One of the most common reasons I hear most from people that they cant consider a Linux desktop is that they cant run their favorite Windows application on it.
With CodeWeavers Inc.s latest CrossOver Office 5, you can run many of the most popular Windows applications on Linux.
CodeWeavers has been doing this for sometime now. Our Labs folks were pretty happy with Version 3.0.1, and its gotten a lot better since then.
How much better? Todays CrossOver Office 5.0 supported application list includes Microsoft Office 2003, XP, 2000 and 97, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Visio, Lotus Notes 6.5.1 and 5.0, FrameMaker, iTunes, and the one Windows program I cant live without: Intuit Quicken.
Thats easy for CodeWeavers to claim, so I turned to two of my Linux systems to see how well the newest CrossOver delivers the goods.
The first system ran SUSE 10 on an Insignia 300a, Best Buys house brand desktop PC. This computer comes with a 2.8GHz Pentium IV, 512MB of RAM, and an Ultra ATA/100, 60GB hard drive with 7200 RPM.
My other test box was a HP Pavilion a350n. On it, I was running Xandros 3.0 Business Edition. This system has a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of dual-channel DDR333 SDRAM and a 120GB SATA (Serial ATA) hard drive.
In short, these are both decent, midrange systems. Both also had XP Pro partitions so I could get a rough idea of how the applications fared running on both Linux and XP on the same hardware.
For my rounds of testing, I used CrossOver Office Professional. For individual users, however, theres little practical difference between Professional and Standard.
The Professional comes with 12 months of Level 2 support, while Standard only has six months of Level 3—essentially installation-only support. Professional also has multi-user and network deployment options.
CrossOver Office is based on Wine. Wine, in turn, is an implementation of the Windows API on top of the Unix/Linux operating system family.
You can also, of course, use Wine, which after years of development is only now being beta tested, to run Windows programs. It requires a fair amount of technical expertise to get Windows programs properly installed. So, I recommend only Linux mavens who also know a fair amount about Windows software try it.
CrossOver Office, however, is extremely simple to set up. The total installation time was less than five minutes.
Life gets more interesting, though, when you start installing Windows programs. For the most part, this works pretty much the same way as installing the program in Windows. The only difference is that you must invoke CrossOver Office to run the installation CD.
Installation and Version
CrossOver is also a bit picky about its installation media. You cant, for example, easily install a program from a directory tree on a network drive or non-standard distribution DVD or CD.
In my case, I ran headlong into that problem when I tried programs from my MSDN (Microsoft Software Development Network) DVDs. These disks contain dozens of Microsoft programs on each disk. There is a workaround that sometimes works with this problem. With a standard installation CD or ISO image, however, the process runs flawlessly.
Once installed, for the most part, the supported Windows programs run well on Linux. For several weeks now, I have been running Adobe Dreamweaver MX, Office 2003, Office 2000, Quicken 2005, IE 6, a variety of IE helper applications and iTunes 4.9, on both Linux systems.
For most day-to-day purposes, all these programs work well.
Surprisingly, I found there to be little difference between the applications performance running on Linux with CrossOver Office and on XP. Indeed, I found some applications, such as Word 2000, to actually run faster on Linux.
CrossOver can pull this off because its not running as a Windows virtual machine, the way Virtual PC 7 does on Mac OS X. Instead, by simply providing an API and using Linux services for printing, sound and so on, users dont pay a performance hit for running the application.
Where things can get tricky is the question of exactly how well a particular version of a particular application runs.
For example, iTunes 4.9 runs well, except for two big problem areas, on CrossOver. ITunes 5 and higher, though, are much less stable.
The aforementioned iTunes 4.9 problems, an inability to rip songs off a CD or to sync with an iPod, are showstoppers for some people. Since I use networked music directories, thats not a problem for me. When I need to rip or sync, I simply use my Mac Minis copy of iTunes 6.
For the bread and butter work applications—Office, Dreamweaver MX, and Quicken—CrossOver works flawlessly.
Again, though, there are exceptions. Dreamweaver MX runs well. Dreamweaver MX 2004 dies like a dog. You must make sure youre running the supported version or youre likely to run into real trouble.
Some programs also dont have their full functionality. The most noteworthy example of this is Outlook. While it works fine as a mail client, if you want it to act as a groupware client with Exchange, youre out of luck.
While CodeWeavers is working hard to fix this problem, the company admits that, technically, its very, very difficult to do.
The Pure Linux Solution
to Version Problems”>
There is a pure Linux way around this. And that is to use Evolution, the Novell groupware and e-mail client, with the Exchange Connector. With this, and either an Exchange 2000 or 2003 server with Outlook Web Access set up, you can use Evolution as a complete Outlook replacement.
This approach is slower than using Outlook, since the Connector acts as a middleware program that translates Exchanges MAPI (Messaging API) calls into ones that Evolution can work with and vice versa.
On the other hand, you avoid Outlooks almost endless security holes.
The bottom line is that before committing to using CrossOver Office, you really need to check to make sure that the versions of the applications you need to run will indeed run.
Short of checking yourself, CodeWeavers provides a good guide to what runs and what doesnt.
The flip side is that you need the right Linux drivers in place to run some applications. iTunes, for example, sounds great on my Linux systems.
Thats because I use the standard ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) drivers and libraries on all my Linux systems set to OSS (Open Sound System) compatibility. Lest you get too wound up about the jargon, thats a standard setting on many Linux desktop distributions.
But if you use Esound (Enlightenment Sound Daemon), a sound server commonly found in GNOME and Enlightenment environments, youre not going to hear a thing. The best solution, for now anyway, is to disable Esound.
To see these problems before you run into them, I highly recommend bookmarking the FAQ.
CrossOver also has a new feature called bottles. These are virtual environments representing different versions of Windows. At this time, there are two of them: Windows 2000 and 98. Some programs run well in one, but not the other.
While this expands the total number of Windows programs that CrossOver supports, it also comes with one problem: A Windows application in one bottle cant interoperate with a program in another bottle.
Say youre running Internet Explorer 6 in a Windows 98 bottle and you want to cut and paste some text from a page into a Word 2003 document, which is running in a 2000 bottle. Under Windows, this is completely transparent. Under CrossOver Office, it looks like it should work, but it doesnt.
If this sounds like getting your applications working just the way you want them can be a chore, well, yes, it can be.
In my experience, though, CodeWeavers gives good support. Even with Standard, where once youre set up, youre basically on your own, I found the CrossOver Office discussion lists to be extremely helpful with several engineers checking in on a regular basis.
All that being said, once you do have your applications running, they run very, very well.
How well? I plan on keeping Internet Explorer 6 (for those pesky sites that insist on IE), Quicken, iTunes and Dreamweaver on my main SUSE Linux system with CrossOver Office. In short, its good enough that its become one of my regularly used software packages.
eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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