ArcGIS on a Mac?

Many people have asked members of the ESRI Education Team about whether ArcGIS works on Intel-based Macintosh computers. Thanks to some tools presented by Apple and by Parallels, we can respond with a clear “Yes!”, but with the understanding that the user must have a licensed
copy of Microsoft Windows XP and be facile with Windows-based operations.

Apple offers a strategy called “BootCamp” ( which
allows the user of OS 10.4 to install some special drivers and then install a
fully functioning version of Windows XP. Then the user can install and use
Windows-based applications, including ArcGIS Desktop, which runs quite nicely
on the Intel-based Macs. These computers are essentially just regular PCs with
some slightly different port configurations. The user chooses at boot-up which
OS to run — WinXP or MacOSX — and stays there until rebooting. All internal
resources focus on running the one system.

Parallels (
takes a different strategy. They sell an application “Desktop 3.0 for
Macintosh” (retail of $80) that sits on top of MacOSX, partitions the hard
drive, and allows installation of Windows (we tested using XP Pro) and
applications. The user can run programs in MacOS and Windows simultaneously,
and the hardware does some nifty shifting of resources to allow programs to run
at nearly full speed. There was some degradation of performance on our test
machine (MacBook Pro with 2 GB RAM), but it was modest and ArcGIS performance
was peppy enough for use in classroom instruction. I was even able to install
and operate ArcGIS Server and ArcIMS as well as ArcInfo, and run them simultaneously,
viewing data from ArcIMS on my Mac-based AEJEE while viewing data from ArcGIS
Server on my PC-based ArcMap.

Many parameters and settings can influence your performance,
but the bottom line is that, if you are interested in running ArcGIS products
on an Intel-based Macintosh, it can be done pretty well.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

Charlie Fitzpatrick

About Charlie Fitzpatrick

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at Esri. Before joining Esri in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply


  1. eamonn.doyle says:

    Yes, indeed, I have installed ArcInfo and it works just fine. I am just wondering how I can get my right-mouse-click- options as they actually are on a real Windows based computer. Has anyone any clue?

  2. miro07 says:

    Yes, indeed, I have installed ArcInfo and it works just fine. I am just wondering how I can get my right-mouse-click- options as they actually are on a real Windows based computer. Has anyone any clue?

  3. miro07 says:

    I have just figured it out how to use or get the right-mouse-click-options as on a regular Windows machine. Because Iam using a MacBook Air with only one USB port, I have never plugged in a mouse, but that works. Plug in a mouse and it will work as usual.

    Christoph Sebald (GIS Engineer & Erasmus Mundus Student)

  4. mtb954 says:

    Hi Christoph: I’d like to ask you some questions about using ArcGIS on a MacBook air. Could you contact me at mtb954 AT gmail DOT com? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

  5. cc254 says:

    Just so everyone knows,

    If you have a MacBook Air with only one USB port, you can do a few of things to attach more than one USB device.

    1.) Buy a usb hub. These are very cheap ($20) and will turn one USB port into 3 or 4. This way, you can plug all your desk peripherals into the hub. When you are working at your desk, simply plug in the hub and you will have access to everything. (make sure you buy a USB 2 hub)

    2.) Buy an external Apple keyboard. This device works like a USB hub and creates two additional USB ports, one on each side.

    3.) Buy an external Apple wireless keyboard. This will connect wirelessly and thus free up the one USB port you have available.

    As far as using Parallels or BootCamp:

    If you are running a MacBook Air, use BootCamp! Your machine is not optimized for all out performance, instead it compromises performance for size. The hard drive is slower and so is the processor. This however means it burns less power and runs longer on a much smaller battery and thus smaller machine. Since you are already on the weak end of the performance spectrum with an Air, you will definitely want to use BootCamp where you will take the smallest performance hit. The MacBook Air is a wonderfully portable machine, but you should be aware of it’s drawbacks in order to get the best possible performance.

  6. norabean says:

    hi there,
    About 2 weeks ago, my parallels use for ArcGIS seemed to cause arcmap to have a fatal error and I have not been able to make it work on my computer.

