Yesterday, Codeweavers released a public beta of CrossOver Mac. This software lets you run Windows programs on Intel Macs without rebooting, without running a virtual machine, and best of all, without installing Windows at all. I've been waiting for this since the switch to Intel, to me this is the Holly Grail! I don't consider BootCamp to be a proper solution, you have to buy Windows and you have to reboot to change OS. Parallels is a step in the right direction, but you still have to buy Windows and you have a large overhead because you have to run two OSes at the same time. CrossOver on the other hand utilises WINE technology to allow Windows Apps run straight on OS X. Your Windows Apps even share your regular file system and home directory. This means you have one file system, the OS X one, so your files are all in the one place and your Windows Apps are subject to OS X's security restrictions. The minute I read the news report on this I downloaded the beta and installed it. This is a quick review of my first impressions.

[tags]OS X, Windows, WINE, CrossOver[/tags]

I've only been using it for a few hours but already I'm impressed. It's easy to install programs, easy to run programs and the ones I want, work. Not all programs work, but there is a good compatability database on the CrossOver web page showing the level of WINE (and hence CrossOver Mac) support for just about any app you can think of. From the point of view of using OS X in a Windows dominated corporate environment here are some key apps that are supported:

  1. Adobe PhotoShop 7
  2. Adobe Dreamweaver MX
  3. Flash MX
  4. Internet Explorer 6
  5. Lotus Notes 6.5
  6. MS Office 97, 2000, XP & 2003
  7. MS Project (up to and inc 2003)
  8. MS Visio (up to and inc 2003) 

However, the majority of these apps don't interest me because I don't own them and I'm not in a corporate environment. I use the GIMP, FireFox, Thunderbird, NeoOffice and Graffle rather than the above apps, and they all have Universal binaries for OS X. So, for my tests I installed the following three apps.

  1. Internet Explorer (as a web programmer this is handy to have)
  2. WinRAR (I bought a licence a few years ago so I may as well install it)
  3. WinZip (I had problems recently extracting encrypted zips created with WinZip 10 with zip on OS X and Stuffit)

Initial tests were promising. All three pieces of software installed without incident, even though both WinRAR and WinZip are officially un-supported. Once installed the software was available form the Programs menu in CrossOver and all three started without a problem. Quick tests of WinZip and WinRAR showed that both can extract files, even encrypted ones, with no problems. IE also mostly works but there are some rendering errors on some websites that render perfectly on the same version of IE running in a real Windows environment. IE also froze up once when it tried to run Windows Update (without my asking it to) but closing and re-opening the window sorted that out.

I then tried to install Fruity Loops because one of my house-mates is dead keen to get it working on his Intel MacMini. Although the install was successful the program itself did not run properly. Some UI elements were missing and it crashed the first time I ran it, so it was not usable. This was to be expected because the compatibility list says it doesn't work.

CrossOver installs your Windows programs into containers which it refers to as "bottles" (guess that goes back to their WINE roots). A bottle basically pretends to be a Windows install and presents the apps that are installed in it with a pretend registry, a piece of the file system to mount as C: and offers a fake Windows API and DLLs for the programs to call. These calls to the Windows API and DLLs are translated into equivalent OS X calls by CrossOver, hence OS X is doing the work but the Apps think they are running on Windows. You can have as many bottles as you like and the bottles can pretend to be either Windows98 or Windows2000. Another great feature is that you can archive your bottle when you have it working exactly like you want so you can easily restore it should you mess things up later. I tested this by archiving my bottle after installing IE, WinRAR, and WinZip but before installing Friuty Loops. When Fruity Loops failed I deleted my bottle and restored the archived one. I was right back to where I was before I installed Fruity Loops! The odd thing is that the default bottle that gets created when you install your first application is a Win98 one. I would have thought it would be a Win2K one since Win2K is a more recent version of Windows.

I've only spent a few hours playing with this today but after an hour I was impressed enough to fork out the $39 to register it. That speaks volumes. This is only beta software and already it's showing immense promise. This is the future of Windows apps on OS X, forget BootCamp, Parallels and VM Ware (when they release their Mac version). We are now seeing the real benefit of the switch to Intel. Windows Apps without Windows …. I'm in heaven Smile

CrossOver Mac in Action
CrossOver Mac running IE 6, WinRAR and WinZip in OS X along with regular OS X apps like Finder and Terminal running. (Click to see full-size version