But with Apple Computer's shift to Intel chips, the pool of options has expanded considerably. For one, Apple has its own, which lets Intel-based Macs boot up with either Windows or Mac OS X. Meanwhile, start-up that lets the Microsoft operating system run in a separate virtual machine with only a slight loss in performance.
Soon there will be yet another option, which, unlike the current choices, doesn't even require a copy of Windows. A company called CodeWeavers is using an open-source technology called Wine to allow some Windows programs to run under Mac OS X.
CodeWeavers is in early testing with CrossOver Office for Mac now and plans to release a final version of the software in July or August. CEO Jeremy White said he would have liked to have seen his product out before the rivals.
"It's unfortunate we couldn't get it out before," White said in an interview. "We would have loved to have been the only solution out for a while."
Though thehas already opened up Windows options for Mac users, the planned release of CrossOver Office highlights the fact that Apple's systems are becoming far more compatible with the Windows world.
White said CrossOver Office has one big advantage over those other options: Using it doesn't require the purchase of a copy of Windows. However, it also has significant downsides. Its focus is on application compatibility, not device drivers, so things like printers don't work with the Windows applications.
Also, Wine is a compatibility layer, not a true emulator, so it works with only some Windows programs. ("Wine" used to stand for "Wine is not an emulator"--a mind-bending nonacronym along the lines of the GNU Project's "Gnu's not Unix.") Developers at CodeWeavers and others on the open-source Wine effort have to work on each program they want to make compatible.
"That's why it is so hard, and why not so many applications work," White said.
The move to the Mac is new, but CodeWeavers has been trying to find a commercial market for Wine technology for three or four years now. Its main product has been its CrossOver Office for Linux, which uses the Wine technology to run, among other programs, Microsoft Office. White said about 100,000 people use the CrossOver Office product.
White acknowledged that the Wine technology remains imperfect.
"In theory, it's the holy grail," White said. "In practice, it's very promising and great when it works."
While many Windows programs may work with the Mac version of CrossOver Office, CodeWeavers will support only a handful. These will likely include Microsoft Project, Microsoft Outlook and the Windows-only game "," White said.
CodeWeavers remains a small effort. The company has about 20 people, with half those based in St. Paul, Minn., including White.
White said he has some hope that, despite the competition, Mac users will prove less tightfisted than Linux users. Many of these have been reluctant to pay for the CrossOver product, when the technology is also available free in the open-source world.
"Parting with money is just not part of the Linux way," White said.
Plus, there are a lot of Mac users out there. "There are far more Mac users than there are Linux, at least in North America on the desktop," White said.