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Review: Win4Lin Pro

By Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on November 11, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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The number of useful desktop applications for Linux is growing every day, but there are many would-be users who still have one or more "must have" Windows applications. For those users, running Windows under Linux is a suitable alternative to having to maintain two systems, or a dual-boot system with Linux and Windows. One of the options for running Windows under Linux is Win4Lin, Inc.'s Win4Lin Pro, which was released earlier this year. Win4Lin Pro gets the job done, but its performance and usability are a bit disappointing.

I took Win4Lin Pro 2.0 for a test drive, to see whether it was a suitable choice for users who want to run Windows applications under Linux. Note that Win4Lin Pro is only for Windows 2000 and Windows XP; if you want to run Windows 98 or older versions of Windows, you can use the company's Win4Lin 9x, which has been available for several years. If you want to run other x86 operating systems, VMware, Xen, or Qemu might be what you're looking for.

Installation

I tested Win4Lin Pro on an Ubuntu Breezy system with an Athlon 3000 XP CPU and 1GB of RAM, using Windows XP with Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Win4Lin Pro is available as a RPM and Debian package for installation on x86 systems, and as a RPM for installation on AMD64 systems. The Win4Lin requirements don't specify which Linux distributions are supported, or what versions of the kernel or GCC are needed, so it's hard to say whether Win4Lin will run on a given distro or not. I was a bit concerned that Win4Lin wouldn't run on Ubuntu Breezy, but I plunged ahead with the Win4Lin Debian package.

After installing the Debian package on my system, I received an error that complained that my system was lacking kqemu, and to install GCC and "the matching source or development package for your running kernel" and then run the /opt/win4linpro/bin/build_kqemu.sh script after installing the appropriate packages.

Win4Lin Pro installing Windows XP
Win4Lin Pro installing Windows XP - click to enlarge

I've run into some similar annoyances when installing VMware Workstation, so it wasn't entirely surprising to find that I'd need to download the kernel source to build a module to run Win4Lin. I installed the source and header packages for my kernel, and ran the script again. This time, it built the kqemu module and loaded it. While it's possible to run Win4Lin without the kqemu module loaded you don't want to do this. I tested running Win4Lin without the acceleration provided by the kqemu module, and it was amazingly slow.

By the way, I spent some time browsing Win4Lin's forums, and found that I am not the first user to have problems with this. The Win4Lin documentation is pretty shoddy in this regard. The Win4Lin Pro Troubleshooting guide is silent on the subject of kqemu, as is the Users Guide, and most of the documentation provided by Win4Lin -- and what mentions I could find didn't address the problem of actually getting it installed.

With the kqemu module successfully installed, the next step was to copy a Windows installation CD to disk, so I ran the command to do that -- Win4Lin setup is command-line-oriented -- and received an error about being unable to copy from the CD.

Since I'd used the CD successfully in the past, that seemed a bit odd. After some additional searching through the Win4Lin forums, I found that it was possible to install from an ISO image on the hard drive. So, I copied the CD to the hard drive and Win4Lin had no problem reading the image on the hard drive -- even though that image was created by copying from the physical media that Win4Lin complained about. Again, I found a number of posts on the Win4Lin forums about this issue, which makes me suspect a glitch in the Win4Lin scripts rather than bad media.

After copying the CD, the final step was to actually install Windows XP under Win4Lin. This process is pretty much the same as installing Windows XP on a physical machine, except it seems that Win4Lin auto-responds to some of the prompts by the Windows XP installer. I didn't run into any glitches or problems during this stage.

By default, Win4Lin Pro gives the guest host 4GB of disk space and 128MB of RAM. For my use, 4GB of disk space for the Windows guest system is sufficient, but I suspect that many users would prefer to have a larger disk. It would be nice if the Win4Lin installer would ask the user how much disk space and RAM a user wishes to allocate, rather than assuming that 4GB of disk space and 128MB of RAM is enough unless told otherwise.

After looking through the documentation a little more, I found that I could increase the amount of RAM allocated to the guest host by adding MRGPRO_WINDOWS_RAMSIZE=384 to the settings.local configuration file. This bumped the amount of RAM up to 384MB, but the amount of RAM can be changed to suit your tastes.

Using Win4Lin

After the installation, I set to using Windows under Win4Lin Pro. Even with the kqemu acceleration, Windows XP was slow enough that it was irritating -- though not so bad as to be unusable.

