If you need to run Windows apps on a Mac, virtualisation (running Windows on your Mac using a tool such as Parallels or VMWare) isn’t the only option. There’s another method that has the following benefits:

  • There’s no need to actually install the Windows operating system, or even own a Windows license; that’s right, this trick means you can run Windows apps without paying Microsoft a penny!
  • The Windows app runs as a native app on macOS, so has its own Dock button (although it still has the look and feel of a Windows app);
  • This method is not as resource intensive as virtualisation, so will happily work on more modest computers including those with lower quantities of RAM; because there’s no need to install the full Windows OS it also means much less space is used on your Mac’s hard disk.

Sound good? The trick is to use the open source Wine app or, more precisely, to use the commercial offspring from that project: Crossover Office.

Note: Windows will not currently run on the new Apple Silicon Macs. Read more here: Will Windows run on Apple Silicon and Windows on the Mac is dead (probably) but it doesn't matter.

The difference between Wine and Crossover is that the latter has ready-made profiles for popular Windows software, and this makes installing and using the apps a breeze compared to the more hands-on experience of using Wine, which requires specialist knowledge.

Crossover Office’s limitations

While Wine is entirely free of charge, Crossover Office is commercial software and costs £48 for a year’s subscription (perhaps more palatably expressed as £4 per month, although the £48 must be paid as a one-off payment). Unsurprisingly, Crossover Office sees a lot of use in businesses, where Crossover Office lets Mac users access apps their PC-using colleagues rely upon, such as Microsoft Visio or the Quicken accounting software.

However, a 14-day trial version is available so you can test Crossover Office with your favourite Windows software to see how effective it is.

The second issue to consider is that Crossover Office works best with older versions of software. For example, if you want to use Crossover Office to install the Windows version of Microsoft Office, you’ll get the most seamless and trouble-free results by installing Office 2010. The newer Office 2013 will work but there’ll be a few bugs and glitches here and there.

The very latest office release – Office 2016 – doesn’t work at the time of writing, so is best avoided, although we’re told that support is being added in a release of Crossover Office due late Summer 2017.

The Wine project is always playing catch-up with the main Windows developers because they can only implement new features once they’ve actually appeared in Windows! This is why support for new software is often a little shaky, at best.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Windows apps don’t always look pretty because, understandably, they’re really designed for Windows. Crossover Office doesn’t recreate the Windows 10 look and feel, and instead uses the Windows 9x GUI. In other words, it’s all plain, old-fashioned windows and buttons. However, if the main functionality is present within the app then this can surely be ignored.

If you'd prefer to run your Windows apps inside a virtual machine, you could use Parallels, VMware or other virtualisation software, we compare these options here: The best virtualisation software for running Windows on a Mac.

The basics of Crossover Office

The key to installing Windows software using Crossover Office is understanding what a bottle is, because upon installing anything you’ll be asked to create one. It’s actually very simple – a bottle is just a fake C:\ drive, just like you might find on an actual PC, complete with all the folders you might find there such as C:\windows, or C:\Users.

Crucially, however, it also includes the correct system components that allow that Windows apps to run. Normally when you install a Windows app using Crossover Office you’ll install it into a fresh bottle of its own, which is isolated from the rest of the system, although existing bottles can be used more than once.

Because there are many different versions of Windows – from Windows XP up to Windows 10 – there are readymade bottles to match each. You might choose to create a Windows 8 bottle in order install an app, for example.

However, the rule about older software being better supported applies here too. If the app you want to install runs on all versions of Windows from Vista up until Windows 10, then creating a Vista bottle will very likely provide the best possible experience.

