The fast answer to the question, “What are the alternatives to BootCamp for running Windows on a Mac?” is virtual machine software. A virtual machine mimics the hardware of a Windows PC and allows you to run Windows programs side by side on a Mac.
Our 6 favorite alternatives to BootCamp for Apple Silicon Macs are:
- Parallels Desk Top
- VMWare Fusion
- Windows 365
- CrossOver 20
- Wine 5
Before we go into details of each, it is important to recognize that each one of those choices comes with disadvantages brought on by either by Mac’s new M1 processor or Windows 11 compatibility–and in some cases both. Mac’s M1 processor has disrupted the cross-platform cooperation that existed when Intel-powered chips ran Macs.
Intel-Macs Were the “Golden Age” of Cross-Platform Cooperation
Macs began using the Intel system back in January 2006. The Intel chip allowed Mac users to install Windows on a separate hard drive partition. The advantage of BootCamp is that Windows doesn’t have to share resources with the MacOS side. With BootCamp, Windows runs as well on a Mac as it does on a PC. However, when booting into Windows, the MacOS lies dormant on a separate disk partition and is inaccessible until you boot into MacOS—whereupon the Windows side goes to sleep.
Virtualization software, on the other hand, integrates with the MacOS user interface. Current virtualization programs like Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion have kept up well with past upgrades of the MacOS. Switching back and forth between Windows and the MacOS is seamless and convenient.
The M1 Chip Is Fast, But…
The Intel “Golden Age” of cooperation ended starting with Mac computer models in late 2020. Apple introduced its proprietary silicon processor in its new MacBook Air and Pro 13-, 14- and 16-inch models, Mac mini, and iMac 24-inch computers.
The good news is that the M1 Pro and M1 Max silicon chips are super-fast and allow more memory, speed, and graphics quality and bring laptop performance up to the level of the most powerful desktops.
The bad news is that BootCamp won’t run on the M1-powered computers. The worse news is that the popular virtualization programs either have difficulty or simply don’t easily run Windows on M1.
- Parallels is currently the only Windows virtualization program that can run on M1, but the kicker is that it can only run a version of Windows (ARM) through a special download available to Microsoft subscribers.
- VMfusion does not fully support M1 at present. Their developers have hinted that Spring of 2022 will be the earliest availability of a fully M1-compatible version.
Windows 11 Runs on Intel Versions of Virtual Software but…
The worst news is that Windows 11, a slicker, faster, and “Mac-like” version of its operating system, needs tweaking before Windows 10 will accept the free upgrade. We described how to do that and provided a troubleshooting workaround in a previous article on running Windows 11 on an Intel-powered Mac.
So, given the obstacles of the M1 chip, if running Windows on your Mac is an absolute must, you should probably hold off on buying that new Mac until Apple, Windows, and the virtual software developers sign a peace treaty and catch up with each other’s technology. Or you could just give up on virtual platforms and buy a cheap Windows PC.
Virtual Machine Options
Until order is reestablished, Mac users have the following options as alternatives to the dual-boot BootCamp program:
For M1 Macs
The Mac M1 processor has leapfrogged the community of Windows Intel emulators. The following virtual machine programs are the best alternatives to Mac’s BootCamp:
As previously mentioned, the only virtual machine software that can run on the Mac M1 processor is Parallels desktop. Its recent Version 17 is fast and in step with MacOS upgrades. You can run Windows 11, but, as we noted in a previous article (linked above), with an M1 processor you need to sign on to Microsoft’s Insider feature to download the ARM version of Windows 11.
VMWare Fusion is probably the second-most-popular virtualization platform, even if, as discussed below, it hasn’t kept pace with Mac’s OS. On the other hand, VMware has released a trial version of its emulator that can run on M1 Macs. The update is not a final version, but users can download a free copy—a tech review, really–and use it until the final version comes out in Spring 2022.
Launched in July 2021, Windows 365 could be a challenger to virtualization programs like Parallels. The program runs in the cloud, but technically Windows 365 is a form of a virtual machine. Windows 365 runs from Microsoft’s remote servers and streams a video image of the Windows desktop to your Mac via a broadband connection. Windows 365 is a rather expensive subscription-based system and should appeal to larger businesses looking for a cloud PC hybrid working tool.
Launched in November 2020, this CodeWeavers product has the singular advantage of running Microsoft applications without a Windows emulator. CrossOver 20 runs on M1 Macs and emulates Intel Windows without actually installing Windows. Somewhat more complicated to use for beginners, the product has a 14-day trial version for users to get used to it.
Wine 5 is a free, open-sourced virtual machine that has been around since October 2020 and can run on M1 Macs via the Rosetta 2 Intel to M1 translator. Rather than functioning as a Windows virtual machine or emulator, Wine directly integrates Windows applications “on-the-fly” through API and POSIX technology.
UTM works on M1 Macs, but at an admitted “lower performance emulation.” Its advantage is that with this emulator you can run the ARM version of Windows. Designed and created for macOS only, UTM has the “Mac feel” with privacy and security features native to the platform. UTM is a free and open-sourced product, and is available on the Github.com web page.
For Legacy Intel Macs
If you spent $5,000 on a powerful Intel iMac or nearly $2,000 for that MacBook Pro before 2020, you’re probably not ready to trade them in yet. Fortunately, there are Windows virtual machines for Mac that work great, but don’t fully support the M1 chip.
The following programs don’t offer full M1 support, but that could change during the next year as developers struggle to keep up:
- Parallels 17 remains king of the mountain for Mac Intel users. While, as previously mentioned, it can run on Mac M1 machines, it’s still the best bet for Mac Intel computers that aren’t ready for the scrapheap yet.
- VMware Fusion may be striving for M1 compatibility, but it hasn’t done well in keeping up with Parallels or staying in step with Windows updates. For the near term, however, VMware Fusion runs Windows 11 adequately.
- VirtualBox is a free and open-sourced Oracle product that hosts a number of operating systems.
- QEMU is the platform for UTM described above. It is a free, but not very sophisticated, platform. It is both a virtual machine host and also an emulator for legacy systems like PowerPC. It only hosts on Linux, but can run a range of other operating systems.