Wineskin: running Windows apps without Windows

Over the last few months I’ve been making use of an app called Wineskin, which lets you run Windows applications on a Mac without running Windows.  It utilises Wine, an open-source project which attempts to duplicate all the functionality of Windows libraries thereby enabling Windows executables to run on Linux/OSX/etc.  This doesn’t work with everything, but definitely with enough titles to make it useful.

The particularly cool thing about Wineskin though is that it installs all the Wine binaries inside a normal .app OSX application package.  You then install the software you want within this ‘wrapper’, thus enabling it to run on any Mac without requiring Wine or anything else to be installed first.  This is very handy in a school, as I can create wrappers for all the different Windows applications I want to run and then just drop them into the Applications folder of various Macs, via Apple Remote Desktop.  The user then just launches the app and starts using the program.  This makes for a much smoother experience that clicking on a VMWare Fusion shortcut, waiting for the virtual machine to start, clicking through the various ‘Download update!’ and ‘Buy the new version of Fusion!’ messages and then finally getting to your application.  Well I think so anyway.

Today I tried getting it to work with a BBC Active CD-ROM about ‘Rites of Passage’ in RE. It seems to function ok, although I’m having trouble moving the Wineskin ‘wrapper’ between computers.  The weird thing is that you can preview the whole piece of software online using Flash, which makes me just a little bit annoyed why they didn’t make a Mac version while they were at it.  I guess it can’t have be worth their while. And if they’re making and selling CD-ROMs, they are clearly not trying to be at the cutting edge of technology, especially as you would be increasingly hard-pressed to find a Mac with an optical drive anyway…

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Virtual Machines

One of the main sticking points for running Macs in a school is that there’s still a lot of educational software out there there which is Windows-only (and indeed XP only, especially when CD-ROM software is still being sold that was written in 2003). Should this anachronistic clinging to the past hold back teachers from experiencing a virus-free and ‘just-works’ computing experience in their classroom? Perhaps not.

The solution lies in the fact that, since 2006, Macs now run on the same Intel x86 processors that Windows PCs do, meaning that you can easily run Windows on a Mac. And with the technical wonder of ‘Virtual Machines’, you can run Windows as an application on the OSX desktop. Nelson Handwriting Software here we come!

However, it’s not quite as simple as that: which VM (Virtual Machine) software do you use for this noble task? At our school we are running VMWare Fusion 3 on some Macs in Key Stage 2, which seems to work pretty well.

Pros:

  • Lets you run Windows programs in ‘Unity’ mode, which means they look and act pretty much like Mac apps
  • Pretty easy to setup and use

Cons:

  • Not cheap (around £30 per licence – the same as a Windows 7 licence from Ramesys!)
  • Doesn’t quite play nicely with Lion (paid upgrade required)

What are the other options? Well, Oracle offer a free program called VirtualBox, which lets you install whatever OS you so desire. It seems to work well and fast, with lots of configuration options for the more geeky ones out there. However, it’s rather more fiddly to set up and doesn’t offer the same integration with OSX that Fusion provides. It has a ‘seamless’ mode, which tries to mesh Windows and OSX together on the screen, but this results in having the task bar and Start menu across the bottom of the screen! That might be one step too far for a teacher who just wants to model the the letter ‘A’ and print off some handwriting worksheets. You get what you pay for, and my feeling at the moment is that Fusion is worth the price.