1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac

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Virtualization seems to be one of the great buzzwords these days. Everyone wants to be running an operating system other than their own. My first experience with this sort of thing was trying to run Linux alongside Windows XP using VMware. My second was with Parallels, running XP on my Mac.

The big problem with those two programs is the cost. There’s a free trial of Parallels and a free VMware player, but that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted a full version piece of software that would cost very little or nothing. Well I’ve found it. Varun Kashyap wrote about VirtualBox back in May as part of an article on free open source counterparts to Windows software. In this article I will expand on that and show you just how easy it is to install on a Mac and how great it really is.

First off, what is virtualization? Well for our purposes it means creating a virtual computer on your physical computer. Let’s say you’re running OS X Leopard on your Mac, but you’d like to use Windows XP or Vista or some flavour of Linux as well. Without virtualization, you’d need to either dual boot or install your second OS on a second machine. Using virtualization you can have your guest OS running as a window on your host OS, or better yet, have them run side-by-side, almost as equals.

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Installing the guest OS

The industry term for the operating system you’ll be running on a virtual computer is ‘Guest OS’. Your main OS is the ‘Host OS’. The virtualization software, in this case VirtualBox, provides the virtual computer. Fire it up and it’ll ask you some questions about the OS you’re installing. Things like:

    The name you’d like to give it. Choose any friendly name here, like “Windows XP” or “Jason’s Virtual Computer.”

    The OS type. There’s a long list here including DOS, all flavours of Windows going back to 3.1 and many flavours of Linux

    Run Windows on MAC

    The amount of your system memory you’d like to allocate to the virtual machine when it’s running.

    For XP, I find 512M works great, for Vista you’ll need 1G. I have 2M of ram on my Mac so YMMV. (UPDATE : that’s 2G, not 2M of course!)

    Windows XP on Mac

    What type/size hard drive you’d like.

    Your choices are Dynamically Expanding Image (default and the one I chose) or Fixed-Size Image.

    Windows on OS X

    As for size, I chose the OS default which is 10G for XP and 20G for Vista. That’s just the size VirtualBox reports to the guest OS as the hard drive size. If you chose Dynamically Expanding Image in the previous step VirtualBox will create a file representing your drive only as large as it currently needs to install the OS. Then as the name implies, as you add stuff to your virtual computer, the drive will expand as necessary.

    You then power on your virtual machine and it will use the installation CD in your drive (or a disk image of your choice) to install the guest OS. It will run through the entire installation process, as if you were installing it on a physical machine, prompting you for your product key and your time zone etc.

    A word about the guest OS. You must have your own copy of the OS you’re installing, and all the regular licensing rules apply. If you install Windows on a virtual machine, it’s the same as installing it on a real computer and as you know, each copy of Windows is only allowed to be run on one computer. Of course, there’s no problem if Linux is your guest operating system of choice. It’s free.

Running your virtual computer

Once the installation is complete, you’ll want to run your new (or old) OS. Just start it up and enjoy the surreal show of having one operating system boot up inside another. Once it’s up and running, you’ll notice the mouse is a little jittery and hard to control. Don’t worry, that’s what Guest Additions are for.

Guest additions do a few very important things.

  • Make the mouse cursor less jittery
  • Keep track of which OS you’re using so your mouse follows.. … a special mouse driver is installed in the guest that communicates with the “real” mouse driver on your host and moves the guest mouse pointer accordingly. You will only have one mouse pointer… (VirtualBox documentation)
  • Dynamically change the screen resolution based on the size of the guest OS window.
  • Shared folders
  • Shared clipboard
  • Seamless mode (see below)

You can run your guest OS in three modes.

    As a window of your host OS

    In full screen mode, where it appears you are running the guest OS only. Your host OS does not show through anywhere.

    In Seamless mode. This is perhaps the most powerful of the three. In seamless mode, each Windows app appears to be running within OS X. You even get the Windows
    taskbar on the screen along with Mac dock and menubar.

