March 27, 2002

MS Office runs on Linux now

- by Tina Gasperson -
How many times have you heard, "Linux won't be viable on the desktop until it can run MS Office?" Now it can. Are we satisfied yet?

Codeweavers is the company known for its work with the Open Source Wine project. Wine emulates the Windows environment and comes with just about every Linux distribution. Performance has been spotty until now. Today, Codeweavers announced the 1.0 release of Crossover Office.

This product only makes sense for people who already have a Microsoft Office CD.
If you don't, stick with StarOffice or pay Microsoft USD $370 plus tax for the
suite. But if you do have Office 97 or 2000 laying around, Codeweaver's
Crossover Office will let you fire up Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access in
Linux, and even surf the Internet with Explorer, or check your mail with
Outlook.

The test subject

An RC1 beta of Crossover Office that Codeweavers sent us in advance of the final release, with MS Office 2000.

The Testers

Norb Cartagena, a Linux.com staffer;
Hetz ben Hamo, a KDE developer and Slashdot contributor (HeUnique on Slashdot); and
me.

Hardware:

1. HP Omnibook 4150b with PIII 500 Mhz processor, 256k cache, 128M RAM, 15GB
hard drive, Red Hat 7.2, KDE and GNOME
2. Generic desktop AMD K6 450 Mhz processor, 64k cache, 192M RAM, 6GB Linux
partition, Mandrake 8.1, KDE
3. Generic desktop Pentium IV 1.5Ghz processor, nVidia Geforce 2 card, 512MB
RAM 40GB hard drive, Red Hat 7.2, KDE

Installation

Codeweavers has done well with the installation procedure. Save the install file
in your home directory. Type "sh install-crossover-1.0.0.sh." Click, click,
boom -- the base application puts itself right where it belongs. Unless you
need to install for a network, just keep everything under your home directory.
Once that's in, you put your Office CD in and click again. It's automated. It was slow on our computers, but nothing you wouldn't expect from
an app based on Wine. Hetz had an easy time with it
as well.

setupscreen-t.png
If you've ever installed a Windows program, you won't see anything unexpected
here, until you get to the reboot part. Ever noticed how you don't have to
reboot Linux when you install programs? With Crossover Office you don't have to
reboot even when you're installing Windows stuff. Crossover has a way of instantaneously tricking the installer into
thinking that the computer has rebooted.

Once the MS Office installer has finished, Crossover takes over again to let you
establish file associations, and then you're done. From now on, you'll have the
options "open Office document" and "new Office document" in your menu. You'll
also have the big blue "e" icon on your desktop, and even an icon for Windows Media Player.

newsforge-t.pngThe Skinny (what works and what doesn't)

Not everything works. And this is a beta we're talking about, not the
actual 1.0 release. Nevertheless, the basic
functions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel are there.

File manipulation -- Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were all adept at
opening, creating, changing, and saving files. Access has issues - neither
straight data mode nor the wizard would allow me to create a database. Too many
errors. And Norb had other problems. Of Word he says, "The fonts have no form
of anti-aliasing, so they generally look like crap." Fonts weren't perfect for
me, but they didn't look too bad. Hetz says fonts will look better if you recompile freetype with fonts hinting enabled. That's a free tip for those of you with time on your hands.

wordfonts-t.pngPrinting -- Both Hetz and I were able to print using the default Wine
Postscript Printer driver. Here's where I had font problems - the screen fonts didn't
translate well to the printed page. This is probably not a fault of the program
however, but a lack of installed fonts on my system.

Extras -- Basics work best with this implementation of Crossover Office.

  • Don't try to download clip art galleries; the system doesn't
    automatically install them and then Word or PowerPoint or Excel hangs waiting
    for an install that will never complete.
  • Something to giggle over: WordArt
    in Linux. This plugin worked fine for me with no slowdowns or "sticky" screens.

wordart-t.pngMail -- Outlook Express didn't work for me or for Hetz, and Norb didn't even want to mess with it. "Maybe on a
system I didn't need, but NOT on a mission critical environment," he says.

Internet -- The most intriguing part of Crossover Office was Internet
Explorer and everything that goes with it. It worked for all of us, and even
allowed us to install a few extras. Hetz installed the Microsoft Java Virtual
Machine, and I got JRE downloaded and installed. At first I thought the
installer was hanging, but I saw a little icon, the typical one for
auto-install apps in Windows, in the lower left of my screen, floating on top
of the intersection of the browser and the panel. I thought it was a funky
bug, but just out of curiosity I double-clicked on it, and it quickly installed
JRE and integrated it.

outlook-t.png
I couldn't get any other programs to put the installer icon on my screen, but I
got tantalizingly close to installing LimeWire for Windows before it locked up
on me.

General Issues -- Whenever Crossover Office had been running for a while
or I had too many windows open at once, it always started to run very slow and
eventually to hang or otherwise malfunction (hey! just like the real Windows
environment!). Sometimes, a graphic would "stick" to the screen, or I would be
unable to start a Windows application. Usually, by closing all the apps and
then running "killall wineloader" I was able to start over again with a clean
slate. After working with the program for a while, I found that by keeping just one or two apps open instead of running full throttle, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint lasted much longer.

The sound works in Windows Media Player, but it take the total
volume down by about half -- my maximum volume is barely loud enough to
comfortably hear in Crossover.

There's a strange refresh problem in the main toolbar of Word. The toolbar disappears and reappears multiple times when the
application first starts, and then it finally
settles down.

Observations -- "It's not as slow as Corel's Office, but certainly no
match for StarOffice," says Norb. "Good to be able to use MS Word in Linux,
though."

excel-t.png
"Codeweavers has done some incredible work by hacking wine to let you run
Office 97/2000 on your favorite Linux distribution," says Hetz. "However, lots
of people won't like this product. If you're using vi/emacs as your word
processor, or you just fell in love with Latex and you're doing all your emails in
mutt -- then you don't need this at all (unless you want to support Codeweavers
-- they DO give all of their work back to the LGPL Wine tree). If you're a
corporate user, or you're used to working with Office 2000, and can't live
without it, or you don't like the Linux alternatives -- then this product is for
you."

I agree with both of these assessments. Crossover Office performs admirably on the
basics, but if you're a power user you won't want to throw out your other
productivity suite applications yet. Crossover creates a nice incentive to switch to Linux for
Windows users who don't want to play the Microsoft operating system game anymore. If that were all Crossover Office accomplished, it would be good. For current Linux users,
Norb is right, StarOffice is better right now simply because it is more stable, and because you don't have to own MS Office. Stability will come with future releases -- MS Office won't.

Yet, being able to use Internet
Explorer and the associated plugins is a plus, and could make the
$54.95 price tag worth it for many users.

This is big stuff. Codeweavers takes me right to the best of Microsoft, and it's done quicker, smarter, and more securely than Lindows.

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