August 29, 2001

Review: New Linux software runs Windows browser plugins

Author: JT Smith

- By Dan Berkes -
Officially concluding a four-month beta test on Tuesday afternoon, Minneapolis Linux development company CodeWeavers announced the availability of CrossOver Plugin 1.0. The software enables most browser plugins designed for Windows operating systems to be used for Linux, and also serves as a viewer for documents created with Microsoft Office.
The CrossOver Plugin was designed to work in conjunction with CodeWeavers Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator), a set of Open Source libraries that enable many Windows programs to run on Linux. It is a well-packaged set of proprietary extensions that allow various plugins to interface with Wine. My limited testing of the plugin showed that most Windows plugins worked, to some extent, with CrossOver. From the tone of the press release and official announcement, it seems that CodeWeavers is betting that most buyers will be interested in the two plugins that work nearly flawlessly with CrossOver: QuickTime and Shockwave.

There's nothing daunting about the installation of this program. It begins by typing those magic words:


The rest of the installation takes place in a point-and-click environment. It took me about three minutes from start to finish, and probably would have taken even less time if I wasn't interrupted by yet another interspecies battle taking place under my desk. There's nothing like warring cats and dogs to make a software evaluation all that much more interesting.

The installation merely gets CrossOver onto the disk of your Linux system. Installing and configuring individual plugins take extra steps, but fortunately there's not too many of those steps to take. Like the program itself, the process is hassle-free and can be done in seconds from a simple graphical user interface.

The first thing I installed after CrossOver was Apple's QuickTime program. The installer behaved much as it would on any Windows or Macintosh system, but I did chuckle over the QuickTime install program wanting to place its wares in C:/Program Files/QuickTime. I got an even bigger laugh when I discovered that the program would work just fine, even without changing the default destination!

Installation and configuration were so simple, in fact, that I tested the setup process on more than one computer just to be certain that this wasn't a fluke. It wasn't, although a few times I ran into a problems with Netscape not picking up file associations or recognizing the QuickTime plugin. Every time, entering a few bits of information in CrossOver's Association dialog frame solved the problem.

Installing and running Macromedia's Shockwave was just as easy. I lost about an hour of productivity last week when I encountered a couple of online arcade games due to this plugin.

I was impressed with how CrossOver handled unsupported programs, including the IPIX plugin for viewing 360-degree images. I'm can't back this up 100%, but in my experience the IPIX plugin actually works better on my Linux system than it does with my newer, faster (as far as processors go) Windows machine.

While marketing the multimedia capabilities of CrossOver is sure to garner the lion's share of consumer business, the support for viewing Word and Excel documents might have appeal for the corporate or SOHO crowd. In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to deal with them, but it's a fact of life that now and then a business contact will send you an MS Office file. And not everyone has the luxury of demanding a resend in a nicer, more open format.

Using the Word and Excel viewers downloaded from Microsoft and installed with CodeWeavers, I was able to view documents much as I would if I had been using Windows itself. It isn't as exciting as playing Spy Hunter or peeping around the Coast Starlight's Pacific Parlour Car, but it does provide solid, stable service that just about everyone will need at some point.

For testing purposes, I used a home-built system featuring a Pentium III 733MHz, 128MB RAM, Red Hat Linux 7.1, and KDE 2.0. Primary Web browser for testing was Netscape 6.1, followed by Konqueror 2.0. There was no difference in plugin performance between the two browsers.

Something that's sure to be a point of contention with the more righteous members of the community is the fact that CrossOver Plugin is not free. This is CodeWeavers' proprietary product, available for $29.95 on CD or for $19.95 for download from the corporate site. According to the press release, CDs are also available this week at the CodeWeavers booth at LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco.

If the features in CrossOver Plugin were something that I wanted to make use of on a regular basis, I would purchase it. And I like having the option of paying for features if I need them. This a la carte approach is much more appealing to me than being forced to pay for features I don't need or want, as is the case with certain proprietary operating systems.


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