When shutting down your guest OS, you have several options including saving the state of the virtual machine, so that when you start it up the next time, you’re right back where you left off. It’s like sleep or hibernate mode. Very convenient.

As I’ve said, I have used Parallels to run Windows inside OS X and, to be honest, I prefer the free, open source VirtualBox to the $80 Parallels. There’s not much Parallels can do that VirtualBox can’t. In fact, I haven’t yet found one thing that I miss from Parallels. Windows XP runs quite fast inside the virtual machine. Vista runs a little slower, but that is probably just a memory issue. If you have 3 or 4 gigs then you have enough to allocate 1.5 to 2 to Vista, which should make things run much more smoothly.

Some suggestions:

    Back up your virtual harddrive. Once you’ve got your guest OS set up the way you like it with all your software installed and OS updates done, then back it up either somewhere else on your harddrive or on another harddrive or if it’s small enough, to a DVD. If you ever get some malware on your guest OS that you can’t get rid of, just delete it and use a copy of your backed up copy.

    If you hope to keep the guest OS running smoothly for a long time, treat it as you would a regular computer. Install antivirus and anti-malware tools.

My recommendation: before shelling out for VMware or Parallels, give VirtualBox a try. You’ll probably love it and save yourself a wad of dough.

Do you use virtualization software? Which one? Why? How? Let us know in the comments.

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77 Comments - Write a Comment



Interesting; I was always wondering if there were a free alternative to Parallels since they’re an industry leader and their software is excellent.



“For XP, I find 512M works great, for Vista you’ll need 1G. I have 2M of ram on my Mac so YMMV.” /scratch_head


dude i installed it but it says that i can’t ‘boot’ can you help me please


it says that there was no bootable medium found

jade doran

says the same thing to me


please help me it says the same thing ‘no bootable medium found’ email me bro tell me whats up.

conor platt

dude, give up. these guys are geniuses that mod their macs by writing their own code. He has written this knowing full well that hardly anyone will be able to run it. He just wants hits for his page/website.
Sorry mate.


Actually no, he’s not a super genius. These people just are not following simple directions. You need a disk in order to make it work. Where it’s telling you that, that’s because you didn’t put your disk in. For example, if you picked to install Windows XP, you will need a Windows XP operating disk. You can’t just pick one and expect it to magically download and install >.>


Kyle Griswold

He probably meant he has 2G of ram not 2M and I think YMMV means your memory may vary.



Great post, Jason. I tried VirtualBox before. It was pretty easy to set up but I’d rather not go through the hassle of installing Windows when I won’t use it :P

There’s another free virtualisation app for the Mac, it’s called . Be warned though, it’s still pretty new. Previously, I was trying to compare VirtualBox and Q but gave up half way…


Sorry. Typo there. It’s called Q[kju:]. Find it here


Jerry Kidd

Great post Jason! I have a 24″ iMac and a 15″ MacBook Pro. I ma running parallels on the iMac and VMWare on the MacBook pro. Of the two, I find that VMWare is the most stable and problem free. I was dreading the prospecyt of yanking Parallels from the iMac and repalcing it with the $70.00USD VMWare. I think I’ll give your solution a try.

By the way Patrick, I have seen YMMV as Your Mileage May Vary!


Ramesh | The Geek Stuff

Virtualization definitely has lot of great advantages and I use it all the times on my Linux servers. Probably there is not lot of good reasons to run Windows under Mac other than trying to understand how the virtualization works etc.

The Geek Stuff


Or when you need to run Windows to develop software to pay the bills, but prefer a more robust operating system for your own personal development pursuits…..



As a web developer, I love working in OSX because it’s built on top of unix so I can do local development and it has lots of great design and development tools available.

But … I HAVE to have a copy of Windows in which to review/test my sites, since that accounts for 90% of the people who will be accessing the site. Without virtualization software, I’d need to have a whole separate computer or a separate boot for windows, which would be totally lame.

And it’s very nice to be able to play around with other operating systems like Ubuntu :) Maybe one day I’ll be able to get rid of Mac too, but until then I’m loving it (I just wish that Apple gave more back to the open source software communities on which they have built their bread and butter).


