You Probably Can’t Run Windows on the New ARM-Based Macs

11 months ago 146

Apple’s move from PowerPC to x86 more than a decade ago came with a nice bonus: native support for Windows. Boot Camp has allowed x86 Mac owners to load a non-Apple operating system and run it without any virtualization overhead, but that won’t be an option once the company makes its next architecture change. That’s not entirely Apple’s fault, though. Everyone shares some of the blame

The first roadblock is Microsoft itself. There is an ARM build of Windows 10, but very few Windows computers have ARM chips. And because of that, there’s very little Windows software compiled for ARM. Software compatibility is Windows 10’s bread and butter, but with ARM, you’re stuck with emulation for almost all the software you use on a daily basis. Microsoft seems to know there are issues with Windows on ARM because it won’t even sell you a copy of it. The company licenses the ARM version only to OEMs to pre-install on new systems. When asked if it would open up sales so people could run Windows on the new Macs, Microsoft said it had no plans at this time. 

Even if Microsoft comes around, you might not have what you need on the new Macs to install the OS. We’re expecting to see the first ARM-based Macs later this year, but the company still has x86 computers in the development pipeline. As Apple moves fully to ARM, it will phase out Boot Camp. It certainly seems like Apple could build a version of Boot Camp that works on ARM, but it has chosen not to do that. Instead, Apple’s Craig Federighi says the new ARM Macs will rely on virtualization to run other operating systems. He contends that modern virtualization is fast enough that direct booting into another environment is not necessary. 

Sadly, the uncertainty surrounding virtualization apps like VMWare and Parallels is yet another obstacle to bringing Windows 10 to the new Macs. Apple has a translation platform for ARM Macs called Rosetta 2, but it will not work with virtualization software. VMWare has asked its community what features they would want in an ARM-based virtualization client, but it hasn’t committed to building one. Apple did show Parallels running a Linux environment, but it didn’t say anything about Windows. Again, you’d have to contend with Microsoft’s refusal to sell Windows 10 for ARM. 

We’re still very early in the process — Apple just announced its intentions a few days ago. So, it’s possible Microsoft and the makers of virtualization software will come around in time. However, Apple sounds firm in its decision to dump Boot Camp. If you rely on Windows running on your Mac, this transition could be rougher than expected.

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