Howto: Several ways to run Windows applications on a Linux computer

If you are a Linux user or a Windows user considering migration to Linux, one head ache you may face is running some legacy Windows-only applications. Though Linux has a wide choice of quality desktop applications, you may still come across some odd software that does not have a Linux port yet. You have several options to run such applications and games:

  1. Setup dual booting. This is a simple way to run both Windows and Linux on the same computer. You divide the disk drives in such a way that both Windows and Linux have their own partitions. You need a minimum of 3 partitions – one for Windows, one for the Linux root file system and the third for the Linux swap. If you have already installed Linux to occupy the entire hard disk, this may not be a feasible option, unless you are ready to re-install Linux. The disadvantage of this method is that you cannot run both the operating systems simultaneously. You have to reboot the computer to switch to the other operating system. Another major disadvantage is that it is not so easy to access data residing in your Linux partition from Windows. (The other way works easily! In fact, most modern Linux distributions mount your Windows partitions automatically). This will be the ideal option if you are a hardcore gamer.
  2. Virtualization. Virtualization is a way to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on your computer. There are several virtual machine applications available. Popular among them is VMWare Player, which is free. You cannot create a new virtual machine with VMWare Player, but there are a few other options using which you can easily create one. My recommendation is the excellent EasyVMX, which is an online virtual machine builder. Choose Linux as the host operating system and one of the flavors of Windows as the guest OS. Virtual machine technology has now matured and offers near native speeds for the guest operating system. You may have to setup Samba or use FTP or other means to exchange data between your operating system instances.
  3. Win4Lin. This is my favorite option. Though this is not free, it is an elegant way of running Windows within Linux. Win4Lin uses a modified Linux kernel to run Windows as an application inside Linux. You get native speeds while running Windows applications. Another big advantage is that Win4Lin uses the same file system as your Linux installation, so data exchange is seamless between applications. More at Win4Lin website.
  4. All the above 3 options require a Windows licence. Wine is another option, which is definitely the most popular among all and it does not require a copy of Windows! Chances are that your Linux distribution already comes with Wine. If you are using a debian based distribution like Ubuntu, you can apt-get for wine. Once configured, you can install many Windows applications by simply running the respective setup program! The problem with Wine is that it is still a beta software. It is also not very easy to install some Windows applications like the infamous Internet Explorer. If you have some cash to spare, you can try the Crossover Office, which is a polished version of the Open Source Wine and comes with a neat installer to setup your Windows applications.

Try one or more of the above methods – they have their own pros and cons. With a little bit of experimentation, you will be able to settle for the best approach that suits you. Happy Windowing on your Linux!

P.S. This post is created for Problogger group writing project. If you are a fellow blogger, don’t miss this one! Its just fun reading all the howtos.

14 thoughts on “Howto: Several ways to run Windows applications on a Linux computer

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