    Any input?

  7. Hannah3 says:

    I think it’s a goood news for all users Mac, because they always have some problems with their term paper. I hope that now you fixed most of all problems.

  8. Melanie says:

    Yes you can run Bootcamp or Parallels and then use ArcGIS through windows, BUT the question still stands – will ESRI make a version of ArcGIS for Mac?

  9. connie.chan says:

    So it sound like running bootcamp is better than parallels in Mac.

    I have win 7 with parallels right now.
    And I don’t know why it cannot install ESRI under parallels to my MacBook air.
    Do I need to remove parallels or Win 7 first?
    Secondly, install bootcamp, and install win 7, the last is install ESRI?

    Is there any short cut to running ESRI smoothly in MacBook air?

  10. Charlie Fitzpatrick Charlie Fitzpatrick says:

    This September 2007 post continues to get reads. Folks interested in latest news on “GIS on a Mac” should see Folks interested in GIS and iPads should see

  11. jiminfla8899 says:

    Just purchased a new Macbook Pro. Installed Parallels 8 for Mac and then installed Windows 7 Pro. Installled Arcgis Desktop 10.1..All I can say is WOW. Running Windows 7 in Coherence mode you don’t even know your in Windows. It all appears as Mac. Love it!!

  12. bcassid says:

    Yes, it works, but a native Mac app would be much, much better. It’s a shame that ESRI stopped supporting the Mac community.

  13. With latest Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac, you can easily run both Windows and Mac OS X programs side-by-side without restarting. Drag and drop files between Windows and Mac programs and launch Windows programs from your Mac dock station. Powerful performance lets you run Windows efficiency programs, even graphics intensive ones, with ease.

    Geospatial Training

  14. tbcuthbert says:

    Any updates on ARCGIS on Macs? Is Bootcamp and Parallels still the best way? How well does it work with Retina? Is there any recommended Parallels cofig settings to optimize on a Mac. I have both and iMac and Macbook Pro and would like to set this up as best as possible. I am also interested in how best to run CityEngine on a Mac for best graphics performance.

    • Esri does not certify ArcGIS Desktop on Macintosh, whether under Bootcamp, Parallels, Fusion, or any other operation. That said, I know a number of people using each strategy, and reporting satisfactory results. On my Retina Display MacBook Pro with 16GB, I use Parallels (v.9 right now), and have set 8GB for MacOS (10.9.1 right now) and 8GB for Windows (Win7sp1 right now), and am quite content with that. I float back and forth on various Win/Mac applications, so Parallels with that configuration works fine for me.

      The one challenge I experience comes when I am doing demos and trying to project in a “mirrored” display (computer screen duplicated via a projector). Under mirroring, the Mac side is fine but, on every projector I have used, I have been unable to get the Win side to go any higher than ~900×650. The only way I have been able to get good resolution of Windows apps through a projector is not by “mirroring” but by “extending.” Under this route, both OSs show high resolution crisply. So now I just use “extending,” and it works fine.

      • dashiell says:

        Very useful comment and good to know. I just set up a 15 inch retina macbook pro with 16GB RAM and 256 GB sad, using parallels and win 8, and archives 10.2. I was very surprised at how fast it performs, faster than an older I7 win machine with 8GB ram, running off an 2TB HD. I opened an arc map package, no problem, lots of layers and images.
        The major problem I encountered was the variability and weirdness of font and mouse arrow sizes, compared to running under windows. I found another tip that said to try Windows compatibility process, and using that a few times I seemed to get a combination which works pretty good. I am running the retina at max resolution and it is fantastic.
        So far, so good.

    • dashiell says:

      See my other post. I like the setup on the macbook so much I a thinking of getting a 27 inch iMac with the 5k display, and not bothering with a new win 10 machine to replace my 5-year old one. There are many features of arcgis I do not use, so I cannot say that it performs flawlessly on a mac, in Parallels, but for my “normal and typical ” use to export to arcpad, import from arcade, georectify, edit, print, I have had no problems. I use Yosemite, Parallels 10, Win 8.