How to install Windows apps on a Mac using Crossover Office

  1. Start Crossover Office, and then click the large button marked Install a Windows Application.
  2. If the application is popular – such as Microsoft Office – then you can simply type its name in the dialog box that appears under the Select an Application to Install heading. For example, we installed Office 2010 for testing purposes, so we typed that, and were shown a list of possible installation choices.
  3. Note how after a few seconds you see a report about how well the app will run. This will be an honest appraisal of what you might expect, including any notable bugs, so have a good read and click More Info to view the Crossover Office webpage for that app.
  4. Select the entry from the dropdown list that matches what you typed, then click the Continue button.
  5. Next, you’ll have to tell Crossover Office where the installer file is. This might be a single .exe file, in which case you should click Choose Installer File and then select it.If you’re installing from a DVD-ROM, or an ISO image, then click Choose Installer Folder, and select it.
  6. Click Continue when done.
  7. Pro tip: You’ll get best results when using 32-bit versions of software. In other words if installing something like Office, be sure to select the 32-bit version of it.
  8. Finally, click the Install button to kick-off the installation routine. Its very likely several system components will be downloaded and installed, and you might have to click through each of them just like when installing them on Windows. The screen might also flash as installers start and then instantly disappear. Don’t worry – this is normal.
  9. Finally, you’ll be prompted to install the actual product, and this might involve entering the serial number, for example. Just work your way through the wizard as you would when installing on an actual Windows computer. However, you might want to leave your Mac alone as the installation steps complete in case you accidentally interfere with anything.
  10. Once installation has finished, Crossover Office will complete a handful of familiar housekeeping tasks, such as creating file associations, before reporting that it has finished. You can then click the Done button.

How to install “unlisted” Windows software on a Mac

The sheer volume of Windows software out there – literally numbering into the millions – means that Crossover Office can’t know the requirements of all Windows apps.

  1. To install what Crossover Office calls an unlisted app, start Crossover Office and then click the Select Installer tab.
  2. Then click the Choose Installer File option, and browse to the .exe file for the installer for that app and click Use This Installer.
  3. Then click the Select Bottle tab and select the earliest version of Windows that you know that app supports. You’ll very likely discover this on the developer’s website. For example, if an app is supported on Windows XP, Vista, 8 and 10, then you should select XP. Don’t select a later version! There’s no points here for using the latest and greatest versions! Don’t select the 64-bit version of a bottle unless you have no other choice (that is, the Windows app is 64-bit only, which is rare).
  4. Once you’ve clicked the Windows version bottle within the list, type something into the New Bottle Name field at the right. This is how Crossover Office will refer to that app in future in its list of bottles. Just typing the name of the app will be enough.
  5. Finally, switch back to the Select Application tab and type the name of the app. The dropdown list won’t show a match but will show “Unlisted application…” beneath in the dropdown list.
  6. Select this and click Continue, and then the Install button.
  7. Work through the installation steps as they appear, just as you would when installing on an actual PC.

Note that support for unlisted apps isn’t guaranteed, and you might find some work better than others. All you can do is experiment.

Running Windows software on a Mac

  1. To run your app once installation has completed, open Crossover Office if it isn’t already open, and ensure the All Bottles link at the top left is selected.
  2. Simply double-click the app you want to start from the list of icons.

It’s possible to drag one of these icons from the Crossover Office window and into the Applications list of Finder, or even onto the desktop. Clicking this shortcut in future will start the app even if Crossover Office isn’t already running.

Note how the menu for the Windows app appears in the application window, and not at the top of the Mac desktop, as with native Mac apps. This is simply the way Crossover Office and Wine handles menus for Windows apps. To quit the app, however, you can select the Quit option from the Mac application menu, as with any other Mac app.

If you find the app you installed isn’t shown in Crossover Office’s main window follow these steps:

  1. Click the Run Command icon at the bottom of the app listing within the Crossover Office window
  2. Browse to the C:\program files folder as you would when running Windows, and manually locate the .exe file.
  3. Then click the Open button and then the Run button.

Note that you can also select the Save Command As A Launcher button to create a permanent shortcut to this app within Crossover Office. This can then be dragged out into the main Applications list within Finder, as with any other Crossover Office icon, as discussed earlier.

If you'd like to run PC games on your Mac we explain how to do this here: Run PC games on a Mac

Read: how to run Windows on a Mac. Or, if you want to run Windows for free on your Mac read: How to run Windows 10 on a Mac for free.