Sunday, October 14, 2007

Seven Simple Ways To Use Windows Applications in Linux

As far as I know, one of the main concerns for a Windows user switching to Linux is what Windows software will work on his box as well as how it can be done. Here I've summarized seven simple methods to enable Windows apps' functionality on your Linux machine. I hope this will be helpful to you if you don't know where to start from...

1. Use Wine to run the application in Linux
Wine is an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X, OpenGL and Unix. It does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code, however Wine can optionally use native Windows DLLs if they are available. "WINE" is a recursive acronym, it means"Wine Is Not Emulator" (to remind that it is neither a computer emulator like qemu, nor a virtual machine like VMware)

Your success with Wine will vary depending on the application you are trying to run. It is best to search the Wine Application Database to find out if your application will run well under Wine. This database contains a really huge list of software including all popular Windows "office" applications like MS Office, Adobe Photoshop etc. There is also a large variety of games supported by Wine. For example, I've personally managed to play CS:Source on my Sony VAIO laptop running Debian "Sid" without any trouble.

2. Use Cedega to run your favourite Windows games
If you are an expirienced Windows gamer, you should probably look into Cedega instead of Wine. Cedega is a product from TransGaming. TransGaming forked Wine back in 2002 when Wine had a different license, closed their source code, and rebranded their version as specialized for gamers. It supports almost all popular Windows games at the moment, check out their Database. Unfortunately Cedega is not free. You will have to pay about $5/month for subscription. Still it is a good alternative if your favourite game does not run smoothly under Wine.

3. Use CrossOver Linux to run your Windows productivity applications
CrossOver Linux is another commercial product (made by CodeWeavers) that is based directly on Wine with a few proprietary add-ons. Unlike Cedega, CrossOver is focused mostly on "office" applications. Its releases are rigorously tested for compatibility with CodeWeavers' supported applications in order to prevent regressions. CodeWeavers employs a large portion of the Wine developers and provides a great deal of leadership for the project. All improvements to Wine eventually work their way into CrossOver.

CrossOver includes an easy to use interface, which makes installing a Windows application simple and fast and provides seamless integration with your Gnome or KDE environment.

4. Run Windows in a Virtual Machine
Before virtualization was widely available, people would dual-boot their machine if they wanted access to both Windows and Linux. Whenever they needed to do something in the other operating system, they would have to close all their applications and reboot into the other operating system.

This time-consuming process can now be replaced by running Windows in a virtual machine on a Linux system. For instance, you can install the open source VirtualBox application (take a look at the review). Once that is installed, you can install Windows and Windows applications inside a virtual machine. Now you can use that virtual machine to have instant access to any of your Windows applications.

5. Run the application on a remote Windows system
If you already have separate Windows machine, you can run the application on it and control it from your local system. This is often called "Terminal Services", which runs on a Windows server.

This method can be as simple as connecting to a Windows XP Pro workstation using rdesktop. However, you may have many Linux workstations that need to run Windows applications using this method. In that case, there are software options available that provide more scalability and features. The biggest name in this market is Citrix, but there are also others such as Propalms.

6. Use an Open Source alternative instead
Probably the best solution for the "Running Windows_Application_X on Linux" problem is to look for a suitable Open Source alternative. For most Windows applications, there will be a high-quality open source alternative that can meet your needs. The biggest hurdle for non-Linux people is simply knowing that these alternative exist and how to find them.

The best place I have found to search for these applications is at www.osalt.com. On that site, you can enter the name of the Windows application and it will list the open source alternatives that provide similar functionality. Be sure to check it out.

7. Buy a commercial product that is designed for Linux
Finally, if you haven't managed to run your Windows app using Wine or one of its forks and you haven't found any suitable open source alternative, you may consider purchasing a commercial product that is designed for Linux.

Here is a story of a civil engineer who wanted to find an open source replacement for AutoCAD. He tried several applications, but he could not find one that met all his requirements. So this engineer decided to use a commercial CAD application that was designed for Linux. He purchased a copy of "BricsCad", which worked well for him AND it cost a lot less than AutoCAD.

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