April 29, 2005

Review: CrossOver Office 4.2

Author: Jem Matzan

Last month CodeWeavers Inc. released version 4.2 of its WINE-based Windows binary compatibility application, three months after the previous release. If you've used CrossOver Office in the past, you won't see much different with the new version. Most of its enhancements and updates are internal, adding better support for more applications and some bug fixes in the installer and menu creation utility.

While the original release allowed Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes to run on GNU/Linux, CrossOver Office now supports many more programs. There are varying degrees of functionality for many of them -- some flawless, some usable, some barely able to be installed. Check out the compatibility list, and keep in mind that not all of these programs have been updated to reflect changes made in version 4.2, as most entries rely on user and volunteer feedback for CodeWeavers' rating system.

In 4.2 CodeWeavers specifically concentrated on Thomson EndNote 8, Intuit Quicken 2005, and Apple iTunes 4.70. It also added bug fixes to enhance compatibility with Microsoft Excel, Outlook, NetMeeting, IBM Lotus Notes, Apple QuickTime, and others.

Several bugs were also fixed in the CrossOver Office utilities that create menus. Many of these problems were specific to GNOME and certain distributions that change the way users modify menus.

Putting 4.2 to the test

One of the Windows programs I miss in Linux is Corel WordPerfect 12. In previous encounters with CrossOver Office I was unable to get WordPerfect to install or work reasonably well. CrossOver Office 4.2 not only installed WordPerfect Office, but WordPerfect 12 worked almost perfectly. The only tweak I had to make, as documented here, was to disable the "enhanced menu" option within WordPerfect. In 15 minutes of opening large (130,000+ words) documents and navigating the menus trying to make it crash, I didn't discover any problems with WordPerfect at all. I could only run WordPerfect once per session. In other words, I couldn't start WP12 more than once without restarting the X server, even if I tried using the CrossOver tools to simulate a Windows reboot or reset the software.

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The usual Microsoft Office XP programs worked as well as I remember them working in the past, which is to say that I found no problems with them.

I tested CrossOver Office 4.2 on two Linux distributions: 32-bit Fedora Core 3, and 64-bit Gentoo (neither Gentoo Linux nor 64-bit GNU/Linux in general is officially supported by CodeWeavers). Everything worked perfectly on FC3, but with Gentoo I had trouble getting CrossOver to add menu items to the GNOME 2.6 menu structure. I fixed part of the problem by deleting the ~/.gnome2/vfolders directory, which erased the two custom menu entries I had. That gave me the CrossOver tools in a menu folder called "Other," but it would not add individual Windows applications. When I tried to manually add the menus from the command line by running ~/cxoffice/bin/create_icon --crossover, I noticed several errors relating to the XML:DOM and XML:Parser Perl extensions. Re-emerging them did not change anything. I tried re-emerging Perl with threading support (as this is a dual processor system), but that didn't seem to make any difference either. KDE menus in KDE 3.3 were added without any trouble.


CrossOver Office is available in two editions: Standard and Professional. The two are essentially the same, except Professional has multi-user support and special deployability functions. Professional is designed for businesses, Standard for home users. There is also a CrossOver Office Server Edition, which allows CrossOver Office to run on thin clients.

Rights vs. tools redux

CrossOver Office is the kind of software product that, as a GNU/Linux user, I hope to never need to use. It's a proprietary software application that allows proprietary Windows software to work on GNU/Linux. Rights-wise, it's a double curse. On the other hand, it just may be the tool that you need to switch over your friends and family to GNU/Linux.

Virtual machines a la VMWare and Win4Lin are usually more expensive than CrossOver Office and require a Windows license to run a Windows virtual machine. That can put your operating system costs at $200 or more. CrossOver Office is cheaper and doesn't require a Windows license, but it's more limited in what it can do. With a virtual machine, you can run any Windows program without any trouble, although system performance may not be as good as a native Windows installation. With CrossOver Office, you're limited to the programs that it currently supports -- certainly not every Windows program under the sun, but most of the important ones do work to some degree.

CrossOver Office could also become more limited in the future despite its growing software compatibility list. What if Microsoft and other proprietary companies decided to amend their license agreements to be platform- or operating system-specific? It would violate the license agreement to run the program through CrossOver Office -- or WINE, or any other API emulator -- on GNU/Linux, Solaris, *BSD, or other OSes.

The future of CrossOver Office

I spoke to CodeWeavers COO Jon Parshall and asked him what we can expect in the next version of CrossOver Office, 5.0, due this summer.

"Our next release will include support for Microsoft Office 2003, as well as newer versions of Visio, QuickBooks, and Quicken. Other applications are determined by pledges," he said, referring to the pledge system integrated into the CodeWeavers site. This system allows users to pledge money or any number of CrossOver Office licenses to influence CodeWeavers to work harder on improving support for a specific application.

I asked Parshall if those pledges usually come through when the pledged application becomes supported. "We have mixed results with pledges. Some have been honored, but we typically do not recover all of the money pledged -- not by a long shot. But it helps us determine market demand."

Most potential customers will probably find themselves in the same boat I'm in: there are a few Windows programs that you'd like to have, but not all of them work properly with CrossOver Office yet. The product's license agreement allows CrossOver Office customers to get free upgrades for six months. Looking back at the frequency of CrossOver Office releases, this could mean two or three free upgrades before another license must be purchased. Having a few free upgrades gives us hope that the programs we want will soon be supported -- or at least work well enough to use.


CrossOver Office is an important program; it can make or break a decision to switch to GNU/Linux. While the software's WINE core is available for free and licensed under the GNU General Public License, it requires a significant amount of tweaking to get it to work properly. WINE also does not yet have the capability of adding menu items for newly installed Windows programs, nor does it have the other utilities that CrossOver Office has. WINE may be fine for experienced GNU/Linux gurus, but it is all but useless to less technical people. That's where CrossOver Office comes in, and it fills that niche nicely.

Purpose Migration tool/API emulator
Manufacturer CodeWeavers
Architectures x86
License Proprietary; the core is governed by the GNU General Public License
Market Home, small business, and enterprise users migrating to GNU/Linux
Price (retail) $39 for Standard, $75 for Professional
Previous version CrossOver Office 4.1
Product website Click here


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