An Office Without Windows

eLABorations: CodeWeavers' Wine-based CrossOver Office brings Linux versatility to the corporate desktop--sort of.

Ive written in the past about how Ive come to prefer KDE to Windows as a desktop environment (see www.eweek.com/article/0,3658,s=1870&a=18274,00.asp). I find KDE more widely configurable than Windows, and I think that the Windows interface gives short shrift to the command line—which, in many cases, is the shortest route to completing a given task.

However, I depend on Outlook and Exchange for my messaging and Word for the stories I write. So regardless of my interface preferences, my Microsoft Office dependencies keep me booted into Windows most of the time—just as similar dependencies in workplaces around the world keep open OSes like Linux booted out of the enterprise.

This is general problem that Wine, the open-source Windows API implementation with a recursive antonym for a handle (Wine Is Not an Emulator) was born to solve, and the specific scenario that Codeweavers Inc.s Wine-based CrossOver Office 1.0 is designed to address.

CrossOver Office, which became available last week at a price of $54.95 per user, enables users to install and run Microsoft Office 97 and 2000, as well as Lotus Notes R5.

While Wine users have previously been able to run some of these applications with varying levels of success (see http://appdb.codeweavers.com/appbrowse.php for details), CrossOver Office smoothes out some of the kinks specific to these applications.

I tested CrossOver Office on systems running Red Hat Linux 7.2 and SuSE Linux 7.3, and experienced pretty good results, especially with Outlook 2000. CrossOver Office does not support Office XP, nor does it work with FrontPage or Access.

There are other ways to access mail and PIM data from Exchange—server-based computing environments and Ximians very nice Evolution client jump to mind as two such options. However, server-based computing requires a constant and reasonably speedy network connection, which can be a rare luxury while on the road. Evolution faithfully clones (and even extends) Outlooks feature set, but it requires that Outlook Web Access be enabled in Exchange—a feature that our IT department has disabled out of security concerns.

As a result of these limitations, running Outlook on a Linux system via CrossOver Office has worked best for me so far.

My experiences with CrossOver Office and Word have so far been a mixed bag, particularly where fonts are involved. Ive been fiddling with the combo for a week now, and Ive yet to get all the fonts in our standard story template to show up.

I guess Ill be writing from my XP partition until Ive tweaked those issues into submission.

Id love to hear about your experiences with Wine and other Windows-workarounds. Drop me a line at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.