Jason Mayoff

@patrick. Oops. I meant 2G, not 2M.


AskTheAdmin | Karl Gechlik

Awesome informative post Jason. I have to give this a try! It might save me some big money on virtualization for my Mac department in the coming year.


Ken Burkes

Wonderful post Jason. Although I don’t have a Mac computer, I’ll definitely get this program when I finally buy a Mac. Thanks for all the info.


It works on all OSes. I use it on Linux.

And guys, couldn’t you have gotten newer screenshots? Innotek? Really? They sold out to Sun months ago!

mike cariglio

Hi, i wonder if after installing VB on my mac I wonder if i canget that internet online tv package that’s ownly available on PC’s. What do you think?


John Ruschmeyer

A couple of notes:

1) I’m not sure that I’d say that Q is *that* new as it is based on Qemu.

2) Probably the biggest present in Parallels (or VMware Fusion), but missing from VirtualBox is Direct3D (i.e., DirectX) support. Whether you miss this really depends on what you do with your virtual machines.

3) If you think VirtualBox compares favorably to Parallels Desktop on the Mac, try comparing it to Parallels Workstation on Windows/Linux. VB blew past PWS several releases ago and even gives VMware Workstation 6.x a run for its money.


“2) Probably the biggest present in Parallels (or VMware Fusion), but missing from VirtualBox is Direct3D (i.e., DirectX) support. Whether you miss this really depends on what you do with your virtual machines.”

And that in my book classifies it under “Deal Breaker”. Vista running slow in VB under OSX has less to do with Memory in a system with 1Gb of RAM, and more to do with the video horsepower, and there’s no comparison between Aero through DirectX and Aero through GDI.



Oh, also, don’t use the Dynamically Expanding Drive option. It’s pretty slow. You get much better responsiveness if you have a fixed size disk. You can always add more disks if you need more storage.



VirtualBox is very nice. I use it my Windows PC at work to do various things with Linux such as setting up a temporary proxy server. I also have Windows XP running in VirtualBox on my MacBook Pro.



Will it handle USB thumb drives? My decision hinges on that.


It has worked with my USB thumb drive. Just make sure you aren’t using the OSE edition!

chick yeager

I do not see anything here that answers the question of how I can make my host USB to work with the virtual box. Does anyone have an answer to that?
thank you



How does it work with games? I know someone higher up said it doesn’t support Direct3D, but what about some older games? Really, any information on this would be helpful.



One point about the latest release of VirtualBox that never seems to get mentioned is that seamless mode works for UNIX and Linux VMs in addition to Windows. Neither Parallels or Fusion do this – they only do seamless for Windows.



I’m sticking with Parallels for multiple reasons, but the primary one has to be that it uses my Boot Camp partition, meaning I only need to maintain a single XP installation. Sure this means I don’t get to utilise Snapshots, but XP’s got its Rollback function so I’ve never really had to worry.

Still, for an office environment, I can see the huge atraction that a free alternative would offer!



Oh, and why does this place have NSFW advertising?



This is an amazing piece of software! I’ve used commercial alternatives a bit in the past, but this is considerably faster to boot into. My one complaint of the others was that my MacBook Pro would literally freeze while they launched until XP was available. Performance in XP was often sluggish even for simple browsing, which is all I really use it for, along with checking web sites I’ve created in IE.

Installation was a snap and it appears VirtualBox includes many of the niceties of the big boys. Once they get audio working, it will be a boon!


Jason Mayoff

@Howdesign Audio works fine. I probably should have mentioned it in the article, but you have to tell it which audio driver to use. Just click audio in the main window, before you actually start the guest os and choose the proper driver. For me, it’s CoreAudio.


Hi Jason,
I had a question- I installed virtual box on my macbook. But it wont run any of the programs I download like the antivirus( i downloaded avg) or the microsoft office. I can download them on my windows os but it gives me an error when I try to open them and run them. Any thoughts? Thanks



Great software!!!!



whqt about using the bootcamp partition?


