Having a Windows installation at hand is always useful for those rare instances when OS X can’t meet your needs. But what if I told you that you can get Windows 10 on your Mac, entirely for free, direct from Microsoft, and with Microsoft’s blessing?
This is indeed possible because Microsoft makes available Windows 10 as an aid for web developers, in order to test their sites. However, there’s no reason why others can’t make use of it too. Windows runs as a virtual machine, which in simple terms means that it runs inside a program window within OS X. The virtual machine software you need is also free. Strictly speaking Microsoft is providing a three month evaluation of Windows 10 Enterprise but – as incredible as it sounds – they suggest you use the “snapshot” feature of the virtual machine software to overcome this limitation:
Please note that these virtual machines expire after 90 days. We recommend setting a snapshot when you first install the virtual machine which you can roll back to later.
The best news of all is that all of this is all really, really simple to get up and running and use. Here’s how:
- Start by visiting the Microsoft Virtual Machine download site. Ensure the Mac tab is selected, and MSEdge on Win10 from the Virtual Machine dropdown list, and VirtualBox from the Platform dropdown box. Then click the Download Zip button at the right.
- If you haven’t already in the past, open the Mac App Store and install The Unarchiver. This is a system addon that’ll let you unzip the large virtual machine file. Don’t worry – it’s free of charge too, and a very handy app to have around in any instance.
- Finally, your last downloading task is to head over the VirtualBox download page and download the Mac version of VirtualBox – click the “amd64” link alongside the heading that reads VirtualBox 5.0.14 for OS X hosts. Install it when it’s finished downloading.
- Once Windows 10 has finished downloading, right-click the .zip file and then select Open With > The Unarchiver. This step is very important because the built-in unzip tool for OS X will NOT be able to unzip the file!
- This will create a file called IE11 – Win10.ova. Double-click this, and then opt to import it to VirtualBox when asked what you want to do. Once importing has finished you can delete the .zip file and the .ova file.
- Open VirtualBox if it’s not already running and then double-click the IE11 – Win10 entry in the list at the left. Windows 10 will boot-up in a virtual machine.
And that’s all you need to do! Windows 10 comes unactivated but will do so online within a minute or two, and will be fully functional thereafter. I was able to install Office 365 without a hitch, for example.
As Microsoft suggests, once you have all your favorite sofftware installed it’s a good idea to create a snapshot. This is like taking a backup of the virtual machine at that particular state. Thus, when the three month trial runs out, you can restore to the snapshot state and start again. To create a snapshot, click Machine > Take a Snapshot. To restore a snapshot, click the Snapshots button at the top right of the VirtualBox control panel.
Alternatively, instead of messing around with snapshots, you can simply repeat the steps above and download Windows 10 all over again!
If you want to remove the annoying evaluation label at the bottom right of the desktop, follow these instructions. Just change the theme to lose the How To instructions on the desktop.
Note that the performance of Windows 10 won’t be great on VirtualBox. For something approaching native performance you’ll need a commercial virtual machine app like Parallels Desktop. There’s a Parallels version of the Windows 10 machine available for downloading, as described in Step 1 above.
Alas, commercial apps typically aren’t cheap but there are some terrific deals around – you can get Parallels Desktop 11 plus an ultra-fast USB 3.0 128GB solid-state hard disk for $199, for example. This will even let you play the latest Windows 3D games on your Mac. A 256GB version is also available for just $40 extra.