The Best Virtualization Software for 2020

Virtualization software lets you run apps written for a different operating system than the OS that runs your computer. You might, for example, want to run a Windows application on your shiny new Mac. Each OS has its strengths, but many users who make the big switch from Windows to the macOS discover Windows apps that they’ve used for years (such as Microsoft’s Project and Visio, Corel’s WordPerfect and CorelDraw) don’t have matching Mac versions. Or they discover that the Mac version of their favorite software—like Microsoft Excel or ABBYY FineReader—has fewer features than the Windows version. Or maybe the Mac version is simply a few update cycles behind. Virtualization apps let you keep your Windows apps while enjoying the elegance and convenience of a Mac.

Of course virtualization isn’t only for the Mac. If you need to use Windows apps that don’t work under modern Windows version, virtualization apps let you run older Windows versions inside Windows 10. Or you can run Linux and other open-source operating systems, or ancient systems like MS-DOS, OS/2, or NeXTSTEP in a window on your modern Mac or Windows system. Almost all serious developers use virtualization software to test their work under multiple OSes, but today’s virtualization apps are easy enough for nontechnical users to master.

This survey covers the three full-scale virtualization apps for the Mac, because the Mac is the environment where these apps are likely to get the widest use. The three include Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, both of them commercial apps that you’ll have to pay for, and the free, open-source Oracle VM VirtualBox. In forthcoming articles, we’ll explore other methods of running Windows apps on a Mac, or obsolete Windows apps in modern Windows, methods that tend to require more technical skills than the main virtualization apps. These other methods include Codeweavers Crossover and Wineskin Winery for running Windows apps on a Mac, WineVDM for running Windows 3.x apps in 64-bit Windows, and DOSBox, DOSBox-X, and vDos for running MS-DOS apps and games.

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