September 23, 2003

Whining about Wine, crossing off CrossOver Office

- by Lee Schlesinger -
Last week, after playing with Wine, I concluded that free software support was just as good as support provided by a commercial vendor. This week, after trying a commercial alternative to Wine, I see an area where the open source community can clearly improve. CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office beats Wine hands-down when it comes to a polished installation procedure that just works. But the more I played with CrossOver Office, the more it began to look like the same juice in a fancier bottle.

I had a long row to hoe to get Wine installed, as I discussed last week. By contrast, to install CrossOver Office, I downloaded a shell script, executed it, and in short order had a working application in my start menu. CrossOver Office added two new entries to my KDE start menu: one for CrossOver, with choices for documentation and setup, and one for Windows Applications, which would hold ... well, you figure it out.

CrossOver Office handled application installation just as well as it installed itself. I popped the installation disc for Photoshop 5.5 into my computer's CD drive and clicked Install in the CrossOver Office Setup application. Just as it would have under Windows, the automatic installation began and ran, and before you could say "humbled by the developments of the last few weeks" I had Photoshop running on a Linux laptop. It was a bit surreal seeing a Windows installation procedure run under Linux.

This is where the commercial product trumps the open source version -- the work on polish and ease of use makes the program far more suitable for commercial use and helps justify its $55 pricetag.

CrossOver Office may be more polished than Wine when it comes to installation and user interface, but it has its limitations. CrossOver Office supports a very short roster of products; a few Microsoft Office applications, Notes R5, and Quicken 2002. That doesn't mean that all other applications will fail to run under CrossOver Office; you might luck out. CodeWeavers provides a nice graphical user interface for installing both supported and unsupported programs.

To test the program's ability to run unsupported programs, I picked a couple of CDs from my bookshelf. I started with Macromedia Dreamweaver MX. It failed to install, and I saw it listed on CodeWeavers' Known Not to Work list, though others appear to have had success. Next I tried installing Lego Technic CyberMaster, a 1998-vintage kids' program for building robots. (Yes, it's robot month at NewsForge.) The program installed fine but failed to run. A Google search turned up the error message the program displayed and a possible fix, which required modifying a Windows registry key. CrossOver Office has its own version of the registry, but when I tried to use CrossOver Office's regedit command to modify it, I got a long list of error messages, and as there was only so far I was willing to go for this little test, I didn't pursue the problem further.

This whole exercise in Wine and CrossOver Office left me a bit dispirited. Neither product is really an adequate avenue for running a wide range of Windows programs under Linux. CrossOver Office is more polished than Wine, but it's guaranteed to work mostly with Office applications for which StarOffice and OpenOffice provide similar functionality. If you truly need to run Windows applications on your Linux box, try VMware Workstation. At $299, it's a lot more expensive than the alternatives, but that just demonstrates that with free software, there's no free lunch.


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