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Win4Lin a different good way to do the wrong thing

Want to run Office & Lotus Notes on Linux? Look no further! There's a cost, though.

(LinuxWorld) -- Last week I made a case for using Codeweavers' CrossOver Office to run Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes from a Linux desktop without having to pay for a Windows license. I did it in protest, simply because I believe it would be preferable to go cold turkey on Microsoft software and invest in open source applications. The realist in me, however, knows many of you cannot make as dramatic a change as that in one fell swoop.

If any of you are within reach of making the right decision -- that is, moving entirely to open source software -- then the following document should be required reading: http://www.theregus.com/content/4/24858.html. It is a letter supposedly from Peruvian Congressman David Villanueva Nuñez to Microsoft Peru, that details why Peru is making it official policy to invest only in open source software from here on out. There is some question as to the letter's authenticity, or if the Congressman had some help writing it from the likes of Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman. No matter who wrote it, the logic is superb. It truly is a tour de force in that it accurately responds to every one of Microsoft's allegations against open source software, even pointing out in lurid detail the many contradictions in Microsoft's propaganda. In addition, it is just plain enjoyable reading. My compliments go to whoever translated it from the original Spanish into English.

If that document doesn't convince you, then consider that the Bible condemns the use of Windows applications on Linux. To quote from Romans Chapter 1, verse 27 (from the NTBV, Nick's Totally Bogus Version): "Likewise also the users, leaving the natural use of the computer, burned in their lust for Windows, even Windows on Linux, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was hangs, blue screens, and crashes." It should be clear that if the good Lord had intended us to run Windows applications on Linux, he would have made Bill Gates a programmer from Finland instead of a contract lawyer from hell.

Anyway, since many of you obviously plan to do this against my advice and against your creator's ever so slightly modified words, I'd like to respond to some of your specific questions I left unanswered in last week's column.

Taking Notes

First, let me update you on one problem I had with CrossOver Office. Last week, I couldn't start Outlook without the user account wizard launching first. I reinstalled Office from a different CD, and that seems to have solved the problem. I'm guessing it's a slipstreaming update issue, since there's no logical reason why a reinstall would fix a problem like this. Then again, it is not atypical of Microsoft to respond to every problem with the recommendations "Reboot, Reformat, Reinstall," so perhaps they're on to something.

Many of you also wanted to know if Lotus Notes runs well with CrossOver Office. Yes and no, but for the most part, yes. I tried the Notes R5 client. The latest version is 5.0.10, but all I have is version 5.0.5, and I couldn't find any incremental update programs to download that would upgrade anything as old as 5.0.5. IBM/Lotus, in its infinite wisdom, seems to think that nobody has a version that old. Nevertheless, Lotus Notes R5, version 5.0.5 works as well as that Notes client can work, which is terrific if you have a Notes server and horrific if you are using it as an IMAP client.

Lotus has a download available for Notes 6, pre-release 1. This version makes a far superior IMAP client and includes several notable improvements over R5. Unfortunately, it crashes continually with CrossOver Office. It also crashes continually under Win4Lin (a product I'll get to in a moment) and under native Windows 98SE. It simply crashes most often under CrossOver Office. Since CrossOver Office was not meant to run this pre-release, it's difficult to fault it for behaving badly in this case.

You also wanted to know just how well PowerPoint worked, since I raved about PowerPoint as the only Microsoft Office application I like. It works well enough that most users should be satisfied. I'm not happy with the way it works, but I believe I could tune my environment to improve at least some of the problems I've experienced.

In particular, there are two very annoying quirks. First, if I launch PowerPoint from a virtual desktop that has other applications running, then every time PowerPoint pops up a dialog, the other application rises to the top, thus covering up the dialog (and PowerPoint). This seems to be a problem unique to the KDE window manager, since this hasn't happened yet under GNOME and the Sawfish window manager.

The other problem is that it shows very poor performance when I use animations and sound. For example, if I set PowerPoint to have text fly in from the left and assign a sound to that action, the performance is too choppy to be useful in a real-world presentation. It behaves the same whether I run it under GNOME or KDE.

You can't Win4Losing

Now I don't have any of these problems when I run Microsoft Office under Netraverse, Inc.'s Win4Lin, a program that lets you install and run Windows 95, 98, 98SE or Windows ME on top of Linux. PowerPoint doesn't cause the wrong windows to rise to the top when I bring up dialogs, and the performance is perfectly acceptable even if I use animation and sound.

I would normally give you more details about how well Win4Lin works, but version 4.0 was just released and I'm still running version 3.0. Whatever I say may be moot if you choose to purchase it.

However, here's something I know the versions share. They all depend on a modified Linux kernel. If you aren't running one of the distributions and kernel versions that Netraverse supports, you'll have to patch the kernel yourself. That isn't terribly difficult in most cases, but if you're an obsessive experimenter as I am, it's a royal pain. There's no reason why Netraverse should release patches for every test version of a kernel that Linus Torvalds, Alan Cox, and others submit. If you use any of those test kernels, you're almost guaranteed to run into problems getting the Win4Lin patches to work. I have the patch working with kernel 2.4.19-pre8, but Windows hangs now and then, and I can't help but suspect it's because the patch I used was intended for kernel version 2.4.18.

Despite the problems I've had and the functional limitations in version 3.0 (limited network support, the mouse scroll wheel doesn't work), I believe Win4Lin is the best possible way to run Windows programs under Linux. VMware, yet another alternative, has very important advantages over Win4Lin. Windows doesn't perform nearly as well on top of Linux using VMware, which is enough to make me want to put up with the limitations of Win4Lin instead.

The problem with any solutions like VMware or Win4Lin that are not based on Wine, as is Codeweavers' CrossOver Office, is that you still have to pay for a Windows license to use them to run Windows programs. You don't have to pay for that license to run Microsoft Office on top of CrossOver Office. On the other hand, you have to pay for CrossOver Office, itself.

The bottom line is that the price of running Windows on Linux can range from less expensive to more expensive than running Windows alone. You can cut deals with any of these vendors and figure out for yourself which is least expensive. Let me save you the trouble. Get yourself right with the Lord, toss Windows out the Window, and just make the jump to open source.

More Stories By Nicholas Petreley

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

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