Rui Castro

Does vitualbox for mac run mac server? I would love to virtualize mac so I can install apps to test out and not put junk on my main mac. Any help here?


Eric Smth

Which type of formatting do you recommend? FAT or NTFS? I don’t really know what the differences are, but is one better than another for this type of thing? (I did the dynamically expanding image…I don’t know if that changes which I should use)



Any chance you guys know of something like this that works on non-Intel Macs? I have an iBook G4, and I know I should just upgrade, but what am I, made of money? I just want to download and use ONE Windows program. Is that so much to ask? Any ideas?





Thank you i am new for mac and find way to use virtualbox for long time


mike prieto

Is this only for Mac OS X intel? If there is also a Power PC download, please give me a link.



Will the guest OS read the USB drives????



If you don’t need speed, I suggest Q (kju-app.org). I used it on my iBook G4 and got moderate performance on Windows 98 and 2000. Windows XP doesn’t run in Q… it crawls. If you need decent speed, go on eBay or Amazon.com and buy Virtual PC for Mac. It has much better performance than Q. If you don’t want to pay though, get Q. It’s acceptable for certain uses.



Hi all,

I’ve been trying to get virtualbox to run Windows Vista on my Mac. I’ve followed the instructions on this site exactly, and the program tries to boot from the install disc. It loads the files, then shows the Vista boot up screen with the load bar at the bottom. While the bar is running, my computer becomes unresponsive except that I’m still able to move the mouse around (but not click on anything). Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.



This was more than helpful for the setup. Thanks so much. Just one question while its installing Windows…

Im putting it on my friends Mac Book JUST so he can run Zune (I know, I know…). What I want to know is if while in windows, will it read the USB device? An does anyone know if it works well with Zune?

Thanks for any help!



HELP!!!! How do i switch my pointer back to my original OS??!?!!!



uh… =P i must be stupid i no im 14 but i dunt get any of this but i need to know this kind of stuff xD man i really need to figure out mac computers =P …..Oh btw thnx for ur help ^.^



I have already installed XP on my iMac via BootCamp. Is it possible for me to use VirtualBox to just point to this, rather than going through the install CD and things like that?


Terry Lee

That’s a great find!! Thanks for that. I already run Parallels but I’ll try out this open source version because I’m a geek at heart, but don’t tell my clients :-)









I`m in the same situation ¿did you find somethin to fix it?

Jason Mayoff

Well, it would seem to me one of at least two things. Either VirtualBox can’t find the .vdi file containing your virtual hard drive or that somehow it became corrupt. Is the .vdi file still available.

It’s stored by default in Users//Library/VirtualBox/HardDisks. See if it’s there. If not, maybe you put it somewhere else and VirtualBox isn’t sure where it is.


tips photo

Thanks for the great article. It is great to know that there is a way to run Windows on a Mac. I will definitely be giving this a try.



Tried VirtualBox thanks to this article. Works great and I couldn’t be happier.


Miko Kuo

My kept saying -FATAL: NO BOOTABLE MEDIUM FOUND! SYSTEM HALTED! and i already tried Jason’s suggestion go back to the same folder, its there. I even tried to create one for vista, still says the same message, anyone can help????



Hi mine won’t work it just says Fatal: No bootable medium Found! System Halted! What do I do? Please Help!!!



All works great till windows is installed on my Mac. Then, i click Start. But then it says”Fatal:no bootable medium found!System halted” What can i do?


For the “no bootable medium found” this is what I did:

Click settings
Under the storage tab, click on the one with a picture of a CD
Then click on the picture of a folder, beside where it says “CD/DVD Device”
In the pop up, click add, and find your ISO file that you want to install.
Click on that, then “select”

And hopefully that will solve the problem :)



Thanks so much for this. I was all ready to order the new version of VMWare Fusion when I came across your article. I’m now all set up and running Windows XP on my MacBook. Thanks again.

P.S. I found this on another site. It might help those who had the “No bootable medium found” error

“For those of you getting the “No bootable medium found. System Halted” error message, you need to close the window and click on your Windows XP virtual PC from the list and click on settings.

