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Having Your Linux and Windows Too

So your favorite program has no Linux version. Take heart! All is not lost.

There is at least two ways you can possibly run your favorite MSWindows application in Linux. The first is probably the easiest, but not necessarily 100% successful. Linux distributions in the last few years have begun to include an application known as WINE in the distro.

Wine lets you run Windows software on other POSIX (systems based on Unix like Linux and OS X) operating systems. With Wine, you can install and run these applications just as if you were in MSWindows. The dependency is not so much on MSWindows as it is on MSWindows applications. Boxed off-the-shelf applications, games, in-house applications, vertical market applications, are what prevents users, companies and governments from switching to another operating system. Even if 90% of the needs of most users are taken care of if you can enjoy an office suite, an email client, a browser, and a media player, then there will still be a remaining 10% of their needs, potentially critical needs, that are not met.

Unfortunately these remaining 10% are spread across a wide spectrum of applications: thousands of applications running the gamut from games to specialized accounting software for French farms, via Italian encyclopedias, German tax software, child education software, banking software, in-house software representing years of development, etc. It is the availability of all this software that makes MSWindows so compelling and its monopoly so strong. No platform will become mainstream unless it runs a significant portion of that software and lets individuals, companies and governments preserve their investments in that software. This is where WINE plays an important role.

Using WINE is as simple as typing "wine " in front of the installer .exe when installing the application for the first time. WINE takes care of all the registry logging and support functions that MSWindows normally does. It even creates a virtual "C:" volume, registry, and "Program Files" folder for your new MSWindows application. You can emulate all 32 bit versions of MSWindows (XP Home, XP Professional, Vista, Windows 7). The application, when executed, will start the WINE emulator and create a MSWindows style window as it would normally.

This works for 75-80% of MSWindows applications. The remaining applications are usually very tightly integrated to the Microsoft.Net programming framework. This brings us to  option two.

Option two is quite a bit more complicated although much more comprehensive. It involves a product called VirtualBox or alternatively VMWare. These Linux / Unix applications provide the ability to run virtual software environments (called a virtual machine). Whole operating systems may be executed on top of a host operating system. Linux can run 32-bit MSWindows in a virtual machine as a self-contained environment. All the rudements of Linux are there to support system functions but everything else is genuine MSWindows. This option is more likely to support that 20-25% of applications that will not run in WINE. The down side is that both VMWare and VirtualBox require considerable setup effort to get it to function as expected. Once configured properly, two radically different systems can exist at the same time.

But let’s suppose you are not that technically savy. You don't want to go to the trouble to install applications using WINE or creating the virtual box with VirtualBox or VMWare. Maybe you do not feel that you are technically capable. Whatever the reason, you may still have options. It does not mean running MSWindows applications on Linux, but rather using Linux applications that do the same function and use the data created by the MSWindows application.

Let’s take the considerable applications of the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). To our measurable benefit, Sun Microsystems has developed This Open Software organization has created a suite of office applications that accept files created by Microsoft Office Suite applications. Suppose for a moment you have an important set of documents you created in MSWord but you want to transition to Linux. The answer is simple. applications can import .doc, .xls, and .ppt files, translate them for use with applications, and even save them on Linux in Open Document Format (.odf). The Open Document Format is an accepted set of guidelines published by the Open Software Foundation for any application developer to use. So, if you create a .odf document in Linux and copy that document to MSWindows, a complimentary application for MSWindows that can then open and use that .odf document (like for Windows)with little or no difference in function or appearance between the two environments. The only possible exception may be macros or VBA modules used in the MSWindows environment that may not function on Linux completely as designed, because Visual Basic for Applications [VBA] is a Microsoft Windows only product.

The Open Document Foundation also supports LibreOffice, (a virtual clone of Sun Microsystems OpenOffice) an Open Source applicaition with a LGPL license. Office Suite and LibreOffice are completely free. Either may be included as office desktop applications on many distros. Since they are written in Java, they are transportable between platforms and has the same look and feel regardless of which is in use. So now your Microsoft Office documents and spreadsheets can be opened, modified, and saved in Open Document Format on Linux with little or no learning curve. These Open Document Format documents may also be transported back and forth between platforms if products are used on each platform and suffer no degradation in the process.

As we mentioned earlier, Mozilla FireFox is the browser of choice for almost all Linux distros. This is because Mozilla has an open development framework that allows it to be implemented regardless of platform and themed to look like MSWindows IE7/IE8 or even Apple Safari. Internet Explorer (in any version) and Safari are MSWindows only products that likely will never be ported to any other platform due to their component parts extensive integration into the MSWindows kernel. Microsoft has made a limited version of IE available on OS X but not Linux in any  other form. Safari is only available on MAC.

There are a number of Internet browsers available on Linux beside FireFox. Google has introduced Chrome as a browser for both MSWindows and Linux. Recently, Google has discontinued development of Chrome on Linux platforms in favor of the Open Source version known as Chromium.

Opera is a popular brower for both Linux and MSWindows although much less configurable than FireFox. The browser Konquerer is included with the KDE window manager and has several emulation modes. The browser known as Flock is a newcommer to Linux but has gained quite a following recently. It is included in many distros and can be downloaded from the internet. Mozilla, maker of the original FireFox browser, also makes SeaMonkey. This is a completely redesigned application to follow-on after the wildly popular Mozilla browser of years gone by.

While Linux is probably the most well-known Open Source initiative, there is another project that contributed enormously to the popularity of the Linux operating system. This project is called SAMBA, and its achievement is the reverse engineering of the Server Message Block (SMB)  / Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocol used for file- and print-serving on PC-related machines, natively supported by MSWindows NT, OS/2, and Linux. Packages are now available for almost every system and provide interconnection solutions in mixed environments using MSWindows protocols: Windows-compatible (up to and including current Windows versions using NTFS) file- and print-servers.

Maybe even more successful than the SAMBA project is the Apache HTTP server project. The server runs on UNIX, MSWindows and many other operating systems. Originally known as "A PAtCHy server", based on existing code and a series of "patch files", the name for the matured code deserves to be connoted with the native American tribe of the Apache, well-known for their superior skills in warfare strategy and inexhaustible endurance. Apache has been shown to be substantially faster, more stable and more feature-full than many other web servers. Apache is run on sites that get millions of visitors per day, and while no official support is provided by the developers, the Apache user community provides answers to all your questions. Commercial support is now being provided by a number of third parties. Apache normally runs on a server distro that can, but generally does not use a GUI or window manager to preserve efficiency.

To find other applications that have similar or equal functionality to MSWindows applications you are comfortable with, seek out an Elmer to help. Don't go on this quest by yourself. You will only become frustrated and eventually abandon the effort to return to MSWindows. There are literally thousands of applications for Linux out there, but it takes someone with experience to cull out what will be usefull to you as a Linux newbie. The same can be said for setting up WINE and VirtualBox. Get some help setting them up.