What Lies Beneath.

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2006
What Lies Beneath.
There's been a lot of talk about Linux having "finally arrived" and "ready for your desktop" in these pages, and if you've read last month's Fast Track to Open Source Software, you'll notice that one of the longest lists of software is under the Office Tools category. For the SoHo owner, things couldn't have been better-Linux is free, there aren't any major security issues you need to worry about (the few viruses that do exist for Linux are hardly harmful), and the desktop environments-both GNOME and KDE-have reached levels of usability that are quite newcomer-friendly.

So why isn't everyone ditching Windows and opting for Linux? You obviously save financially, more so if you have multiple PCs, because multiple licenses of Windows XP can be quite an expense. The trouble lies with the applications: even today, few applications for Linux can match up to their Windows counterparts. OpenOffice. org Writer, for example, is a decent word processor, but the rest of the suite-Calc or Impress, for instance-hardly match up to Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint. And there's really no mail client that offers office users the kind of features that Outlook does. There are more such examples, but you get the drift. So not only are you stuck shelling out for such essentials, you're stuck paying for Windows to run them!

There is a way you can save on your OS costs, though. You could still switch to Linux, and thanks to software like CrossOver (https://www.codeweavers/. com) and Wine (https://www.winehq.com/), you can run your Windows applications within Linux itself. These programs give Windows applications a "friendly environment" to run in, essentially fooling them into believing they're running inside the OS they're supposed to. CrossOver is actually a paid version of Wine, offering you a bunch of extra features and more user-friendliness.

How It Works
When an application wants to send information to the system's hardware-even something as simple as telling the graphics card to display its window on the screen-it has to do it through the OS, using a set of functions called APIs-Application Programming Interfaces. APIs eliminate the need for applications to know what hardware it's running on, which is why programs run the same way on any machine.

Windows applications thus use the Windows API-Microsoft releases it in the Windows SDK-to get things done; its demand isn't Windows per se, just as long as it's got an API to talk to. The Wine project gives these applications its own implementation of the Windows API, so applications think they're talking to Windows itself.

Let's take an example: when Word wants to save a document, it tells Windows to do so by calling an API function-call it "SaveThisFile". Under Linux, however, an application might need to use a function called "SaveFile" function for the same thing. Obviously, if Word told Linux to SaveThisFile, it wouldn't understand anything. This is where Wine steps in-it listens to Word's SaveThisFile, and knows that it has to do the same thing as SaveFile. The approach has little effect on application performance, so you don't need to worry much about your applications slowing down.

In Good Spirits
"Wine" is a recursive acronym for Wine Is Not An Emulator. It is an open source project that's been around since even before Windows 95. If you're using a Linux distribution with its own package manager (Ubuntu, SuSE, etc.), you should be able to download and install it from within the repositories with just a few clicks. You can also download the installation packages for most major distributions from www.winehq.com.

You're ready to use Wine from the moment you finish installing it-all you need to do is use the command line to navigate to where your .exe is stored, and run it thus:
cd /application/folder
wine app.exe (or just wine app)

Remember that you'll need to install applications the way you would with Windows, and not all of them are going to work properly-some might require some heavy tweaking while others might run, but not well enough to be of any real use. You can find details about Wine's application compatibility at https://appdb.winehq.org/, the Wine Application Database.

The case for Wine is that it's free and open source, so you can install it on any number of PCs, and all you'll ever be paying for is the applications you use. It works well with a lot of applications without needing your interference, and any performance hits are minor.
Support for Wine is largely community-driven, though the FAQs and Documentation are quite comprehensive. However, if you're one of those unlucky souls with a bizarre problem, don't hold your breath for a resolution. Troubleshooting Wine yourself requires a lot of experience, and even then it's a time-consuming affair.

If you're looking for a more professional version of Wine, with a lot of sysadmin-friendly features and which is less painful to troubleshoot (and aren't afraid to pay a little for it) you should consider CrossOver.

Crossing Over
CrossOver Office started out as a way to run Microsoft Office on Linux, and has since evolved into a full solution that lets you install and run most Windows applications with astounding ease. Installing it is a simple "next, next, finish," and even on first sight, there's nothing about it that could leave you wondering-the simple GUI lets you add and remove programs, plugins, or fonts, change CrossOver's settings, and so on.

CrossOver runs Microsoft Office 2000 near-flawlessly, and Office 2003 with only minor issues-with the exception of Outlook, which still has problems. When you purchase the Professional version, you get neat features like Enhanced Deployability. This lets you create custom installation packages containing CrossOver and the applications you want to install. It's not much of a value-add when you've got only two or three PCs, but on larger networks, the time you save is worth it. It also supports multiple users using the same programs-the Standard version demands a seprate installation for each user.  

The crossOver GUI is as simple as can be
Since CrossOver is paid software, you should check their application compatibility list at www.codeweavers. com/site/compatibility before deciding whether you want to purchase it or not. You only get support for those applications that have been tested to be compatible with CrossOver, and the level of support depends on whether you've bought the Standard or Pro version.

Bottom Line
Ultimately, choosing whether you're going to use Wine or CrossOver depends on how much your time is worth to you. They're the same at heart, but problems with Wine can take ages to fix. With CrossOver, you pay for support, so the time it will take to fix your problem is a little more predictable. The Professional version costs $69.95 (Rs 3,300) per PC, and the Standard version comes for $39.95 (Rs 1,900), which includes six months of basic support. If you're using just one PC and are relatively new to Linux, the Standard version is well worth the time and agony it could save you. You can download a 30-day trial from www. codeweavers.com/products/download_trial.

Still wondering whether you should switch? 

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