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How to run your favorite Windows applications on Linux

Though use of Windows emulators, you can run Linux and still use Windows apps, like Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes. Jim Graham, CTO of CodeWeavers, Inc., offers some advice on choosing an emulator and setting it up.

IT managers who want to switch to Linux often butt heads with users who can't stand to part with Microsoft Office. While managers and their companies like the low cost and stability of the Linux operating system, the lack of popular and well-developed applications is a major sticking point. Yet, a solution does exist, says Jim Graham, CTO of CodeWeavers, Inc., based in St. Paul, MN. By running Windows emulators, companies can benefit from Linux while still being able to use their favorite Windows applications. In this interview with searchWindowsManageability, Graham describes the pros and cons of the three major options for running Windows apps on Linux.

searchWindowsManageability: Why do companies want to run Windows applications on Linux?

They may rely on a lot of application software that doesn't exist on Linux. They may have application software that they've written specifically for Windows. One of the biggest things that a lot of people need is the stability of Linux. It's a very easily maintained and stable operating system. The second biggest strength is the cost of the Linux operating system, as it can be deployed throughout your entire organization for the price of a CD.

searchWindowsManageability: What technical issues might come up when running Windows apps on Linux?

There are a number of different solutions to run Windows software in the Linux environment, and each of those presents its own set of problems. I have to say one of the biggest problems we see is understanding how to get the program in a Linux environment and utilize it within a Linux environment without causing confusion to the end user. You're not really in Linux and you're not really in Windows; in most cases, you're in a kind of a hybrid situation.

searchWindowsManageability: What choices would a company have for setting up Windows apps on Linux?

VMWare, which is a very popular one, is probably the most stable out there--at least from our experience. Yet, it's much more demanding on the resources of a system, so it requires a little more hardware, faster processor, and more memory. Win4Lin is very stable as well as very fast, but it doesn't offer the same level of support that something like VMWare does. Then, there's Wine, which is one CodeWeavers helps maintain and build. It's the least stable of the three, but the least costly. It doesn't require a copy of Windows, and it's totally free to the end user. The performance hit is very little if any, but it lacks some stability.

searchWindowsManageability: What advice would you offer to an administrator trying to choose one of those three solutions?

Each of them presents a set of problems that are unique to them, as I mentioned before. With Win4Lin and VMWare, you must remember that you're still required to install a version of Windows on top of those applications. Each seat that you want to run Windows on has to have a Windows license. Wine doesn't require Windows at all, but it doesn't have the stability. If you're just looking at running a specific set of applications, and you're not really going to go beyond that or experiment much, something like Wine is a really good solution. A lot of times, Wine can be tuned to work very well with a given set of applications, but at the same time, it's not a really general purpose Windows running tool. Win4Lin and VMWare are more general purpose, but they cost more and have more of a maintenance issue from the administration side.

searchWindowsManageability: Would it be easy for a company to set up this sort of an arrangement?

With tools like Win4Lin and VMWare, once those environments are set up, installing applications like MS Office and Lotus Notes is just like you'd do it under Windows. You're still doing it under Windows, but running Windows in those environments. So, installing software, configuring it, and utilizing it within that environment is pretty straightforward and familiar to the users. Tools like Wine, being open source, also give end users and enterprises the ability to work with that code or the developers of that code. Wine is also a user space process and does not require any kernel modifications. You don't have to have root access to the system to utilize Wine.

searchWindowsManagability: Do you foresee the usage of Windows emulators expanding as Linux becomes more popular?

I think so, particularly because Linux is basically free. A CTO of a large organization with a thousand desktops can buy one copy of Red Hat Linux, for example, and install it on all of those desktops without violating any license agreements. With that, you've got the ability to maintain those from one central location and work with servers and communicate with any other desktop (Macintosh, Apple, or Windows) all from the same environment. We might see a larger utilization of Linux in the workplace, but I don't believe we're going to get all of the applications over there immediately. There's going to be a demand to provide both until there's more application software in the Linux market. Tools like this are going to provide that bridge.

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