Running the Windows version of Photoshop Elements (PSE) on a Mac

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After two years of great frustration with Adobe over Photoshop Elements (PSE) on Macs I’ve decided to look into two potential alternatives: (1) the Apple Photos program that is included as part of the Mac operating system, and (2) running the Windows version of PSE under a virtual machine on a Mac.  Because others might be considering this, I thought I would post what I have found so far.  

This posting will cover running the Windows version of PSE on a virtual machine on the Mac.  A separate posting will discuss my experience with the Apple Photos program. 

I don’t claim to have checked all the features of PSE running on a virtual machine on a Mac; I’m just looking at the major things that are important to me.   

I welcome comments and corrections from others who have investigated this.

My problems started when I bought a 5K iMac (5120x2880 pixels; Retina screen).  Coupled with the capabilities of PSE it should produce excellent results.  PSE 9 (which is what I had) installed but would not run on OS X Yosemite.  PSE 9 was a few years out of date, so it wasn’t a surprise.  So I bought PSE 13, the then-current version for Mac.  It turns out that on the 5K iMac (but not other Macs) the organizer runs but the editor will run for a few minutes then stall with the “spinning beach ball” delay every time you try to execute a command.  This is a fatal bug; editing is impossible.  But I did find a work-around: close the organizer when you are using the editor and the editor runs fine.  This is so obviously an Adobe bug that I expected an easy fix to be released soon.  Its two years later and Adobe hasn’t even acknowledged the problem. There are other bugs in the Mac version of the product.  Like the bug with the organizer, these are annoyances that all impact the workflow in a negative way. 

Since I began trying to use PSE on a Mac, Adobe has released two further versions of PSE and Apple has released two further versions of its operating system.  Does my PSE 13 work on MacOS Sierra (the latest OS)?  It’s hard to say because Adobe doesn’t actually support the product, at least by telling you what version works on what operating system.  As part of my testing I did upgrade the 5K iMac to MacOS Sierra (12.2.2) and PSE 13 has the same problems.  I didn’t try PSE 15 because I’m not willing to pay Adobe more money even it does work.

My trial of the Windows version of PSE on a Mac used the Parallels Desktop for Mac program to allow me to install Windows and run Windows programs.  I decided to use Parallels because it allows Windows and MacOS to run side by side and even communicate with one another.  (The other alternative was to use Apple’s Bootcamp, but that installs Windows as a separate operating system on your Mac and you can run either MacOS or Windows but not both at the same time.)  I installed Windows 7 in my case, but Parallels supports all the other current variants of Windows as well. 

Parallels is an outstanding program.  I am very impressed with how well it integrates Windows into a Mac environment.  There are some techie tricks for setting it up, getting your printers right, etc., and most of them have to do with common annoyances of Windows.  I’m not going to go into how to set up Parallels and Windows in this posting, but if you want to know more ask here and I can create a separate posting. 

The Windows version of PSE 13 runs correctly in this configuration: Windows 7 as a virtual machine under Parallels Desktop for Mac on a 5K iMac running MacOS Sierra (10.12.2).  The performance is excellent and the problem of the editor freezing when the organizer is open does not occur.  The other problems unique to the Mac version of PSE are also not present.  I have it set up so the Windows PSE icon is in the MacOS Dock.  I click it and PSE comes up in its own window (running in Windows) and I never see the Windows Desktop.

This is an excellent solution.  However, there are a few things to be aware of:

  1. You have to buy Parallels and a copy of Windows, so it’s not a cheap solution.

  2. PSE is running in a Windows window, so the controls look like Windows and not like Mac (e.g., the menu bar – File – Edit – View – etc. – is at the top of the window, not the top of the entire display).  But the PSE controls are identical to the Mac version. 

  3. You can print multiple photos on one page, and do it from the Organizer instead of being forced to use the Editor in the Mac version, and only print one photo on a page even if more than one can fit.  This is a major annoyance of the Mac version.

