A Better Way to Run Windows Apps in Linux

Brooks: Win4Lin Workstation Edition 5.0 is one option that's worth evaluating for running Windows applications within Linux.

The state of software support for Linux has gotten pretty good—for me, its gotten good enough that the only Linux-unfriendly application for which I pine is the Launchcast streaming music service Ive mentioned in previous columns on Codeweavers Crossover Office and on app interoperability in general. However, my own business computing needs dont stray too far from the core, which OpenOffice, Evolution and Mozilla provide for very well.

My Crossover Office column drew a good deal of mail from readers stuck with particular Windows-only applications, and its likely that every Linux user encounters certain applications that they must or would like to run for which the Linux platform is persona non grata.

There are workarounds, however: The most obvious of these is maintaining a dual-boot system. Although I dont think setting up and using a dual-boot Windows-and-Linux system is a nightmare, its definitely a sizable hassle, and this sort of setup tends to discourage switching back and forth between the OSes. Whats more, if you want to run applications from both platforms concurrently, a dual-boot setup is totally unworkable.

Netraverses Win4Lin Workstation Edition 5.0, which Ive recently been testing, is one option thats worth evaluating for running Windows applications within Linux.

The $90 product enables Windows to live within an auto-resizing window on your Linux desktop. Inside that window, you can run standard Windows software such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft Office.

Once Win4Lin was installed, it worked well in my tests. Windows applications ran as I d expect them to, and the data and devices from my Linux system were pretty much all on hand. And yes, Launchcast streamed its tunes to me quite happily.

Entertainment options aside, the fact that Win4Lin enables Linux users to run Internet Explorer well may be one of its prime benefits. While your friendly local Linux desktop may support all component pieces of a given presentation, meeting or eLearning system (such as Java, Flash and HTML), Internet Explorer is often the sole supported platform for these sorts of services.

Win4Lin installation can be a bit tricky, since it required a change to my kernel. Win4Lin ships with hundreds of vendor-specific kernels and a number of generic ones that Netraverse has patched for Win4Lin, compiled and packaged in RPM form. (Check out the list of supported distributions here.) I could also apply Netraverses patches myself—which I did not test. Self-patching will likely be necessary if youre running a non-standard kernel.

The other tricky part of the installation is locating a Windows 9x or ME installation disk. Microsoft has left Windows 9x and ME to die—the next version of Office wont even run on those versions. According to Netraverse, the company is working on a Windows 2000/XP solution, but it hasnt announced a timeline for this. Until then, VMWares Workstation 4.0—which my colleague Francis Chu reviewed recently—offers a more OS-inclusive option.

Also tricky is that the most common form of Windows installation media seems to be the system restore disks that come with OEM systems, and those wont work for installing Win4Lin.

Whatre your workarounds for running Windows apps on Linux (assuming youre interested in running Linux at all)? Write to me at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.