Updated: September 29, 2012
Running Windows programs on Linux is largely a myth. No matter how much we geeks may try to portray the transition between Windows and Linux to be a painless procedure, it is far from being anything simple or smooth. Now and then, programs come to life that try to dispel this myth. One of them is CrossOver by Codeweavers.
I have given you a brief overview of the CrossOver Games product in my mega how-to gaming tutorial. Since, the separate programs for games and applications have been merged into a single bundle, and it's the one I will be testing today. I want to see how good the product really is, and whether CrossOver can convince me to put Windows to final rest, if I may be dramatic for a moment. Which is not true, because if I plan to run Windows software on Linux, I would hardly be giving up Windows, now would I?
Three levels of magic
In general, it all comes down to the finest vineyards in the Cologne region in France. WINE. Well, no, not really, not as such. But WINE is the magical word here. You can use WINE to run Windows software. But in itself, this program is not the friendliest. All right, there's winetricks, which makes your work easier. And finally, you have PlayOnLinux.
In the past, none of these made my Windows-to-Linux experience perfect. Some programs run well, because they simply do. Others have been designed to be portable on Windows, and they make for fine traveling companions. Others yet are cross-platform, so there's really no point running a Windows version of Firefox on Linux, now is there.
Enter CrossOver. The installation was simple and without prompts. Then, I was a little baffled by the available entries in the system menu. How the hell do you run this thing? First, you have these Bottles. After a while, I figured out they are meant to be application containers, so you can individually manage and tweak them.
Then, I spotted an entry named Install Windows Software. This is where you begin your work. Open the main interface, select an application from the supported list or choose one of many community software entries, and click your way through forward.
But I did not find the Install Windows Software icon easily. Therefore, I went to the official website and used their online search function to find software and their level of support. If I'm not mistaken, these applications are known as ties, and they fire up the installer, if you have the CrossOver on your machine, that is.
The online search is somewhat misleading, too. One of the many listed programs is Internet Explorer 8, however it is not categorized as a supported item in the main interface of the program, so why show it then? Users might think they could install this program, whereas the reality will most likely be different, more bitter. But we'll get there.
The idea is to start big, not small. Rather than testing Notepad, I chose the latest edition of Microsoft Office. If this one can run, then we're onto something. The program is not listed as a supported application, so I faked its version as Office 2010. This attempt failed. Here's the very beginning of this attempt. And there's that notification on the missing 32-bit version of the libjpeg library. Shouldn't it have been resolved when I installed the Debian package? Not the most friendly interface, I'm afraid.
Office 2010, then
Next I tried Office 2010, proper. This one worked. In fact, I did something quite similar to what Jesse Smith of Distrowatch did a few months ago. In fact, I must admit that his attempt inspired me to try the program on my own.
This one worked, and it worked extremely well. I was pleasantly surprised here. From the very first steps, through activation, through some use of the main programs, everything was smooth and simple and without bugs. Well, at least when they say it's supported, it's supported. Good job.
And a nice collection of screenshots:
And a full-screen view, with Styles and whatnot, bravo!
Internet Explorer 8
I know I can install version 6. I did it many times in the past. But what about version 8? Well, the official site says one thing, but the installer says a different one. Well, I tried, and the installation completed. I even got Flash there. But when I launched Internet Explorer, it stalled. It never connected to the Internet, half the GUI was transparent, and eventually the program froze and the only way to kill it was by opening a shell and running a few kill -9 against various WINE processes. As expected.
Something humbler then?
Well, perhaps I was aiming too high. So I tried IrfanView. And this one, believe it or not, failed, because CrossOver was unable to retrieve some Microsoft Visual C++ installer. This was a jarring surprise, because I have always managed to install this program without any problems, both manually and using winetricks. But not here. As you can see, the file is missing from the Codeweavers site, which is a big no-no. And yes, you might want to consider IrfanView and Notepad++ for your Linux, in fact.
Once you have a program installed, you can play with the bottle. Get it, hihi. Anyhow, the settings are fairly extensive and rather difficult to grasp. For example, I can understand that I might want to edit associations, menus and plugins, but Internet settings? Simulate a reboot? Why do I need a task manager? What does it mean add duplicate? Or import from Games? Are fonts applications? What does it mean publishing a bottle? And why should I use native Internet browser or be restricted to bottles with no spaces in their name? After all, you named the bottle, no?
Of the four programs I tried, three failed utterly. One of those was the super-friendly IrfanView, which would always run. This time, though, no. Which brings us back to our myth. It remains. Running Windows apps on Linux is a benevolent but mostly misplaced effort. You will be disappointed more than not. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't, no matter which framework you choose, be it the simple WINE or fancy CrossOver.
There are many problems with CrossOver. The interface is not simple or intuitive, the online list and the internal one conflict, the whole bottle thingie is utterly confusing, most programs failed to install or run, and finally, the price. On the positive side, when they say that some software is supported, this is a true statement. Microsoft Office 2010 is a very good example. And truth to be told, for most people, Office, Adobe Photoshop and a small number of other, similar programs are the real dealbreakers when it comes to migrating away from Windows. in that case, the price is quite justified.
But if you hoped to see all your games and programs run flawlessly through CrossOver, think again. This is a very pinpoint solution for a select number of programs, and on top of that, it suffers from bad intuition and logic. So you should carefully consider and weigh in your financial gains and losses before you commit to buying. I liked the program, but not enough to make the final leap of faith. Overall, I'd say something like 6.5/10. And the journey is long and perilous. And will probably never be completed, as Windows is Windows, Linux is Linux, and that's the truth.