1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac

Jason Mayoff 09-07-2008

1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac  vbox logo2Virtualization 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 Free Open Source Counterparts of Windows Software Read More . 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.

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.

    1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac  picture 81

    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

    1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac  picture 191

    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.

1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac  picture 221
1 Free Program to Run Windows on your Mac  picture 211

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 Best Programs to Keep Your Computer Secure Read More .

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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  1. jakhdk
    January 19, 2010 at 3:33 am

    HLEoljdkajaiw How do you get windows?

  2. mac lover
    December 28, 2009 at 7:33 am

    looks nice man.. good guide! :)

  3. Li
    December 9, 2009 at 12:50 am

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

  4. fleischmannfan
    November 21, 2009 at 9:07 am

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

  5. silverheart
    November 19, 2009 at 11:44 am

    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.

  6. jake
    November 11, 2009 at 9:38 am

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

  7. Bachir El Khoury
    October 25, 2009 at 5:05 am

    @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!

  8. hassan
    October 20, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    fine program

  9. Bob
    September 15, 2009 at 8:45 am

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

  10. jo21
    September 1, 2009 at 11:03 am

    "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 ???

  11. jonas Cuypers
    August 25, 2009 at 4:16 am

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

  12. Hirmuli
    August 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    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 ??

  13. Lord
    July 29, 2009 at 7:51 am

    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.

    • Judith
      September 19, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      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?

  14. KlintQ
    June 16, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    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!

  15. Gerardo
    May 31, 2009 at 9:14 am

    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

  16. willy
    May 22, 2009 at 7:42 pm


  17. Canad-Ian
    May 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    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."


  18. GSot96
    April 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    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?

    • Peter
      January 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      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 :)

  19. Absterluv
    March 31, 2009 at 8:28 pm

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

  20. Miko Kuo
    March 20, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    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????

  21. Melissa
    February 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

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

  22. tips photo
    February 2, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    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.

  23. Tbo
    December 23, 2008 at 3:33 am


    • Eira
      March 9, 2009 at 2:13 pm

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

      • Jason Mayoff
        March 10, 2009 at 1:56 pm

        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.

  24. A.L
    December 21, 2008 at 8:57 pm



  25. Terry Lee
    November 20, 2008 at 4:50 am

    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 :-)

  26. Sriram
    November 1, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    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?

  27. Sarah
    August 11, 2008 at 11:11 am

    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 ^.^

  28. TomBstone
    August 6, 2008 at 5:00 pm

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

  29. TomBstone
    August 6, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    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!

  30. John
    August 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    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.

  31. whizkid515
    August 1, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    If you don't need speed, I suggest Q ( 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 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.

  32. Suarez
    July 31, 2008 at 2:50 pm

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

  33. mike prieto
    July 30, 2008 at 1:22 pm

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

  34. attapon
    July 27, 2008 at 9:53 am

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

  35. Alex
    July 17, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    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?



  36. Eric Smth
    July 15, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    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)

  37. Rui Castro
    July 15, 2008 at 6:23 am

    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?

  38. jomi
    July 14, 2008 at 9:36 am

    whqt about using the bootcamp partition?

  39. Fish
    July 12, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Great software!!!!

  40. Jason Mayoff
    July 12, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    @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.

    • nikki
      December 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm

      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

  41. Howdesign
    July 12, 2008 at 11:00 am

    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!

  42. CeilingCat
    July 12, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Oh, and why does this place have NSFW advertising?

  43. CeilingCat
    July 12, 2008 at 7:42 am

    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!

  44. Tom
    July 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    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.

  45. Michael
    July 11, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    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.

  46. Hillman
    July 11, 2008 at 1:40 pm

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

    • eric
      July 11, 2008 at 4:06 pm

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

    • chick yeager
      September 28, 2008 at 8:37 am

      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

  47. Rod
    July 10, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    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.

  48. Mackenzie
    July 10, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    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.

  49. John Ruschmeyer
    July 10, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    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.

    • Marcelo
      July 15, 2008 at 2:04 pm

      "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.

  50. Ken Burkes
    July 10, 2008 at 10:55 am

    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.

    • Mackenzie
      July 10, 2008 at 1:05 pm

      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
        September 13, 2008 at 9:37 am

        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?

  51. AskTheAdmin | Karl Gechlik
    July 10, 2008 at 9:35 am

    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.

  52. Jason Mayoff
    July 10, 2008 at 5:14 am

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

  53. Ramesh | The Geek Stuff
    July 10, 2008 at 1:28 am

    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

    • Marcelo
      July 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm

      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.....

      • MikeyLikesIt
        August 12, 2008 at 12:28 am


        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).

  54. Jerry Kidd
    July 10, 2008 at 1:04 am

    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!

  55. Jackson
    July 10, 2008 at 12:45 am

    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...

    • Jackson
      July 10, 2008 at 2:20 am

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

  56. Kyle Griswold
    July 9, 2008 at 9:03 pm

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

  57. patrick
    July 9, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    "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

    • andrew
      November 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

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

      • andrew
        November 30, 2009 at 9:27 am

        it says that there was no bootable medium found

        • jade doran
          December 17, 2009 at 7:12 pm

          says the same thing to me

        • ryan
          December 23, 2009 at 7:18 am

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

      • conor platt
        December 26, 2009 at 11:11 am

        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.

        • Plain&Simple
          January 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm

          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 >.>

  58. Daniel
    July 9, 2008 at 7:24 pm

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