBook and all new Macs going forward, Windows 8 and newer are the only choice.
But in addition to Boot Camp, you can also use a virtualization product such as Parallels Desktop for Mac (which I use and recommend), VMWare Fusion or similar. These solutions are pretty sophisticated, and while you could run an entire Windows system, virtually, in a window or full-screen on top of Mac OS X, they also let you integrate the two OSes so that Windows applications appear to be running side-by-side with Mac apps. These virtualization products will of course continue to support Windows 7. And best of all, in my experience, Parallels at least offers better performance than even Boot Camp, since Apple’s drivers are so terrible.
Regardless of how you do it, running Windows on a Mac is expensive and non-optimal. On the expense side, you may choose to purchase one of the virtualization products I mention above—Parallels is $70, and is well-spent in my opinion—but you will need to buy Windows regardless. And that’s not particularly cheap. Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit OEM is about $95, while Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit OEM is $136. Step up to Windows 8.1 and you’ll see Windows 8.1 “Core” 64-bit OEM for $92 and Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit OEM for $134.
If you do go the Boot Camp route, you’ll want to investigate a few third-party tools for making the trackpad work more efficiently—Apple’s drivers are laughably bad—and to remap the keyboard so that you’re not contorting your hands to perform common Windows keyboard shortcuts. I’ll be writing about these utilities as part of a new series of articles soon.
But I’ll cut to the chase here.
As expensive as it is, if you simply must run Windows on your Mac and are doing so in order to run a specific application (or applications) only, make sure your Mac has as much RAM as you can afford (8 GB or more), go the virtualization route (choosing Parallels Desktop), and purchase the cheapest Windows version available (currently Windows 8.1 “Core” 64-bit OEM for $92). Then, use Parallels’ Coherence mode to run Windows applications side-by-side with Mac apps. It’s a little weird, but it works.