One thing that I liked is that Win4Lin automatically set up a "share" to my Linux home folder under Windows. This makes it easy to access files in my home directory on the Linux host machine while I'm in the Windows guest host.

Obviously, Windows XP by itself isn't that compelling. Most users will want to run Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, or other Windows applications. To test Windows performance under Win4Lin, I installed OpenOffice.org 2.0, Firefox 1.5 beta, and a few other applications.

Performance of Windows XP and applications under Win4Lin was acceptable, but I've run Windows XP on the same machine under VMware, with the same memory profile, and found its performance to be much better than under Win4Lin.

Even though it was a bit boggy, Win4Lin Pro was stable. It didn't crash while I was putting it through its paces. And Win4Lin's impact on the Linux host system was minimal.

Running just a few tasks, like browsing in Firefox and running OpenOffice.org, left Windows running very slowly. For a light load, like running a word processor or something like QuickBooks, Win4Lin might be an acceptable solution. For users who are going to be running much of the Microsoft Office suite at the same time, plus other applications, Win4Lin is probably going to be a bit too boggy to be acceptable unless you tell it to use a lot of RAM on a very fast machine.

Windows XP running under Win4Lin Pro
Windows XP running under Win4Lin Pro - click to enlarge

No sound

It's important to take note of Win4Lin Pro's documented limitations, which include lack of direct USB support, problems with mouse synchronization, and audio that's limited to playback only -- if it works.

Sure enough, sound didn't work on my machine. This is pretty disappointing, since one usually expects sound to be available. Further, I'd expect the Win4Lin Pro advertising to contain a caveat that sound support is missing. Instead, the Win4Lin Pro page says that "Win4Lin Pro runs Windows 2000 and Windows XP applications as intended" and that it is "the perfect solution for the technical workstation, home, or enterprise Linux user." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that many Windows 2000 and XP applications were intended to have sound.

Printing is set up through Linux, so your Linux host has to support whatever printer that you want to use in Windows, and the Windows host has to print to a generic PostScript printer (in this case, the Apple LaserWriter v23.0) instead of being able to print directly to an attached or networked printer. This means that special features of some printers may not be available to Windows hosts under Win4Lin.

Summary

I found Win4Lin Pro's setup to be a bit of a hassle, and I'm used to setting up Linux applications with difficult or user-unfriendly setup routines. Quite frankly, I expect a bit more polish in a commercial application -- particularly an offering that's been around in one form or another for several years.

I suspect that Win4Lin Pro's target audience -- users who still have several "must have" Windows applications -- will find Win4Lin Pro to be frustrating to set up, particularly if they are unable to wrestle kqemu into submission and have to run Win4Lin Pro without acceleration.

Also, the Win4Lin folks need to do a better job of documentation. It's nice that they have user forums to turn to for support, but that should be a last resort rather than the main method of finding answers to common problems -- like the kqemu problems.

At best, I would say that Win4Lin Pro is acceptable for users who need to run Windows XP or Windows 2000 under Linux -- but only barely. Compared to the competition, Win4Lin is a poor substitute. It's less expensive than VMware Workstation, but I'd rather spend the extra $100 for VMware's additional features and better performance.

Product name Win4Lin Pro 2.0
Purpose Run Windows 2000 and Windows XP under Linux
Manufacturer Win4Lin
Architectures Runs on Linux x86 and AMD64
License Proprietary
Market Business and home desktop users
Price $89.99 download

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Comments

on Review: Win4Lin Pro

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Win4Lin Pro

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 06:13 AM
I found Pro to be unusable, but was able to use Win4Lin quite acceptably for my purposes. I only want a small number of applications, none of which require DirectX, and had a Win98 CD available (Win4Lin will not work with XP). Incidentally, there are similar problems with the scripts for Win4Lin as mentioned in the article. The main plus was the cost $29.99.

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Cheap PCs...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 07:35 AM
A 2nd hand PC and a KVM switch is probably a better solution than Win4Lin Pro.

Also, if you only need to run MS Office, Corel WP or Quickbooks, then CxOffice is better. It can't run the very latest Quickbooks or WordPerfect, but it can run the slightly older versions.