  4. Parallels is smart enough to know when you plug a USB device in and it asks you whether you want to use that device in MacOS or in Windows.  This is very helpful – I can even plug my iPhone in and tell Parallels to connect it to Windows.  That way PSE sees it as a camera and I can take photos off of it directly without having to go through iTunes or another Apple program.  That’s even more useful with an iPhone that isn’t set up to synchronize with a PC or Mac other than the one you are running PSE on.

  5. If you create catalogs and download photos entirely within the Windows version of PSE then you don’t have to worry about where catalogs and photos are stored.  If, as is more likely, you want to move catalogs already on your Mac from the Mac version of PSE to the Windows version then there are some complexities you should be aware of.  The catalogs from Mac PSE will work on Windows PSE – the same files are readable and you’ll get all your version sets, tags, etc.  But you will have to move those catalogs somewhere that Windows PSE can find them.  Also, you will have to go through the process of reconnecting all the photo files in the catalog, also so Windows PSE can find them.  This happens separately for each folder that the catalog refers to.  That can be cumbersome, but it only has to happen once.  As with setting up the Parallels program, I’m not going into the details unless someone wants more information.

  6. Once you move a catalog to Windows PSE on your Mac it’s prohibitively difficult to go back to the Mac version and retain whatever changes you made to that catalog.  I recommend that you set up and try a test catalog first in case you don’t like this configuration.

  7. You can drag and drop a file from the Windows PSE window onto the Mac Desktop, which is very convenient, thanks to Parallels.  BUT Caution: If you just drag and drop, the file isn’t copied to the Mac desktop, it is moved.  That means it isn’t in the folder where it originally resided.  So Windows PSE now thinks it’s missing.  To correctly drag and drop press the Option key when dragging (look for the + sign at the destination), which will correctly copy the file to the Mac Desktop, leaving the original where it was.  You can also drag and drop into a Mac email message, which doesn’t seem to have this issue, but you should confirm that in your configuration if you try it.  I haven’t tried drag and drop onto the Windows Desktop because I’m keeping the Windows Desktop out of sight.

Bottom line:  Running PSE under Windows on a virtual machine under MacOS Sierra works very well.  It is an additional expense because you have to purchase a virtual machine environment like Parallels Desktop for Mac and purchase a license and media for whatever version of Windows you want to run.  There are some technical issues to correctly set up the virtual machine, and further technical details to transfer existing Mac catalogs to the Windows version on the same machine.  However, I found these one-time conversions to be an acceptable way to overcome the issues with PSE on Macs.  None of this has any impact on the fact that Adobe doesn’t support the Photoshop Elements product.

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Randy Levine

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Posted 3 years ago

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The thing you have to understand about apple is they don't try to support older software and expect users to buy new updated software when updating to a new version of mac os x.

So apple expects you to buy pse 15 which works with macOS Sierra and not try to stick with pse 13 which might not work with Sierra and never will be updated to do so.

You could have bought pse 15 for much less than spent on Parallels and a copy of Windows.
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Randy Levine

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I agree that Apple makes less of an effort than Microsoft to ensure that older programs work on new OS releases.  However, other software companies make more of an effort than Adobe to provide information and even fixes to recent products for their Mac customers.

I did try the Mac version of PSE 13 on Mac OS Sierra and it seemed to work the same as on OS X Yosemite - in other words it had a fatal bug on my 5K iMac.

I also tried the trial version of PSE 15 and it had the same bug (editor can't run if the organizer is open, as I described above), plus a few other annoyances.  So yes, I could have bought PSE 15 for less than buying Parallels + Windows 7, but I would have had to put up with the same two-year old bugs that Adobe has known about but hasn't addressed.  So for about $50 more than buying PSE 15 I get to use a version of PSE that doesn't have the flaws that their Mac version has.

I tried to be clear that this is my experience and that other may feel differently.  For example, the main bug seems to affect only 5K iMacs so if someone had, for example, a Mac laptop then they would probably want to take your suggestion.  I posted my experience here because there have been others on this forum asking about the problem of PSE on 5K iMacs and whether Adobe has fixed the product.