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Feature: Desktop Software

Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on August 13, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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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.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the operating system of choice for PCs and 2BSD Unix was what the cool kids used on their computers.

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on Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

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Interesting article, thanks

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 13, 2008 10:45 PM
Though of course enabling more people to run Microsoft Word 2007, whose main feature is that its default file format .docx is incompatible with every other program in existence including Microsoft Word 2003, is a Bad Thing.


Re: Interesting article, thanks

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 14, 2008 12:52 PM
(1) Running Office 2007 with Crossover is like riding a bike with bent wheels. It crashes frequently, screen goes black when moving (or creating) drawn objects in powerpoint, equation editor doesn't work, etc.

(2) To be fair there is an add on for all previous office versions which enables the new formats

(3) Do people really have a choice of another viable office suite? OpenOffice still has major show stoppers which have been present for years. For example see issue # 48179 "can't go back previous animation".


Re(1): Interesting article, thanks

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 15, 2008 02:29 PM
I agree with Open Office having show stoppers. I created a simple set of minutes ( 7 pages ) for my society with a .jpg and .tiff file pasted into it. This file took ~20meg of space using open office. My associates were so frustrated with its size that I redid it in MSOffice. The same document in MSOffice only took 500k and the graphics displayed correctly in the MSoffice version whereas they were basically a spot on the page in the open office version ( this was using the current version of open office as of January 2008).


Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 14, 2008 12:18 AM
Out of curiosity, I just took a side-trip to the Code-Weavers site to check out their list of supported applications, and came away decidedly non-plussed at the assortment. Particularly in the Games area.

If you need to run a non-game application, I think you'd be better off running a Virtual Machine. That way, you know it works. As for games, there are a few Linux ports available (e.g., Unreal Tournament 2004, Doom3, Quake4, Return to Wolfenstein, and playable Betas of the Serious Sam series, and some of the older games (e.g., Jedi Knight Outcast, Deus Ex) playable inside Wine 1.0.

When it comes right down to it, I don't mind buying an application, but I expect it to do more for me than what's available at no cost (note that I'm avoiding the word "free" here).



Re: Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 14, 2008 05:15 AM
Your right except for to run it inside a virtual machine means you technically need a windows license. As for the games, Crossover basically just uses wine with a nice interface and bottling features. So basically you can install games in different bottles so it doesn't mess up other game in which wine may do if your not experienced with it.


Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 14, 2008 09:59 AM
I think PlayOnLinux ( does pretty much what CrossOver does, has lots of supported games and it's free.


Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 14, 2008 02:02 PM
Supporting the standard MS Office stuff is great, but I can usually get away with Open Office for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Hell, in many ways, I like their interfaces and output better.

But as a geek moving in to management and the architecture side of things, two apps have pushed me to XP at work: Visio and MS Project. They're both so far ahead of their open source equivalents that it's not even funny. It's not even an interoperability problem - I end up exporting to common read-only formats most of the time, anyway. But Dia and Gnome Planner just don't cut it for creating complicated diagrams or project plans.

Too bad Crossover only "kinda" supports them.


Re: Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Posted by: tykeal on August 14, 2008 02:43 PM
I agree that Dia and to many extents Kivio really suck for diagramming and Visio really is (dare I say it) a best of breed application (probably since it was a purchased and not originally developed app by MS).

As for MS Project, have you looked at OpenProj? it's available under the CPAL which I believe (haven't verified) OSS license. It reads and rights MS Project files just fine and appears to have all the features that I associate with MS Project. Granted, I'm not a project manager so I really don't use most features but the PMs that I've shown it too all seem to think it's just as good.


Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 15, 2008 06:58 AM
My testing showed graphics updates in the standard version were too slow - try a powerpoint 2003 slide with few solid blocks of colour on a slide and see what the refresh time is - yuk!. This can be improved by also installing on the same system ( I am referring to OSX 10.5.4 so crossover for mac) the crossover-games program but still running the apps in crossover - something gets added that speeds up the graphics refresh - still nothing like fast enough for sanity but bearable for simple ppts. I would wait for the WINE graphics update before bothering.


Windows apps on Linux the CrossOver way

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 16, 2008 01:49 AM
not being a games and never write more than simple email mozziall thunderbird and open office work grat for me. I purchased disks for xubuntu and utuntu. load nicely, but dont help me run the one applications that i need. one for my lawn sprinkler syatem and Ensign software, . I checked on wine , wine crossover to no avail. so i will try to sell my commercial CD's on ebay and just pay Bill Gates his share.

I really had my hopes set high that i could dump Mircosoft.


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