Windows on a Mac
March 30, 2015 8:52 AM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest way to get Windows working on a Mac?

I'm likely to need to run a Windows-only app in the near future. I own a 2011 Macbook Pro, but no Windows machines. The app does not work with WINE/Crossover, so installing Windows seems to be the only option. It's not a graphically intensive app, so running a VM should be fine. Since I need Windows only for this one app, doing it as cheaply as possible is important.

I've used VirtualBox before (but only with a Linux VM) and as free software, that would be my preferred choice. Looking on Ebay, I can get an OEM disk of Windows 7 (with product key) for around £30. Will this work? What are the potential downsides of running Windows this way? I'd rather not dual boot if I can help it.
posted by salmacis to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I used VirtualBox on my 2010 model Macbook Pro with no problems to run Windows XP and Windows 7. I recall that the install and setup instructions were a bit aggravating, and were written for an older version of VirtualBox that was no longer available. Once I got past that, the installs went find, and I had no problems using Windows as a virtual machine from inside Mac OS X.

On my current Macbook, a 2013 model, I could not get VirtualBox to run, and had to eventually resort to purchasing VMWare in order to install Windows. It works just as well as VirtualBox, but it's not free.

The only problems I've had are the fact that either setup can be a resource hog, so you might want to consider what else you're going to be running at the same time you'll be running Windows. Also, you might want to boot up your Windows VMs from time to time to make sure they're current on updates. Otherwise you end up with several hours of updates to run before you can actually use Windows.
posted by ralan at 9:11 AM on March 30, 2015

If you have enough disk and CPU then virtualization on a Mac can be very straightforward. I have experience with Parallels which works well but has an odious yearly upgrade cycle.

Though I have no direct experience of the problem, be aware that MS place restrictions on how many times their systems can be installed and installing in VirtualBox may make it difficult to install on Parallels later on.
posted by epo at 9:15 AM on March 30, 2015

My 2014 Macbook Pro runs Windows 7 in VirtualBox just fine, nary a problem either in set-up or use.
posted by anadem at 9:18 AM on March 30, 2015

I use VirtualBox to run Win7 on a 2011 Mac mini. Runs fine.

If performance is needed, consider Parallels but otherwise the free option is usually fine.

I used to use VMware to get support for a DirectX app to view MRI pics; I don't think Parallels and VirtualBox support that, but if your app's needs are minimal, then it shouldn't be an issue.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:59 AM on March 30, 2015

Grab the beta version of Windows10. It's free, and the software will probably work.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Microsoft provides some free VM's for testing, you could "try" them out for a while and see what works.
posted by nickggully at 10:28 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was just about to recommend the packages that nickggully mentions. They are great, but if you need something more persistent (not just "Hey, I need windows because I need to test things on it sometimes"), be aware that the VMs expire after a certain amount of time. If you don't need anything to be saved and reaccessed on the regular, then it really doesn't matter (just redownload!).
posted by kellygrape at 10:42 AM on March 30, 2015

My solution to this problem was to buy a super-cheap, basic Windows laptop. In the long run, as someone who is fairly tech-literate but not up to messing with stuff like Linux partitions, it was a cheaper and less stressful alternative. I bought a machine for less than $80, I use it only for the specific application in question, and it has worked beautifully.

This may be the lazy way out, but I'm okay with that.
posted by Superplin at 10:47 AM on March 30, 2015

Depending on how new your Mac is, you should be aware that Windows 7 doesn't natively support USB 3 (look for the blue inside the USB port-- blue = 3), at least the raw install doesn't. You may need to install drivers for that to use your peripherals. I had a couple weeks of a headache with this when upgrading to a new MacBook Pro at work and trying to install Win7 via bootcamp.

I've never used virtualbox in OSX to run windows; it's possible OSX/VBox will just handle that, but take that as a heads-up.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:49 PM on March 30, 2015

It's pretty painless with Virtualbox. I use it all the time to test websites in IE. VMWare or Parallels are faster/more user-friendly, but they cost money of course.

Cheapest (free!) way to get Windows is the Windows 10 Preview Edition. It'll stop working at some point in the future, but if you only need this app for a short time then you're fine.

The IE test VM images should work too.
posted by neckro23 at 2:06 PM on March 30, 2015

Response by poster: I've installed a linux VM on my Macbook, so I know that VirtualBox itself works. The question was whether Windows will work under Virtualbox, and if so, what disc exactly do I need.

I don't want a Preview Edition, as I don't want it to expire. I'm obviously not going to torrent, so thanks a bunch for that comment. Regarding the legality of OEM disks, auctions such as these are all over the place on Ebay. If they were not legal, wouldn't Microsoft have shut them down?
posted by salmacis at 1:00 AM on March 31, 2015

Mod note: One comment deleted; this isn't the place for detailed instructions on how to pirate software.
posted by taz (staff) at 2:49 AM on March 31, 2015

« Older 401K(ickass)   |   How do I decide how much money to spend on... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.