CrossOver, Northstar Run Windows Apps on Macs—without Windows

News Analysis: New programs from CodeWeavers and True North Technology give Mac users access to Windows applications without running the Windows operating system.

As sales of Apples Macs expand, so does the number of ways to run Windows software on Apple hardware. Two new methods offer Mac users access to Windows applications, but unlike Boot Camp or Parallels, they dont require running Windows itself or the Windows desktop.

CrossOver from CodeWeavers is a commercial product based on the open-source Wine program. The company has a Linux version and plans to release a Mac version in August. True North Technologys Northstar is a Web-based service that also employs X11 and Java. CrossOver runs only on Intel-powered Macs; Northstar works with PowerPC-based as well as Intel-based Macs.

Both provide Windows applications in their own windows on the Mac, giving users access to Windows applications and the Mac OS X software at the same time. Neither, however, is a virtual machine product.

Windows programs without Windows may be exactly what most Mac users want. Users can run Outlook instead of the less-capable Entourage, or run Internet Explorer when Safari isnt supported. And with the Window-less approach, the Mac isnt saddled with supporting the overhead of two operating systems. In addition, users dont have to navigate through unfamiliar Windows GUI elements to get to applications and files.

There is no Start menu or Windows task bar. With Northstar, users choose applications from a window. CrossOver has a Programs menu in the Mac OS X menu bar that lists Windows applications. Windows programs can minimize in the Mac OS X Dock, so a task bar isnt needed. Unlike a virtualization environment, CrossOver stores users files created by Windows applications in Mac folders, not in a virtual disk image or a separate partition. Windows applications see the Macs home folder as a Y drive.

CrossOver may also be the least expensive way to run Windows programs on a Mac. Although Boot Camp is free, it requires the user to own a licensed copy of Windows XP; CrossOver does not.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about Apples Boot Camp.

CodeWeavers CEO Jeremy White said that CrossOver will not run every Windows application, but it will be optimized for a set of tested applications, including Outlook, Project and Visio.

"This is just for the 1.0 version," said White. "Well be adding more [optimized applications] in future versions."

He also said that CrossOver should also run some Windows applications that havent been optimized. Because CrossOver has support for the Intel Macs native graphic hardware, it will be able to run PC games, according to White. Boot Camp can run PC games, but Parallels Desktop cannot.

White said that CrossOver uses no Microsoft code. Neither does the open-source Wine. There is a free, open-source port of Wine for Mac OS X called DarWine, but CrossOver is far ahead in terms of stability, compatibility and integration with the Mac interface. CrossOver is not based on DarWine, but is a direct descendent of Wine for x86. White said that this was because CodeWeavers engineers are also Wine developers.

"Were the leading sponsor of the Wine project," said White.

While CrossOver runs Windows applications in Mac OS X windows, DarWine runs them in an X11 window, requiring the Mac to have Apples X11 for Mac OS X installed.

Next Page: Northstar provides software on demand.