CrossOver, by CodeWeavers
Posted: 16-Mar-2007

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: CodeWeavers Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Dan Schneider Class: PRODUCTIVITY
     
$59.95   Download

Overview
CodeWeavers CrossOver Mac is a commercial version of the open source WINE project for Mac OS X on Intel Macs. The goal of the WINE project is to build a non-Microsoft implementation of the windows API for Unix-like operating systems (Linux, Mac OS X, etc.). This means that WINE is an implemntation of the support framework that is used by Windows applications. In non-tech speak, the goal of the project is to allow you to run Windows applications on Linux (or OS X) without actually running them in Windows either through the use of dual booting (Apple's Boot Camp) or a virtual machine (Parallels or VMWare).

Basically, WINE provides the support, in a Unix-like OS, that Windows applications need in order to be able to run. Most importantly, using CrossOver Mac, these applications run alongside native Mac apps without having to reboot or fire up a vitrual machine and switch back and forth between OS X and the Windows desktop. Additionaly, because the Windows API is implemented with non-Microsoft code, there is no need to purchase a copy of Windows (which both dual-booting and virtual machines require you to do). Furthermore, the applications are supposed to run at near-native speeds.

If it almost sounds too good to be true, there are some limitations.

Since the Windows API is huge, the implementation is only partial and the WINE and CodeWeavers teams have to pick an choose which parts to support. They've done a pretty good job supporting the bulk of what most applications use, but there may be some features of some software and entire applications that won't work at all because they require parts of the Windows API that are unsupported by the CrossOver Mac product. There is a compatiblility list at CodeWeavers that can shed some light on what on can expect might work and what probably won't work at all.

Requirements

  • Intel-based Macintosh system running Mac OS X
  • 120 MB of free disk space


Test System

1.66 GHz Core Duo Intel Mac Mini (512 MB RAM, 80 GB Hard Drive), Mac OS 10.4 - Tiger


Setup
The basic installation of CrossOver Mac is dead simple: download, and after decompressing and mounting the disk image, copy the application to the Applications folder. Initial conguration is a little more complicated, but CodeWeavers has made it pretty user friendly. The startup window when you first run Crossover provides enough information to get started.


Crossover Welcome Screen


In Use
Although I started with the CrossOver Software Installer, it may make more sense to begin by configuring your Crossover "bottles". Bottles are the name given to the virtual environments managed by CrossOver Mac. Similar to virtual disks used by other virtualization technologies, one can have multiple bottles representing different Microsoft Operating Systems: 98, 2000, and XP. Applications and settings applied to one particular bottle don't affect the other bottles; they are separate containers. Based on warnings that the application gave me when I tried to install software to a Win 2000 or Win XP bottle, it appears that the Windows 98 Bottle type is the most compatible. If you have multiple bottles installed, CrossOver will prompt you to select one for the installation or suggest the most compatible. A nice touch is that if you don't have any bottles defined, the CrossOver Software Installer will automatically create one for you (but it won't let you choose the type in that case).

The CrossOver Software Installer is pretty straightforward. It provides you with a list of software that presumably runs fairly well. This list includes several Microsoft Office Applications, Internet Explorer, Adobe Photoshop and others. On CodeWeaver's website, you can find both a
List of Supported Applications as well as a Compatibility Center.

The Software Installer also includes a button if you want to install unsupported software. If the package you select is commercial software, you will be prompted to insert the installation disc to begin. I chose Internet Explorer 6, which CrossOver offered to download directly from Microsoft. This was an unexpected feature and the process was quick and painless. Once downloaded, the installation fired up and I was presented with a "PC familiar" dialog box:


Installing Internet Explorer using CrossOver

Installation of Internet Explorer seemed to go without a hitch, but I had some problems using it, which are described below. I also attempted to install Microsoft Visio 2002, which was supposed to work, according to the website and for which there was a choice in the installer. Unfortunately, I was unable to successfully install it to either a Windows 98 bottle or a Windows XP bottle. Next, I attempted installation of unsupported software: an old Windows game, Fallout 2, from Interplay. The install was excruciatingly slow, but seemed to work. Unfortunately, once installed, the software required the CD, but couldn't seem to find it. After some configuration file tweaking, I was able to get the software to run, but the mouse tracking seemed way too slow and the screen did not always refresh correctly, rendering the software unusable. Lastly, I tried another supported software package: Photoshop 7. That install went flawlessly and the software appeared to work reasonably well.

