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Macworld Expo 2011: CrossOver goes to version 10 with Impersonator


If you want to run Windows apps on your Mac, there are now a few ways to go about it. First there's Boot Camp, the official solution that will let you boot into an installed Windows partition. Then there are virtualization solutions like Parallels or VMWare, which "pretend" to be a separate hard drive with an installed Windows partition. Finally, there's emulation, and that's what CodeWeavers' CrossOver does. Rather than an actual Windows installation, CrossOver pretends to be Windows and allows Windows apps to run on a Mac, even without an actual Windows CD.

Impersonator is the company's code name for version 10 of the app, which was just recently released. CodeWeavers' Jon Parshall told me the most recent trends in emulation are away from standard apps like Office software and games, and into more niche apps like specific business and industrial software. CrossOver's compatibility list is better than ever, and the new version introduces a feature called CrossTie. CrossTie will both install CrossOver and get it up and running with a specific app directly from one file downloaded from CodeWeavers' website. For example, if you want to play Battlefield Vietnam with CrossOver, you can download the CrossTie file, follow some easy instructions to create a "bottle," hook it up to the game, and you're good to go.

I saw one run in action in the company's booth (while surrounded by celebrity impersonators -- the company was good at grabbing attention during the show). It seemed really simple to set up, though I didn't spend a lot of time checking out how it ran. CrossOver has 8200 apps listed for compatibility, and there are about four to five hundred CrossTie files available, with more coming all the time.

While compatibility listings are good, there are still a few trouble spots in terms of getting things working. Parshall said that while systems between Mac and Windows are definitely closer than they've ever been, there are still plenty of gaps in between. That doesn't mean CodeWeavers isn't working hard, it just means that there are some really tangled piles of code to work out between the two platforms.

Parshall says he and his team are working as hard as they can on those. The company is growing, profitable, and it has moved into making custom-built emulations as well. These emulations are just a wrapper for a specific Windows program, usually commissioned by the company that makes the app. Parshall says those types of jobs don't even let the customer know CrossOver is working -- they just turn an .exe into a .dmg.

The real benefit of emulation (even though, disclaimer, CrossOver runs on WINE, and as we all know, "Wine is Not an Emulator") is price. Rather than buying an expensive bit of virtualization software and installing a full retail copy of Windows on your Mac, if you only want to try one app, you can just go find the CrossTie for it and load up the trial of CrossOver to see if it works. Even if it doesn't, Parshall asks what have you lost? When it's put that way, CrossOver's Impersonator makes a lot of sense.

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