Go back to “CD/DVD-ROM” (under “Storage” in Settings) and check the box about enabling pass-through. This should fix your issue on a Mac.”

(from http://blogs.sun.com/dfan/entry/installing_xp_on_mac_os)






I have a problem, i really dont know what installation CD its taking about, i create the new virtual stuff, i launch it, and it takes me an installation wizard, like how do i want to isntall it, i dont know what to do lease help



Thank you very much for this walkthrough and link to the opensource. I had been looking for a long time to find something like this just to run a few windows apps on my mac. Thank you!



For all those who have a problem with the following message:
no bootable media found, system halted

FOLLOW the instruction given on the link below.



I’ve just downloaded Sun VirtualBox, or at least I think I have. I’m now getting the error message and can’t find anywhere to correct this. Do I need to install a Windows XP disk?



Do i need to have a Windows XP CD to instal the Windows on the virtual or does it include the Windows XP in the program. So when iv installed the VirtualBox i can use Windows XP mediadly ??


jonas Cuypers

is it possible to use a 2nd partition in stead of a file?



“Vous puissance alors sur votre machine virtuelle et elle utilisera le CD d’installation dans votre lecteur (ou une image disque de votre choix) pour installer le système d’exploitation invité. It will run through the entire installation process, as if you were installing it on a physical machine, prompting you for your product key and your time zone etc. Elle se déroulera à travers le processus d’installation, comme si vous étiez l’installer sur une machine physique, en vous demandant votre clé de produit et votre fuseau horaire, etc

A word about the guest OS. Un mot sur le système d’exploitation invité. You must have your own copy of the OS you’re installing, and all the regular licensing rules apply. Vous devez avoir votre propre copie de l’OS que vous installez, et toutes les règles d’octroi de licences réguliers s’appliquent. If you install Windows on a virtual machine, it’s the same as installing it on a real computer and as you know, each copy of Windows is only allowed to be run on one computer. Si vous installez Windows sur une machine virtuelle, c’est la même chose que de l’installer sur un véritable ordinateur et comme vous le savez, chaque copie de Windows est seulement autorisé à être exécuté sur un ordinateur. Of course, there’s no problem if Linux is your guest operating system of choice. Bien sûr, il n’y a aucun problème si Linux est votre système d’exploitation invité de choix. It’s free. C’est gratuit. ”

Je ne comprend pas se bout … Es ce que ça veut dire qu l’on doit avoir un CD ou ya l’os windows dessus ? si oui quand doit on insérer ce CD ???



Can you load a older version of windows then upgrade, i.e. windows ME then upgrade to XP>



fine program


Bachir El Khoury

@Judith: yes, you need to install the OS on the virtual host you just created.

@Hirmuli: of course you still need to install the OS as it is not included in VirtualBox.

@jo21: oui tu dois installer Windows system juste apres que tu as cree ton virtual host. Insert your XP CD, puis click “Start” in the virtual box window. Then the virtual box will start just like any computer, picks up the bootable XP(or whatever) windows installation CD, et puis XP s’instale normalement come si c’etait un PC under DOS.

good luck, worked for me!



is says when its starts fatel no bootable found what is going on



i have used both parallels and vmware fusion when i used mac Tiger. and i kinda liked parallels 4.0 for mac tiger. but when i updated to parallels 5.0, my graphics for my MMO ate their own face. i went back to parallels 4.0 after upgrading to snow leopard, and the speed is of a molasses quality. vmware fusion 3 also has graphics that eat themselves, so it’s out of the question too. let’s hope virtualbox, the new kid on the block, gives me an improved or at least laggy-but-playable gamespeed on my new copy of snow leopard.

from what i can tell here, virtualbox is easy to set up. good thing, too. vmware is kinda funky with its settings.



Hallo könnte mir jemmand sagen wie mann das downloadet ???



How would I delete a comment that I have previous left here before???


mac lover

looks nice man.. good guide! :)



HLEoljdkajaiw How do you get windows?

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