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Codeweaver's CrossOver Office is the best way to do the wrong thing

Want to run Office & Lotus Notes on Linux? Look no further!

(LinuxWorld) -- I am writing this column under protest. The idealist part of me is protesting against the realist, who is the driving force behind this week's column. Here's the deal. I tried Codeweavers' CrossOver Office, which is a commercial product that lets you run Microsoft Office 97, Office 2000, and Lotus Notes natively under Linux. Codeweavers performs this miracle with an enhanced version of Wine, which means you can run these Windows applications without having to pay for a Windows license.

The idealist part of me wants to say that nobody should run Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes under Linux. There are plenty of free, open source, and commercial alternatives to these programs that run natively on Linux. To be fair, however, I must admit that there was a time when I would have begged for a way to be able to run Lotus Notes on Linux. It isn't that I have any attachment to Lotus Notes. It's simply that Notes was the standard for InfoWorld, the company where I worked. I eventually got the IT department to forward my mail, which solved the problem in a way preferable to running Notes on any platform, but CrossOver Office would have come in handy in the meantime.

As for Microsoft Office, I must say that there is at least one compelling thing about Office. I'd rate PowerPoint as the best presentation software available today. Some might say the same of Outlook, Word, and Excel, and I haven't used them enough to know if they are right or wrong. From my perspective, PowerPoint is the only package with features that I miss when I use a competing product. There's nothing in Outlook, Word, or Excel that I can't do easily with Evolution, Mozilla, Mutt, OpenOffice, AbiWord, Kspread, and Gnumeric. When Kword joins the 21st century and adds spell-check-as-you-type, I'll add it to the list, too.

The realist part of me understands that this isn't about features, anyway. People would be using Microsoft Office today even if OpenOffice were demonstrably superior in every respect. That's the advantage Microsoft has of owning everything from Mediterranean Avenue to Boardwalk.

Road to freedom

Fortunately, for those who want to get off the upgrade merry-go-round, Microsoft is about to produce the kind of incentive that Linux could never provide on its own. Microsoft calls it Licensing 6.0, and the company plans to roll it out in August. It gives Microsoft customers the privilege of paying a yearly fee to use whatever code Microsoft feels like tossing together that year, at no risk to Microsoft.

There are two ways to avoid Licensing 6.0. You can switch to Linux on the desktop, or you can switch to Linux on the desktop. Some of you may think you can avoid both the migration to Linux and Licensing 6.0 by sticking with your current Windows software. Bzzt. It's only a matter of time before Microsoft audits you out of your current situation.

I recommend that you make a cold-turkey switch to Linux on the desktop, but the realist in me knows many of you simply won't do that even if you know it is the best choice. Policy, politics, or an irrational fear of stability, freedom, and increased profits could prevent you from making such a drastic change.

That's where CrossOver Office comes in. CrossOver Office is a way to run the most popular Windows productivity applications on Linux for just $54.95. That makes it one of the best possible ways to migrate to Linux on the desktop without having to save money, effort, or give up Microsoft Office, Outlook, or Lotus Notes. Well, the part about not saving money is not strictly true. A 100-user license for CrossOver Office is $4,000 or $40 per user. That means the immediate savings over a sweet deal with Microsoft for Windows may not be very significant, but you may save a bundle if your company doesn't have the clout to cut cute deals with Microsoft. Regardless, some real savings will begin add up once you've bypassed Licensing 6.0 for life.

The good, bad and ugly

I found CrossOver Office to be extremely easy to install. The most amusing part of the installation process occurs when you install Microsoft Office and the moment arrives when you would normally have to reboot your computer under Windows. Reboots are almost unheard of with Linux, and rightfully so. The installation program knows this and simply simulates a reboot for the sake of convincing the Microsoft Office installation program that everything is kosher.

CrossOver Office works the way it should for the most part. All the Windows applications start up very quickly and usually run without problems.

When problems do occur, however, they can be rather annoying. On my system, Outlook always starts with the configuration wizard, no matter how many times I configure it. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I installed CrossOver Office as root instead of as a normal user, but it's possible there's some other cause. The README file says Outlook has a number of visual glitches, but I didn't happen to encounter any of them.

The README file also indicates that the Internet Explorer support is bug-ridden, but I don't know why anyone would want to run the infamous security hazard known as IE under Windows let alone Linux, so this doesn't strike me as a problem. Codeweavers admits it didn't test Access much, so I wouldn't depend on CrossOver Office to be the ideal platform for Access. I didn't get a chance to test Access, myself, so as far as I'm concerned the jury is out.

Word and Excel, on the other hand, performed perfectly under Linux with CrossOver Office. My only complaint is that the default settings made the menu and dialog fonts look terrible on my system. Lo and behold, I noticed that the FAQ on the Codeweavers Web site mentioned that you can turn off the internal custom Truetype (freetype) font handler if you like, which tells CrossOver Office to use the freetype library you happen to have installed on your system. This made everything look a lot better on my Debian unstable box.

The final word

Codeweavers does good work. That's why I purchased the Codeweavers CrossOver Plugin product. I wanted to vote for a good company with my dollars. (CrossOver Plugin lets you run Windows browser plug-ins from Linux browsers.)

I requested a review copy of CrossOver Office because I do not intend to use it on a regular basis after I finish writing this. I simply don't value Microsoft Office or Lotus Notes enough to warrant purchasing this product. I mention this because those of you who notice that I'm not head-over-heels about CrossOver Office should know that my lack of enthusiasm is not because the product itself isn't a nice bit of work. I just have trouble relating to those who would want to use it.

If you are among those who are going to use Microsoft Office, Outlook, or Lotus Notes no matter what, then I whole-heartedly recommend CrossOver Office as a way to get Microsoft off your back eventually, if not right away. To the rest of you I say go cold turkey and move to the open source alternatives to these applications immediately. You'll thank me, eventually, I promise.

More Stories By Nicholas Petreley

Nicholas Petreley is a computer consultant and author in Asheville, NC.

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