August 13, 2008

Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Author: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Who says you have to give up your must-have Windows applications when you migrate to Linux? If you can't leave some crucial Windows program behind, you can run it using CodeWeavers' latest version of CrossOver Linux.

Though today there are many great Linux end-user applications, some people still have "must-have" Windows applications -- Quicken instead of GnuCash, for instance, or Photoshop instead of the GIMP. That's where CrossOver Linux 7 comes in.

With this new version, you can run more Windows programs on Linux than ever. Such popular Windows programs as Microsoft Office -- from 97 to 2007 -- Internet Explorer 6, and Quicken run almost as well on Linux as they do on Windows. Other programs, like Adobe Photoshop CS3, run decently albeit not perfectly on Linux with CrossOver.

CrossOver is based on the open source project Wine, an implementation of the Windows API on top of the Unix/Linux operating system family. Wine is a very mature project, which, after 15 years of development, has reached the 1.0 mark.

You don't need CrossOver Linux to run Windows applications on Linux. Wine alone is enough. Wine, however, requires more technical expertise to use properly. What CrossOver gives you is an automated Windows application installation and technical support. For most users, who just want to run their Windows programs and not bother with the nuts and bolts of Wine, CrossOver Linux, which retails for $40, is worth the money. CodeWeavers also offers CrossOver Mac, which brings the same functionality to Intel-powered Macs.

To see how well this Wine 1.0-powered edition of CrossOver Linux works I tested it on two systems. The first was my main openSUSE 11 desktop, a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion A6040N Desktop PC powered by a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6320 dual-core processor with 2GB of 533MHz RAM and a 320GB SATA (Serial ATA) hard drive running at 7200 RPM. It's a good 2007-era PC.

I also put CrossOver 7 through its paces on an older Gateway 503GR running Ubuntu 8.04. It comes with a 3GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 2GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 250 graphics card, and a 300GB SATA drive. Both systems had more than enough raw horsepower power to run Linux, CrossOver Linux, and multiple Windows and Linux applications simultaneously.

CrossOver requires very little from a system. CodeWeavers claims that any 32-bit system that runs at 200MHz can run CrossOver. The program will run on 64-bit systems, but only if they have the 32-bit compatibility library installed. CrossOver also requires that your Linux includes Glibc 2.3.x or greater and X11R6 3.3 or greater. XFree86 4 with XRender and FreeType support is recommended. The bottom line is any modern Linux can run CrossOver.

The program can be installed in several different ways. The sure-fire way of installing it on any Linux is to use its shell script. Once you have it installed, CrossOver presents you with a GUI that works equally well with both KDE and GNOME. Here, you choose which Windows applications you want to install from a supplied list of supported applications.

Installing Windows applications is a snap. It's a pick and clip operation. You can also install non-supported applications. Some, such as my favorite HTML editor, NoteTab, even though not technically supported, will run, albeit with some problems.

You should also keep in mind that, while CodeWeavers is trying to support the most popular Windows applications on Linux, it doesn't support every program. Check the company's compatibility pages to see if anyone has tried to run your particular favorite program with CrossOver and how well it has gone for them.

Once in place, the supported Windows applications ran without a hitch. I spent most of my time working on Word 2003 documents, Excel 2003 spreadsheets, IE 6, and fairly complicated Quicken 2006 financial statements. The programs ran well. As a matter of fact they ran better on Linux than they did on Vista. Quicken, in particular, took better to CrossOver than it did to Vista. With a little research I found out that this was not just me. Vista is known to have trouble with several versions of Quicken.

Some Windows software runs better on Linux than it does on the latest version of Windows -- who knew?

CrossOver isn't perfect of course. While I was able to run Photoshop CS3, I sometimes had trouble rendering the CS3 interface. A screen refresh usually took care of the problem, but some users will doubtlessly find that annoying.

I would also sometimes need to force a screen refresh when one Windows application's window covered up another. When I'd reveal the "lower" application, the part of it that had been covered by the other Windows application wouldn't render properly. After doing anything with the new foreground application, such as running a command, the foreground program's screen reappeared as it should.

CodeWeavers also offers CrossOver Linux Professional, which costs $70, can be used for multiple users, and comes with CrossOver Games. This addition includes advanced support for DirectX, Microsoft's graphics application programming interfaces for games. With this, many Windows games will run well on Linux. I can personally attest that zapping your enemies and other baddies in World of Warcraft and Guild Wars is just as much fun on Linux as it on Windows. CrossOver Games is also available separately for $40.

Not sure if CrossOver is right for you? You can download a free 30-day trial version of CrossOver Linux and a seven-day trial edition of CrossOver Games. You should find that more than enough time to see if these programs deliver the Windows goods for you.

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