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Re:Cheap PCs...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 12:40 PM
Before I had win4lin V3 (win9x) I would work on drawings on a Linux box on one side of the room, save to floppy, and sneaker net to a Windows box running PowerPoint on the other side of the room.
With win4lin, I can work on a drawing with Linux tools, save to my Powerpoint directory, open a win95 instance under Linux with win4lin, then import the drawing file into PowerPoint. I can then alternate between the Linux drawing program Xwindow and the win4lin/win95/Powerpoint Xwindow. I have to save to an intermediate file rather than cut and paste. But, that is still easier than having to deal with two boxes not on a network.

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Re:Cheap PCs...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 13, 2005 04:21 AM
Uhhhh, ever heard of ethernet, FTP, Cygwin or SSH? There are a plethora of ways to exchange data between two machines and control multiple machines from one terminal. I have eight machines around me, two of which runs Windows XP, but I do everything from my Linux notebook. All the other machines are headless.

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Re:Cheap PCs...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 13, 2005 05:06 AM
I did not have a network at the time. I also was not able to get cygwin to run Linux xcircuit on a win 95 box. It, Xcircuit, was only guaranteed to run in win98. So, I moved on. This cygwin xcircuit win95 failure is what forced me to have a dedicated linux box.

These days I mostly work on linux. I only boot windows for applications that cannot be done under linux. As for win4lin, I don't use it that much any more, as I am mostly transitioned to Linux these days.

SSH FTP - I use it with remote sites (Linux). I didn't know that there was a windows SSH server. I've used the windows ftp client, but not the windows SSH client

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No Problem Here

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 13, 2005 03:54 AM
I am having no problems unless they break it on the purchased version. So far all is working well. Of course there are glitches, cursor hangs [move it around], but I only need just one major app, my GIS system [MapInfo] [have yet to check ESRI GIS] and it is fine, then WordPerfect and QuatroPro [just finished updating the expenses sheet]. For QPW and WP I have Corel Family Pack 4 [version 10 apps] but the installer definatly fails, so just copied the "programs" folder from the CD and presto-chango - they work - again it is only simple stuff so YMMV.
System:
ABIt MB, Athlon 64 2800+, 784mb, 80gig, SimplyMepis 3.3.2 Test 3

I've grown accustomed to this over the last 2 weeks waiting to get a replacement MB for the *skunk works box* [AMD X2] that I will converting it and then use this box for 'doze development and a few other things that I can only do in 'doze and need to full power to it.

--wap3

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Dissapointed

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 01:17 AM
I'm disappointed to hear that the WinXP version does not appear to work nearly as well as the win9X product. The 9x (an early version) ran at least as fast at the native windows installation. And, there was a graphical installer for who we think the intended audience is. Though, it only covered the more popular distributions. They provided precompiled kernels for these common distributions. Though, I was not able to use the graphical installer for my installation, it sounded like it was an easy install for a non-expert. The 9X product (win4lin V3) worked quite well.

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Re:Dissapointed - typo?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 01:44 AM
I'm disappointed to hear that the WinXP version does not appear to work nearly as well as the win9X product. The 9x (an early version) ran at least as fast at the native windows installation.

I assume you meant to say "as fast as the native..." not "as fast at the native..." What you said implies that running Windows 9x natively was at least as fast if not faster than running it with Win4Lin (this is the case with the XP version.) I think you meant to imply that the Windows 9x installation (and system) running with Win4Lin was the same speed if not faster than Windows 9x running natively.

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Re:Dissapointed - typo?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 04:45 AM
Yes the older version of win4lin for win 95/98 is fast.

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No need to download kernel sources

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 04:54 AM
You do not need to download kernel sources, just kernel headers.

Run "uname -a" to find what kernel you are running (for instance, 2.6.8-2-686), then find the corresponding kernel headers using apt-cache search kernel headers 2.6.8 (for this example, the headers package would be kernel-headers-2.6.8-2-686).

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Computer Info For Speed Comparison

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 06:23 AM
I mentioned speed problems without saying anything about my system. Sorry about that, for all you know I could be running a 25Mhz 486SX (remember those?).

Machine: Acer Aspire 1712 (laptop)
Processor: 3Ghz Pentium 4 (w/multithreading)
Ram: 1 Gigabyte
OS: Suse 10.0
Ram Devoted to Windows: 512 Megabytes

Software I tested, which ran perfectly in 9x, good in 2000, and poorly in XP:

Office 2000
Visio 2000
Access 97
Visual Studio 6
SQL Server 2000
Delphi 7

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Wine

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 12, 2005 06:41 AM
Win4Lin costs money, the license is propiertary, it's not open source, and not free software. And it is slow.

