Before we go any further, we'd like to make something perfectly clear. We really like the idea behind CodeWeavers CrossOver Mac Professional, which is the ability to run Windows applications on a Mac without having to install Windows itself.
Instead of using a Boot Camp partition or a virtual machine in Fusion or Parallels Desktop, CrossOver utilises the WINE compatibility layer so you can install Windows apps to your Mac's hard drive and run them within OS X as if they were native Mac apps.
It's a great idea, in theory at least, but unforutnately it doesn't work particularly well in practice. In fact, we would go as far as saying that CrossOver is one of the most frustrating experiences we've had on a Mac. The main problem with the program is compatibility – or rather the lack thereof.
To be fair, CodeWeavers is up-front about this on the CrossOver website, providing compatibility lists (albeit ones lacking a real 'standard', seemingly relying on user submissions for an application's status), but it's nonetheless disheartening when you boot CrossOver for the first time and see the tiny list of supported applications, most of which are out of date (for example, CrossOver supports Internet Explorer 6, but not 7 or 8).
POT LUCK: Installation is incredibly straightforward for fully supported apps, but hit-and-miss for everything else (Click here for high res version)
There is some good news, though. For those few applications which are supported, CrossOver isn't half bad. We installed Office 2003, and the process was painless – CrossOver recognised the installer, downloaded some fonts, and once the suite was launched it generally worked fine, even printing to our Mac's printer.
There were bugs here and there, such as Word complaining when we tried to download online templates, but for general use we didn't find any major deal-breakers.
Additionally, instances of Windows apps behaved in Exposé, and the Mac's file system was accessible from dialog boxes. Also, CrossOver didn't tax our test Mac, co-existing nicely with other open applications.
Elsewhere, though, CrossOver is the install equivalent of Russian roulette. During testing, we tried a slew of applications (and a handful of games in CrossOver Games, which is free with CrossOver Mac Professional). Many of these apps refused to install, some toyed with us before locking up halfway, and others seemingly installed fine but then refused to boot, or launched but were largely unusable, such as Paint Shop Pro.
Ultimately, CrossOver Mac Professional is a product with stiff competition, and it really only has two weapons: a low price and its 'Mac only' stance. But even the latter of those things is misleading. Although you're never mired in Windows, CrossOver's install process can still be complex, and when things go wrong, you're left flailing.
More importantly, the app is often less Mac-friendly than its rivals. For example, you can't redefine modifier shortcuts, nor can you drag-and-drop content between Mac and Windows apps.
Is it worth it?
Regarding price, there's no denying CodeWeavers' application is cheap, but that has to be balanced against usability and compatibility. For our money, although CrossOver appeals as a concept and you don't need a copy of Windows, we much prefer Fusion and Parallels. And unless you only care for the few apps fully supported by CrossOver, we suspect you will, too.
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