Dear Aunt TUAW,
I am new to the Mac community, and there are some programs that are unsupported on the Mac and I know there are a few options to run Windows on a Mac. When I search online for the best options and answers to my questions (what is the best option, do I need a Windows license/disc, difference between emulators/virtual machines, Parallels vs Boot Camp vs VMware Fusion etc), most of the info is pretty old and outdated. Can you help me navigate jumping out of the Windows into the Apple Orchard?
Lovingly with One Foot on Both Platforms,
For any full Windows install, you definitely need a Windows license. A disc will certainly help you install, whether you go with Boot Camp (dual-boot) or Parallels/VMware Fusion/VirtualBox (run inside an virtualized PC). Auntie knows there are pluses and minuses to both these approaches which our noble commenters will surely dive into with both feet, but here's the abbreviated version.
Boot Camp offers the fastest, fullest Windows-on-Apple hardware experience. You basically get a complete Windows install, but on a shiny Apple computer. For gaming, hardware-dependent apps and maximum available performance, it's the no-compromises option, but you do need to reboot to switch between Windows and OS X, so it may slow you down in that regard.
The other main option is virtualization, creating a 'PC in a box' that runs in software under OS X. Both market leaders Parallels and VMware Fusion have some compromises in speed and peripheral integration, but they do so while running at the same time as OS X, with easy file access and other shared elements. The open-source and free VirtualBox may have a few more rough edges but it does do the job for intermittent use.
Another solution is Crossover. Allowing you to run Windows apps inside OS X, it does not require a license or a Windows disc... but as Uncle Mike puts it, "60% of the time, it works every time." Not all Windows applications play nicely in Crossover's W32 API compatibility environment (based on the open-source Wine project), and those that do launch may be limited in their functionality. It pays to try out Crossover first, however, if your application is on the supported list -- it might be perfect for you.
In the end, it all comes down to how integrated you need your Windows experience to be. If you don't do a lot of switching back and forth, dual-booting through Boot Camp may be your best solution. If you do, then virtual Windows helps integrate your apps better.
Auntie's not a big Windows user, so she invites her more Win-ny nieces and nephews to jump in with suggestions.