It is better to use Wine.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

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True, If Wine Runs What You Want

Posted by: Administrator on November 12, 2005 07:45 AM
While I haven't tried it, I imagine something like SQL Server or Visual Studio (both of which I need) might not work at all in Wine. It's the perfect answer if it runs the few pieces of Windows software you need, but if it doesn't, you're stuck with a proprietary solution.

Of course, sometimes, the only thing you can do is Dual Boot, and just deal with the inconvenience.

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Based on QEmu

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 14, 2005 08:22 AM
It should be noted that Win4Lin Pro is based on QEmu, just with a bit more polish on the top. I was a loyal Win4Lin 9x user, and it rocked. Now I just use QEmu or Wine instead (the latest CXOffice is amazing, heaps of stuff now just works).

Win4Lin have promised much in the way of improvements, but few seem to have appeared. Since the latest lot of VC's took over, there seems to be more marketing and less engineering going on then there used to. Barely a week goes by without some sales e-mail in my inbox with special discount offers going even lower, so I guess I'm not the only one not to have upgraded.

John.

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Runs better with windows 2000

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 15, 2005 12:13 AM
Performance is snappier with windows 2000. I cannot compare it to vmware, as this product is far more expensive and last I checked, doesn't work well in a 64 bit host environment.

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It could be better, but worse exists.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 11, 2005 09:52 PM
The last time I bothered with vmware was v4.5. Slow and crash prone, I opted to nix it once the demo period expired. Wasn't worth a penny.

I did buy Win4Lin Pro, as their win9x product was great and I've windows apps that won't do 9x.

It is slow, and since then they've included KQEMU emulation (I had no problems with it on Fedora Core 4), but it works with my apps and what I need it for (web page creation, some graphics processing too).

I wish it was faster like the old Win4Lin was, but they will get there.

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Win4Lin Pro: Let the Buyer Beware

Posted by: Administrator on November 12, 2005 06:06 AM
Performance with Win4Lin is a lot better with Windows 2000 than XP. I think the reviewer underplays how very slow XP is. I don't think it's usable at all. Win2k is usable but annoyingly slow at times. You should avoid using XP with Win4Lin Pro unless you can't avoid it.

Unlike Win4Lin 5 (or 9x as its called now), your "C" drive is actually an image file, and not a directory inside your Home, and you can only access local drives by using a network reference. Local volumes other than your "home" will need to use directory links under Linux. This works, but access to them can be slower than the image file (as I found using Access 97).

In Win4Lin 5, SQL Server 2000 ran without problems, but under Win4Lin Pro and Windows 2000, it slowed the entire emulation more than I expected.

The first time I installed Visio 2000, it replaced a DLL, causing problems. I was unable to replace the file, and ended up starting over with a fresh win4lin install. I don't know what parts of Windows are changed by the Win4Lin Pro install, but not being able to directly access the "C" drive from Linux can make repairing this sort of problem difficult, if not impossible.

I also didn't like how, if you had to kill the Win4Lin Pro instance, you had to go to the command line and kill the Win4Lin process manually. Failure to do so produced a licence error when trying to start a new one.

All in all, Win4Lin Pro has a lot of rough edges to it. If you have a Windows 98 disk (for Windows ME, you need a bootable full install disk, not an upgrade), and you don't have any programs that need Win2K or XP, I recommend avoiding Pro, and sticking with the 9x product.

I compared Win4Lin Pro to VMWare, and while there are a few hoops to jump through on VMWare as well, it's a lot faster on both 2000 and XP.

Bottom line is that, after using Win4Lin Pro for about a month, I have to say that, for the moment, it's not worth buying. Yes, you don't have to recompile anything, as you do with Win4Lin 9x (of course, some distros, such as Xandros, support Win4Lin 9x out of the box), but I don't think the speed problems in Pro are worth it.

Oh, and if you can't get QEMU running (some folks have reported problems with some distros), then you can just forget getting Win4Lin Pro to run at any kind of speed at all.

For more info, and particularly some horror stories, you should visit the Win4Lin forums at <a href="http://www.win4lin.com/phpBB2" title="win4lin.com">http://www.win4lin.com/phpBB2</a win4lin.com>

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