I want to get windows running alongside Mac OSX, just so I can run one program not available om Mac OSX. what is the cheapest way to get this set up?
If you just need one program, you could try running it using Wine. This is a compatibility layer that allows you to run Windows software on *nix systems, which includes Mac OS X. Here is a tutorial to help you get started.
Note that not every Windows programs will run using Wine - you might need to experiment first. Or head over to the Wine Application Database for user reviews on how well your program is supported.
Alternatively, you could use one of the many virtualization options out there. Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion are excellent but paid options, while VirtualBox is free (and it works great too). However, you'd need a Windows license to legally run Windows in this way.
Microsoft provides virtual machine disk images to facilitate website testing in multiple versions of IE, regardless of the host operating system. Unfortunately, setting these virtual machines up without Microsoft's VirtualPC can be extremely difficult.
Obviously, this tool is aimed at web developers, but if you don’t care about testing in Internet Explorer and you simply need a working Windows VM, you could just install a single VM running Windows Vista + IE9 using this command (after installing VirtualBox, of course):
# enter this in Terminal.app after installing VirtualBox curl -s https://raw.github.com/xdissent/ievms/master/ievms.sh | IEVMS_VERSIONS="9" bash
A snapshot is automatically taken upon install, allowing rollback to the pristine virtual environment configuration. Anything can go wrong in Windows and rather than having to worry about maintaining a stable VM, you can simply revert to the clean snapshot to reset your VM to the initial state.
The VMs provided by Microsoft will not pass the Windows Genuine Advantage and cannot be activated. Unfortunately for us, that means our VMs will lock us out after 30 days of unactivated use. By reverting to the clean snapshot the countdown to the activation apocalypse is reset, effectively allowing your VM to work indefinitely.
This is effectively a free and legal solution to running a Windows VM on your Mac.
In reply to @josh3736’s comment: here’s an excerpt from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=11575:
Note: You may be required to activate the OS as the product key has been deactivated. This is the expected behavior. The VHDs will not pass genuine validation. Immediately after you start the Windows 7 or Windows Vista images they will request to be activated. You can cancel the request and it will login to the desktop. You can activate up to two “rearms” (type slmgr –rearm at the command prompt) which will extend the trial for another 30 days each time OR simply shutdown the VPC image and discard the changes you’ve made from undo disks to reset the image back to its initial state. By doing either of these methods, you can technically have a base image which never expires although you will never be able to permanently save any changes on these images for longer than 90 days.
The cheapest way to run a Windows OS along side Mac OS X would be with Virtual Box. Ifs a free x86 virtual machine environment and will run many versions of Microsoft Windows as well as many other OS's both 32bit and 64bit versions. As for obtaining a copy of windows on the cheap do avoid retail full price versions of the Windows OS, for Windows 7 they start at about $199 USD for a full non upgrade license. Instead look for OEM versions of the version of windows you need online. For example Windows 7 starts at about $99 for an OEM version. Also if your in college or in the education field or a spouse is, try checking on Academic Discounts offered from Microsoft. Additionally see if your employer offers software discounts for personal use, some do and its worth looking into especially considering the significant cost of a legitimate Windows license.
There is also Crossover.. its a lot cheaper than VmWare and Parallels. I used to run Vmware to run a single windows app too.. but I gave up on it and now use Crossover and am very happy.
Crossover is based on Wine - therefore u do NOT need to install Windows (and thus require a Windows install disk) as u do for VmWare and Parallels.
There is a free trial so u can download it and see if your app works. If your app is unsupported (as mine was) dont worry. Try installing it using the "unsupported applications" option. My 550MB windows app installed and works fine!
If you want to make just one program run then I would suggest looking at Wineskin. This is a wrapper around Wine that has been mentioned in the other answers.
The main reason I would recommend it is that it has been the easiest way I have found to get an application running ie it hides the wine configuration which is non trivial. However if your application depends on may windows libraries then you will have to deal withe the configuration.