How to Run Windows Programs on a Mac With Wine

Wine is an open source program for running Windows software on non-Windows operating systems. While it’s most often used on Linux, Wine can run Windows software directly on a Mac, too–without requiring a Windows license or needing Windows running in the background.

This isn’t necessarily the best option if you want to run Windows software on a Mac. Wine isn’t perfect, and not every application will run ideally. Some applications will crash or not run at all. Virtual machines and Boot Camp are more rock-solid options, but they do add more overhead and require a Windows installation. For apps that do work, however, Wine can be extremely useful.

How to Download Wine on a Mac

There are several ways to get Wine on a Mac. The official project website at WineHQ now provides official builds of Wine for Mac OS X. However, those aren’t necessarily the best option. These Wine binaries allow you to run Windows software, but don’t provide any helpful graphical tools for installing and setting up common applications, so they’re best for advanced users already familiar with Wine.

Instead, you should probably consider one of the third-party projects that take the Wine source code and build a more convenient interface on top of it, one that helps you quickly install and configure common applications. They often perform tweaks that you’d have to perform by hand if you were using the barebones Wine software. They include their own Wine software, too, so you only have to download one thing.

Third-party tools include WineBottler, PlayOnMac, and Wineskin. There’s also the free Porting Kit, which makes installing classic games easy, and the commercial CrossOver Mac, which is the only application here you have to pay for. We’ll be using WineBottler for this tutorial, as it seems like the most popular option among Mac users. It can create Mac .app bundles for Windows programs. The other third-party applications will work similarly, though some (like CrossOver and Porting Kit) may be much more streamlined for the apps they actually support—so if you’re looking to run a specific game, it may be worth checking to see if the other apps support that game for easy setup.

How to Run Windows Software on a Mac With WineBottler

To get started, download WineBottler. Be sure to download a version that works on your release of Mac OS X. When this article was written, that meant OS X El Capitan and Yosemite users needed to download version 1.8.

Open the downloaded DMG file. Drag and drop both Wine and WineBottler applications to your Applications folder to install them, just like you would any other Mac application. You can then launch WineBottler from your Applications folder.

WineBottler lists a number of different programs you can easily install. For example, you could install various versions of Internet Explorer if you needed to test websites with them on your Mac. The Windows version of Steam is available, and which could allow you to run some Windows-only games on your Mac. Choose any of these options and WineBottler will automatically download, install, and configure these applications for you.

The installed application will appear under “On My Mac” in the WineBottler window. You can uninstall them from here, if you like. Click an application and it will launch in a window, receiving its own icon on your dock.

To run another application that doesn’t appear in the WineBottler list, you can simply download it, then right-click or Ctrl-click its .exe file to select Open With > Wine.

WineBottler allows you to quickly execute the .exe directly, if you like. You can also choose to install the application in a Mac .app file created by WineBottler.

If you choose to convert it to an OS X application bundle, you will be taken to the Advanced screen in WineBottler. Provide the .exe file used to install the application and you can install it as an .app using the options here. Depending on  the application, you may need various third-party libraries from the Winetricks list, DLL override options, or runtime arguments here to make it work.

However, that often isn’t necessary–just executing .exe files directly with Wine should generally work.

If you can’t get an application working, you should perform a web search for its name and “wine” or “winebottler” for tips on what advanced functions you might need.

Bear in mind that WineBottler is best if you have a single program or handful of programs that work well. If you plan on testing out a lot of software or you use software that Wine doesn’t support well, you’ll have a much better time just running it in a virtual machine. These offer more or less guaranteed compatibility with Windows software on a Mac.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.