CrossOver placed a "CrossOver" folder inside my personal applications folder (inside my home directory) with icons for the Windows software I installed. This made launching windows apps pretty easy and also keeps them separate from my Mac apps. Internet Explorer was the one application (I didn't have a Windows version of Office handy to test) that I successfully installed and used. When launched, it loaded msn.com as the default web page. I immediately tried to navigate to www.yahoo.com. The page began to load, but as it was nearing completion, the window disappeared, presumably as the result of a crash. I also tried my corporate extranet connection, which includes an Outlook Web Access (OWA) portal. On my first attempt, IE crashed like it did with Yahoo, but on a second attempt, I was able to log in to the secure webpage and subsequently use Outlook Web Access. This was certainly an improvement over Safari, which refused to load OWA at all. IE seemed a bit sluggish, but it was tolerable.


Outlook Web Access under Internet Explorer using CrossOver

The other application that I was able to run was Adobe Photoshop 7. The software seemed pretty snappy and I had no problems opening image files from my Mac's desktop. I tested some basic filters and operations (resize, etc). The only issue seemed to be akin to the screen refresh problem that I had with Fallout - sometimes, while resizing the image windows, the screen would not refresh. Minimizing the window and restoring or grabbing the title bar and dragging the window around seemed to trigger a proper rendering of the image's window. Fortunately, unlike Fallout, the screen refresh issue was the only annoyance with Photoshop.


Running Windows version of Photoshop 7 using CrossOver on Mac

Overall, CodeWeavers has made CrossOver Mac pretty user friendly. Adding new apps and configuring the bottles is straightforward. Unfortunately, the nature of Windows means that if you run into problems with compatibility, you are quickly thrust into the world of the registry, dlls and config files in order to resolve the problem.

Value
CrossOver Mac is a utility that will probably only appeal to a niche market. It may provide a significant cost savings over other solutions, but it may also prove completely useless, depending on the Windows applications that you need to run. Fortunately, CodeWeavers provides a very generous 60 day free trial period, which should give you ample time to evaluate the product. If your Windows-on-a-Mac application needs are fairly modest, I recommend giving CrossOver a try. If the apps work to your satisfaction, you can save a lot of money using CrossOver instead of Parallels Desktop for Mac (CrossOver is $20 less than Parallels, not to mention the savings of $190 on not requiring a copy Windows XP). If you are unable to get things working to your satisfaction with CrossOver, you can then go the Parallels, VMWare or Boot Camp route without any loss.

There are three issue to consider when choosing a Windows-on-Mac solution: Compatibility, Application Speed, and Integration with Mac OS X. Compatibility relates to the number of Windows applications that will work. Speed raltes to how fast that Windows application runs on a Mac. Integration relates to how easily it is to get to from Mac OS X. Based upon my experience with CrossOver and my understanding of other solutions, the following rankings illustrate how CrossOver compares with other solutions, ordered from best to worst in each category. Individual experiences may be different.


Compatibility

  1. Dual Boot (Boot Camp)
  2. Virtualization (Parallels, VMWare)
  3. CrossOver

NOTE: 1 & 2 are pretty close, supporting nearly all Windows applications. CrossOver is a distant 3rd when it comes to compatibility.

Application Speed

  1. Dual Boot (Boot Camp)
  2. CrossOver
  3. Virtualization (Parallels, VMWare)

NOTE: Different apps or even certain operations may be slower in CrossOver than when using Virtualization due to the nature of the API implementation.

Integration with the OS X

  1. CrossOver, Parallels Coherence-Mode (when released)
  2. Virtualization (Parallels, VMWare)
  3. Boot Camp

Summary
CrossOver Mac offers an inexpensive, very integrated solution to running Windows applications on an Intel based Mac from within OS X. While the configuration user interface is pretty good, application support is very limited. Some Windows apps may work only partially and many will not run at all. This alone will probably invalidate it as a choice for many Mac users. Visio would not even complete installation, and Fallout 2 was unusable after being installed. Internet Explorer and Photoshop 7 seemed to work reasonably well (albeit with some crashes and screen refresh issues). That being said, the generous 60-day free trial period gives you plenty of time to try it out. If it does what you need, you can save money compared to the other solutions available. The interface provided to manage the environments (bottles) in which the Windows apps are run is pretty intuitive and user-friendly, but some apps may require some low-level tweaking to get them to run correctly. If you to need to run several Windows apps, or want a general purpose Windows install, then CrossOver is probably not for you. If you will only need to run one or two Windows apps, it does not cost anything to find out if they will work with CrossOver given the 60-day trial. If you find that they work, then CrossOver makes for a great solution, providing an inexpensive route with good Mac OS X integration. There is a lot of potential with this product, but it may not be ready for mainstream Mac users until more application support is available.

Pros

  • Applications run in windows alongside native apps without having reboot or switch to a virtual machine
  • No need to own or purchase a copy of Windows
  • Copy and paste between Mac OS X apps and Windows apps
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Limited application support
  • Had trouble with some applications that were supposed to be supported
  • Getting things to work may require a user to make registry and configuration file changes
  • Application crashes may not generate error messages - making it difficult to troubleshoot
  • Refresh problems with some applications that do work


Overall Rating

3 out of 5 Mice