How to create a free Windows 10 Virtual Machine on macOS Catalina or Big Sur

Edit 6/20/23: Since writing this, I’ve switched to an Apple silicon Mac. While these instructions should still be relevant for Intel based Macs, 9to5Mac has created an excellent tutorial on how to create a free Windows 11 Virtual Machine on Apple silicon Macs here. My only note is that in step 7, the instant you see the desired ISO appear in your downloads and it says it’s ~5GB in size, immediately force quit Parallels. Otherwise, Parallels will quickly remove it to continue its own undesired installation.

Goal: Create a Windows 10 virtual machine on macOS to run Windows programs like Visual Studio.

Note: I created this tutorial for students at my community college who have switched to distance learning and no longer have access to PCs which are necessary for some computer science classes. The free copy of Windows 10 provided in this tutorial should be used for evaluation only. Similar tutorials already exist, but here I will demonstrate every step start to finish for those not already familiar with virtualization.

This tutorial requires macOS 10.15 or newer, 30GB of free disk space. A quad-core Intel processor and at least 4GB of RAM is preferable. This tutorial has only been tested on macOS 11.1. See more FAQs below the tutorial.

Obtain a Free Personal Use License for VMware Fusion

  1. Use Google Chrome to visit VMware’s official website here. I’ve had issues using Safari to complete the registration.
  2. On the right side of the page, click “Create an Account.”
  3. Enter your name and email address, then press continue.
  4. Continue the registration process on the next page. For “Company or organization,” type your full name.
  5. If you are concerned about your personal data, view the privacy policy linked at the bottom of the registration page.
  6. Agree with the terms of use, privacy policy, and license agreement. Then opt-out of email communications from VMware. Press “Sign Up.”
  7. You will be asked to verify your email address. Click the link you received in the confirmation email and sign in with the credentials you just created if asked.
  8. After activating your account, return to the original page here.
  9. If you are not automatically logged in, select “I Have an Account” on the right and sign in.
  10. Select License & Download in the tabs at the bottom left. Copy your entire 25 character license key (including hyphens) to your clipboard.
  11. Then click “Manually Download.” If the button does not work, make sure you are using Google Chrome.

Obtaining Windows 10

  1. Visit Microsoft’s website here to download a copy of Windows 10.
  2. Press “Select edition” and select “Windows 10” (the only option). Then press confirm.
  3. Select your desired language and press confirm again.
  4. Important: Click “64-bit Download.” 32-bit virtual machines are no longer supported on macOS.

Installing VMware Fusion

  1. Open the .dmg file that was downloaded. Then, double click the VMware Fusion icon to begin installation.
  2. When prompted, enter your computer password. Installation will begin automatically.
  3. Continue with onscreen instructions. When prompted, paste the license key you copied earlier. If you are having trouble finding it, you should have received an email with a copy of it.
  4. Once installation is complete, you should see an empty list of Virtual Machines (since you have not created any yet).

Create a Windows 10 Virtual Machine

  1. Press the add (+) button in the top left, then press “New” to create a new virtual machine.
  2. Drag the Windows 10 .iso file into the section labeled “Install from disc or image,” then press Continue.
  3. Enter a name and password for the account you are creating. Leave the product key box blank. Select “Windows 10 Home” under Windows version. Press Continue, then Continue Without Key.
  4. Select More Seamless
  5. The default settings should be sufficient for your current needs. Feel free to press customize settings and add more RAM or vCPU cores if necessary.
  6. Press Finish, then save the virtual machine somewhere on your computer.
  7. The virtual machine will now start up like you are installing Windows for the first time on a new computer.
  8. Complete the installation process before closing VMware.

To return to your virtual machine later, open VMware Fusion and double click “Windows 10 x64.” Thats it!

FAQs and Notes

Why not use VirtualBox?

VirtualBox is a great open source alternative to VMware. In some ways, it offers superior customization and features, but tends to be more complicated to use. Also, since the release of macOS Catalina, its installation process often fails on the first attempt. I believe VMware Fusion is more user-friendly, so it is more suitable for this tutorial.

This is a user-created tutorial. I am not affiliated with VMware or Microsoft.

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