It is an easy thing to install Windows on your Intel based Mac. I'm not talking about cutting an opening into your precious Mac and putting in a piece of glass. What I am talking about is running the Windows operating system on your Mac. There are two ways to do this and depending how you use your Mac will determine the best course of action.
First you need to look and see if you really need to run Windows. The Mac has come a long way since Apple converted to OS X and later to the Intel processor. There is plenty of software available for Windows PCs, many of the major titles are also available for the Mac.
Office is one of the biggest selling software categories out there. Microsoft Office is a business standard and is on most every business PC sold today. Microsoft also makes a great version of Office for the Mac, Office 2008 for Mac. Office 2008 for Mac is a native application that runs on most any Mac sold in the last ten years. This version is also compatible with the 2007 version of Office for Windows, which includes the new XML document formats like the new. docx file format. Other Office alternatives are Apple's own iWork 09 or the free OpenOffice and NeoOffice.
Office 2008 for Mac is fully compatible, but does not have some of the more esoteric things included in the PC version. This includes things like data analysis tools, Visual Basic for Applications, or even modules like Access (database program). If you need these specialized tools then you may want to look at running the PC version on your Mac.
Photoshop is another example. If you are a serious photographer then you are probably running Photoshop CS. For the more average shutterbug there is Photoshop Elements. No matter which version you use, Adobe makes a version for both Mac and Windows. (Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac has just started shipping. Check out my Mac blog at www.post-journal.com/page/blogs.list for more info on whether you should upgrade.)
Running Windows software is a much easier task now that Macs use Intel processors. To run PC software on your Mac you need to install the Windows operating system, which you must purchase separately. There are essentially two ways to run Windows on an Intel based Mac, Boot Camp or by using virtualization software. Either way you choose, you do have to purchase a copy of Windows, which can set you back from $100 to $300.
Boot Camp is a utility created by Apple (it's included with Leopard and Snow Leopard) that allows an Intel based Mac to set aside part of the main hard drive for the installation of Microsoft Windows XP or Vista (and now 7). Once Windows has been installed, the user can then easily choose which operating system to use, either by the Startup Disk control in System Preferences or by holding down the Option key when you turn on your Mac. The main benefit of using Boot Camp is that your Mac essentially becomes a true Windows PC, just like a Dell, HP, Sony, Acer, etc.
On the negative side, once you choose which operating system to boot as you are stuck there. If you boot into Windows and you decide you need to run a Mac program, you have to quit what you are doing and reboot the Mac and choose the Mac OS.
Virtualization is the other way to run Windows OS on a Mac. This is software that allows your Mac to emulate a PC. If you need to occasionally run PC software, virtualization is a more convenient method. Being virtual means you don't have to decide whether you are a Mac or a PC. PC programs can run at any time without the need to reboot.
Virtualization is a popular way to run Windows and thus there are three great programs available: Parallels for Mac, VMWare Fusion, and Sun's VirtualBox. The first two are commercial products, while Sun's VirtualBox is a free Open Source program.
Back in the PowerPC (PPC), and even 680x0 days, virtual Windows on a Mac was possible but at the cost of speed. Since PPC Macs had Motorola/IBM chips it had to essentially re-encode the Intel instructions so the PPC chip could understand it. This took time and made the system run very slow. Now that Macs have the same Intel processor no translation is necessary. This allows a Mac to run PC software at near 100% speeds.
The free method is Sun's VirtualBox. This is a great way to try out virtualization to see if will fit your needs. For those who want more options, speed, and even gaming support, then a commercial product is your best bet.
The two major commercial programs, both recently updated, are Parallels for Mac 5.0 and VMWare Fusion 3.0. They both have similar price tags, about $80, along with similar features. Both have been optimized for use with Leopard and Snow Leopard and the new Windows 7 operating system, 32- and 64-bit versions. They also have Microsoft Direct X and OpenGL graphics capabilities, which allows them to run graphics intensive software including some 3-D games.
Both have the ability to import applications and settings from an external physical PC. Parallels edges ahead by also including 1-year of antivirus by Kaspersky along with disk management, and backup software.
Most Mac users may never have the need to run Windows. For those who do, it is a simple choice of Boot Camp or virtualization. Boot Camp turns your Mac into a true PC. Virtualization allows you to run PC software anytime without rebooting. Out of the three virtualization programs, the leader right now is Parallels for Mac 5.