Running Windows applications with CrossOver 14 Linux

Contingency Solution

Article from Issue 175/2015

Have you transitioned from Windows to Linux and then found that you still need the occasional Windows program? You could set up a virtual machine, but CrossOver Linux offers a faster and more efficient approach.

Running Windows applications on virtual machines is a frequent topic after users migrate from Windows to Linux. A virtual setup saves you the trouble of maintaining a parallel Windows installation on the same hard drive and dual-booting between the environments. However, if you want to use just a few Windows programs, setting up a virtual machine is overkill, given that the performance and handling of a virtual Windows system on a Linux PC is only practical if you set up the guest extensions. Working in this way is therefore quite expensive, because you must have a Windows license to set up a normal Windows installation on the virtual machine. Additionally, you need to update the drivers for the virtualization program after each kernel update.

A more elegant solution is to have Linux pretend to be a Windows system environment so that Windows programs "see" the usual system calls, libraries, and interfaces. One such program, CrossOver Linux [2], does just this. It is an enhanced version of Wine [1] that supports a number of Windows applications.

Spoofing a Windows Environment with Wine

When your Linux computer pretends to be a Windows machine, programs can run without the overhead of a virtual environment at something close to native speed. Unfortunately, Windows is not open source, and the information you need to emulate the Windows environment is not generally available. However, the developers of the open source Wine project have focused since 1993 on the Herculean task of analyzing and building something similar to the Windows system environment through reverse engineering. Not all Windows libraries have been built, though, in which case Wine can use the libraries (DLL files) of an existing Windows version to improve compatibility – again, you need a Windows license for this.

Wine has been continuously developed over the years. The latest stable version when I wrote this article was 1.6.2. By the time this issue hits the newsstands, version 1.7.40 will be available. Although some developers of Windows programs and freeware providers occasionally use Wine for a quick port of their applications to Linux, it is often very complicated to talk a specific program into running properly (or at all) on Wine.

CodeWeavers' CrossOver

CodeWeavers, the makers of CrossOver Linux, is now one of the main sponsors of the Wine project and employs some of the Wine developers. The improvements the CrossOver developers make to the LGPL-licensed Wine source code are given back to the free project, whereas CrossOver Linux, originally only intended to run Microsoft Office on Linux, is available under a proprietary license. Version 14 was released recently, and it officially supports many popular Windows applications, especially games.

The compatibility list published regularly by CodeWeavers [3], which assigns popular Windows programs to "Gold," "Silver," and "Bronze" categories shows how stably the programs run and provides very useful orientation. If your choice of program is not on the list, you still have hope if the status is "Not tested." If you're very unlucky, you might find your program under "Known not to work," but you can save time experimenting with Wine.

One advantage that CrossOver offers over Wine is that it removes the need for a complex configuration for programs officially supported by CrossOver. Microsoft Office 2010 SP1, which I installed in the lab test for this article, is supported with Silver status (Figure 1). You still need a license for the Office package when installing under Linux.

Figure 1: CodeWeavers offers a compatibility database that lets you check in advance whether a Windows application will run on CrossOver.

CrossOver is a commercial program; an annual license costs $59.95. When the license expires after 12 months, you will not receive any more updates, but you still can use the software. However, if you need to reinstall after one or two years, it might be difficult to get the product up and running on a then-current Linux version. You can download a 30-day trial version of CrossOver Linux 14.0.3 from the website [4].

CrossOver has its own database, which bundles installation information for all supported Windows tools (e.g., details of which Linux packages are needed for the program to work). The CrossOver Software Installer (Figure 2) then prompts you, when you install a Windows application, to agree to installing required dependencies and proceeds to set up all the necessary components automatically. After the install, the Windows programs in appear in All Applications | Windows Applications below the start menu (Figure 3).

Figure 2: For selected Windows programs, the CrossOver software installation program helps you with the setup process.
Figure 3: You can find Microsoft Office 2010 in the KDE start menu of the CrossOver 14 Linux program.

CrossOver 14

New versions of CrossOver are generally characterized by their support for new Windows apps. In the case of CrossOver 14, this means Quicken 2015 and some new games, including: Warcraft III, Hearthstone, Cube World, Path of Exile, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Terraria, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and Xenonauts. The software is based on the current prerelease version 1.7.25 of Wine.

If you are familiar with older versions of CrossOver, you will notice that the developers revamped the GUI for version 14. You can now launch Windows applications directly from the CrossOver user interface.

CrossOver 14 Linux offers a more convenient approach to taking advantage of Microsoft Office and other selected Windows programs on the Linux desktop. However, compared with a virtual machine running on the free VirtualBox, this comes at a price of about $60. This cost is acceptable if you depend on Microsoft Office, for example, especially because acquiring CrossOver Linux removes the need for an additional Windows license.

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