Is a Mac your next Windows PC?
An interesting thought occurred to me while on Thanksgiving vacation, thousands of miles from my home in Silicon Valley. Although I do a lot of my work on an M1-based 2021 MacBook Pro, sometimes I need to access a Windows PC for specific apps that aren’t available on macOS.
My recent problem was that my Dell XPS 13 Plus was back in California because I didn’t want to lug two laptops with me on vacation. I suspect I’m not the only one taking on this challenge.
While Apple’s macOS has grown in sophistication and capability over the past decade – particularly if you have an iPhone or iPad and enjoy the benefits of the “ecosystem” – many users may need to access Windows applications only. Or, more commonly, features that may not be available in macOS versions of these apps. The latter is the category I regularly fall into.
Most companies have embraced both macOS and Windows and are giving users the choice at the business level, even though Windows is the predominant operating system in the enterprise space. After all, Windows PCs are generally much more affordable than their Mac counterparts. Windows PCs are also a bit easier to manage and secure from a corporate fleet perspective, a selling point that CIOs are very keen on.
Windows apps may differ from Mac counterparts
While the number isn’t huge, some Windows apps don’t have equivalent macOS versions. Many of these applications are relatively niche as they are development tools or applications specifically written for Windows. In all likelihood, this is an issue that will not affect most mainstream users.
Legacy apps like Pinnacle Systems’ Studio, a video editing app that’s been around for over a decade, don’t have an equivalent macOS version. It’s always recommended to make sure you’re using an app that’s available on both macOS and Windows.
Still, frustrating issues can arise even when an app appears to be available for both macOS and Windows. For example, some features have nuances in Microsoft Office applications: no universal inbox support in the Windows version of Outlook and the inability to place an embedded YouTube player in the Windows versions of Word and PowerPoint .
These links will help explain some specific feature differences between Mac and Windows versions of Office 365 applications: Outlook | Power point.
Frankly, the list of feature differences isn’t huge, but those distinctions can be annoying, so having access to the Windows version of Outlook can be helpful.
Based on my conversations with Microsoft insiders, the company’s ultimate goal is to have full feature equivalency between the macOS and Windows versions. However, in my opinion, that may not happen for a long time.
All of which leads me to say that being able to run Windows on a Mac is always a handy back-up plan if you need to access a native Windows app.
Awesome bootcamp, with limitations
Apple realized this predicament in 2006 when it released Boot Camp. Back then, macOS’ market share was much smaller than it is today, and it didn’t benefit from the massive availability of Windows apps.
Boot Camp offers the possibility to create a dual boot, where you can easily use Windows or macOS, but not at the same time.
For some users, this is an attractive solution. But there are some significant challenges with this approach.
First, you won’t be able to switch back and forth between Windows and macOS to share content in real time. More importantly, Boot Camp only works with Intel-based Macs. This scenario is less appealing because Apple has explicitly indicated that its desktop and laptop future will run on Apple silicon, starting with the M1 chip.
So, if you recently purchased a Mac with an M1 or M2 processor, the Boot Camp option is not available to you.
Parallels offers the best of both worlds
For the past few years, I’ve used Parallels, a popular software utility that lets you use Windows on a Mac by creating what’s called a virtual machine. Technically, the Mac shares computer resources with the Parallels virtual machine(s) and allows the Mac to function as a standalone device.
This approach has many advantages. Right off the bat, Parallels lets you run multiple operating systems, not just Windows. You can also use the various iterations of Linux, although this might be “advanced dance lessons” for most mainstream users who just need occasional access to Windows.
The other benefit that I find nice is that Parallel removes the requirement to boot into Windows or macOS. Parallels has a great feature called “Coherence Mode”, which allows you to run Windows programs in the macOS environment.
However, for usability reasons, you might just want to run Windows in a separate window (no pun intended). You can also easily copy, cut and paste content, such as files, images, videos, etc., between the two operating systems.
Mac laptop using Parallels to run the Windows 11 operating system in a dedicated window in macOS. (Image credit: Parallels International)
Parallels is not the only software utility on the market capable of performing this trick. VMware offers a comparable utility called Fusion. But the advantage of Parallels over Fusion is that it works on both Mac Intel and Apple M devices.
I think the ability to run Windows on a Mac is one of the most misunderstood stories in the PC space and deserves more attention.
As I wrote before, this attribute of convenience falls into the category “How did I live without this ability?” I don’t consider this hyperbole, because many consumers can’t afford a Mac and a Windows PC. This is often a situation dictated by affordability considerations.
Although I don’t use Parallels every day, the convenience of accessing Windows applications without the need for a separate PC was a game changer for me.
What also surprises me is that Windows works fine on a Mac. While major PC manufacturers (primarily HP, Dell, and Lenovo) have made great strides in improving the overall user experience with driver and firmware updates, I’ve encountered my fair share of challenges. upgrade when updating Windows.
Since Parallels runs as a virtual machine on your PC, Windows seems to run more smoothly without the “hiccup” issues that driver updates sometimes cause.
However, running Windows on a Mac using Parallels isn’t for everyone. If you’re a hardcore gamer, this approach won’t suffice, as most popular PC games require discrete graphics and multi-core processors from Intel or AMD for which the virtual machine approach is simply not adequate. optimized.
I also wouldn’t recommend Parallels to Windows users who are video content professionals, as Windows applications running under Parallels are likely to be underwhelmed from a performance standpoint.
Also, keep in mind that if you have an Apple Silicon-based Mac, it will only run the Arm-based version of Windows, which has limitations. Drivers for hardware, games and applications will only work if they are designed for the Arm version of Windows. From a practical point of view, 64-bit (x64) applications will not work. You will need to be careful and check if a specific Windows application requires 64-bit support.
Nevertheless, there are a significant number of mainstream users with basic Windows productivity application requirements, who can easily be satisfied with the capability that Parallels offers Mac users.
Interestingly, while overall PC growth has stalled over the past two quarters following the pandemic-related market surge in 2020, 2021, and early 2022, Apple has continued to increase its share, despite significantly higher prices for its computers compared to PCs of comparable configuration.
Apple’s ecosystem advantage
The tight integration between iPhone, iPad and Mac continues to resonate with many users. A great example of the strength of this ecosystem is the exclusive support for native text/SMS messaging on Mac, which is not available on Windows platforms.
If you are an Android smartphone user, the advantage of the Apple ecosystem disappears as there are many apps that allow you to access Android text/SMS messages on your Mac.
Mac users know what I mean when they consider the convenience of using a computer keyboard to send an iMessage or text message. Apple, in my opinion, will probably never give the “keys to the kingdom” for this specific feature.
Parallels Productivity Benefits
Putting aside the ecosystem element, more Mac users should consider using Parallels to boost their overall productivity if they need routine access to Windows.
At $99 for the standard edition of Parallels, it’s a cheap way to avoid buying a dedicated Windows PC – and this scenario could ultimately be one that scares off the big PC makers.
Will using Parallels eliminate the need to buy a standalone Windows laptop? The answer is unclear because of the caveats I detailed above. If you are a “powerful” Windows user, you may need a lot more performance than what a virtual Windows experience provides.
However, the reality is that there are a sizable number of Mac users with occasional access to Windows for productivity applications who can benefit from a virtual operating system experience to avoid the hassle and expense involved. owning a separate Windows PC.