Crossover (WINE) vs. Parallels vs. Bootcamp

Crossover (WINE) vs. Parallels vs. Bootcamp

Another entrant has joined the race to capture the dollars of those who wish to run Windows software on their Intel Macs. Codeweavers has now released a beta of Crossover Mac which is a repackaging of WINE with additional compatibility modifications and more user friendly tools.

Installation of Crossover Mac couldn’t be simpler. Just download the DMG, mount it, and drag the Crossover application to your Applications directory. If you did not install X11 to your computer you will have to install a library (quartz-wm) from your Mac OS X install disk, it will guide you through the steps. After you have it installed, what can you do with it? First lets compare it with the other options:

Bootcamp: The real deal. A true Windows install with full access to all the hardware and software though only Windows XP SP2 is currently supported.
Parallels: Virtual machine. A true Windows install but with only partial access to the hardware leading to poor 3D performance, slightly reduced CPU performance, and much lower disk performance. Nearly any x86 OS.
Crossover Mac: Runs Windows software as native Mac OS X apps with emulation libraries in place of Microsoft libraries. Can pretend to be Win98, Win2000, or WinXP. Can run some 3D games.

First lets imagine the perfect piece of software and see how these line up:

1) Runs nearly all Windows programs at full speed
2) Executes them as native Mac OS X applications without a container
3) Does not require a Windows license

Bootcamp performs very well at 1) but fails utterly on points 2 and 3. A reboot is currently required to get into Bootcamp so you can’t run Mac and Windows applications at the same time. A Windows license for XPSP2 is also required. Parallels runs nearly all Windows programs that do not require 3D graphics with a reasonable performance hit. They do not however look like Mac OS X programs and all run inside a window that contains the entire Windows instance, but at least you can run Windows applications at the same time as Mac OS X applications. Parallels, like Bootcamp, does require a Windows license though it could be an old cheap one instead of an expensive XP SP2 license. Finally Crossover runs very few Windows programs at near full speed for CPU operations, though some 2D graphics operations in PowerPoint appear to be much slower than their Windows equivalents. Those applications though do run right along side your Mac OS X applications and use far less memory than a Parallels install but still don’t look quite native due to the reliance on Crossover’s X11 server. For instance, each application does not have a corresponding Dock icon. The one thing that gives Crossover a price edge though is that no Windows license at all is required.

Take all my following observations about Crossover as a review of their beta and not a final product. The Linux version of their product apparently has far fewer compatibility problems and it should get better and better as the product becomes more baked. First up is straight from the name, Office 2003. I’ve installed it in both the Win2000 and WinXP ‘bottles’. A bottle is like a fake operating system environment that looks like its namesake to the installed applications. I highly suggest that you first install IE 6 to the WinXP and Win2000 bottles since many applications appear to depend on them and may not say so. After that is done, insert your Office 2003 install disk and Crossover should prompt you to install it automatically. I chose not to install Access (it doesn’t support it), Infopath, or some other random application and just installed Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Once installed they will then appear in the Crossover Programs menu and can be launched from there or from the shortcuts on disk, or even from the native binaries that you could find if you look around in the place where they are installed under ~/Library/Application Support/Crossover. The aliases are placed in ~/Applications.

Excel: Looked and performed just like expected for me.
PowerPoint: Fonts a little off. Very fast for everything but graphics.
Word: I don’t use Word but it opened documents well enough.
Outlook: Connectivity not working yet for IMAP. Going to try Exchange when I get the chance.

I also tried things like Steam (the game downloading and execution software for Half-Life et al.) and it worked well for most things. When I downloaded and launched CounterStrike: Source I wouldn’t say it failed completely but it was futile to play it. Firefox worked perfectly fine out of the box. IE had issues and was basically unusable for me. In the end, I can only recommend the beta as a test bed for your Windows applications that you want to use it with and to send feedback to Codeweavers. What they have right now is a good technology demonstration but I don’t think I could use it for real work yet, at least not in PowerPoint or Outlook, the two applications I was most interested in running until Microsoft ships Universal binaries of their Mac Office suite. For only $40 you can pre-order it and hedge that its going to do what you need it to do after it launches, if you compare that to Bootcamp or Parallels thats cheaper because of the lack of Windows license.