- By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols -
You say you love Linux, but you absolutely must have your Microsoft
Office and Quicken, too? Well, you're in luck, NetTraverse's latest Win4Lin 4.0
Workstation lets you run Office XP, Quicken, Lotus Notes, PhotoShop
and a host of other common-and not so common-office programs.
Of course, there are other ways to bring Microsoft Windows to Linux, and
recently Codeweavers, with Crossover Office, is providing a way for Microsoft Office
lovers to use Office, and a few other programs including the Lotus
Notes 5.0x client, on their Linux machines. That said, for stability,
speed, and sheer range of Windows applications supported, it's hard
to beat Win4Lin 4.0.
Win4Lin enables you to run Windows 95, 98, 98 Second Edition (SE) or
Windows ME on any of its supported Linux distributions. To do so, of
course, you actually need to have an installable copy of Windows in
hand. An update Windows disc won't do the job any
more than it would on a PC without an operating system. You can also
forget about installing NT, 2000 or XP.
For my money, your best choice is Windows 98SE. ME will run just as
well as ME ever does, which is just another way of saying you're
better off with 98SE.
On the Linux side, you will need to use one of NeTraverse's modified
kernels or modify the kernel yourself. Some people have asked that
NeTraverse just issue a modified kernel for every Linux implementation
that comes down the pike. Because that's expensive and NeTraverse just
announced its support for UnitedLinux, that's not going to happen. In any case, with support for most popular desktop Linuxes, the vast majority of Linux users will never even notice.
If you already have Win4Lin 3, it's an easy upgrade path to version 4. You
will, however, need to purchase a new installation license. This
costs $49.99. If you're new to Win4Lin, you can download and run it
for $89.99. A boxed version is available for $99.99.
Whichever way you get a copy, installation is a breeze. I installed
Win4Lin on both a HP Pavilion running Red Hat 7.1 with a 1.4 GHz
Athlon XP and an HP Pavilion with SuSE 8.0 and a 1GHz Pentium III.
With the Red Hat machine, I set up fist Windows ME and then 98SE. On
the SuSE system, I stuck with 98SE.
Once Windows was on these machines though, I did run into some
customization problems. For the most part, these were commonplace
Windows ME/98SE problems that I've seen before in ordinary Windows
The one exception was in setting the machine to use a Virtual Network
(VNET) so that I could more easily use the Windows Network
Neighborhood to hook up to my network drives and printers. My problem
was that I couldn't connect with my network Dynamic Host
Configuration Protocol (DHCP) IP address server. A quick look through
the release notes quickly set me right. In any case, had I chosen to
give the VNET adapter a static IP, I wouldn't have run into any
trouble at all.
To see what Win4Lin could really do, I decided to take the logical
step of installing my full application workload on the SuSE
system and work on it for a week.
So I installed all of Office 2000, except Outlook;
FrontPage 2002 from Office XP; Pegasus Mail 4.01; Adobe Acrobat 5;
RealPlayer 6; Adobe PhotoShop 5.5; Lotus Organizer 6.0; Internet
Explorer 5.5 SP2; Macromedia DreamWeaver 4.0 and that blast from word
processing's past, WordStar 7.0.
But, especially with the Microsoft products, that was only the
start. I also had to update and patch many of these programs to block
security holes. This can often go wrong when you're running one
operating system on top of another, but Win4Lin delivered and
installed the updates like a champ.
In fact, this is when I noticed one of the advantages of running Win4Lin with 98SE
over running 98SE directly on the hardware. Shutting down and booting the Windows operating system went much faster on Linux than Win98SE did on the same system running by its self.
The real proof of any system though is how well it does when handling your day-to-day work, not just looking good in a benchmark suite. Once more, Win4Lin proved itself a winner. Over a week, the system never froze -- although Windows had locked up on that very same hardware running the same workload. I can't claim that everyone will find Win98SE more stable on Linux, but that was my experience.
I also found the system to be very fast. The total system RAM was
256MBs, and with this edition of Win4Lin, I can access up to 128MBs
of RAM. This made a real difference when running such memory hungry
applications as PhotoShop and DreamWeaver at the same time, which is
something I do often. While not as fast as they would have been
running natively on the hardware, they were perfectly usable.
And, for my day-to-day work combination of Word, Excel, Lotus
Organizer, Pegasus Mail, and Internet Explorer, I didn't really
notice that Linux was also running ... if it wasn't for the fact that I
also had my typical Linux application package of KDE 3.0, Netscape
6.2, Konqueror, elm, and vi running.
Now to make Win4Lin perform like this, you do need to pay attention
to the release notes. In particular, you must enable backing store in
XFree86-4.0.x. In most distributions the default is to turn this off,
but turning it on gives Win4Lin a real graphics kick in the pants.
You may also want to give Windows access to more memory using the
winsetup configuration set up utility located in /usr/bin. By
default, for example, Win98SE only has access to 24MBs of RAM. Simply
adding more RAM to your Window session may not actually help you,
though. As is always the case with system performance tuning, you
should read all the instructions and not simply assume that the
maximum values are the best values.
For my purposes, daily office work, Win4Lin is a keeper.
It may not, however, be for you. While it now has support for wheeled
mice, it still lacks support for USB, FireWire, DirectX, CD-writing
and many other useful, but not necessarily essential, hardware and
But, if what you want is a solid way to bring most Windows office and
home applications to either your desk or to your workplace, Win4Lin is for