Running Microsoft Office on Linux: Wine and CrossOver

One of the concerns for new Linux users is what kind of access they will have to their Microsoft Office files, particularly Word files. The Linux operating system and many applications for it are designed to provide seamless access to Microsoft Office files. The major Linux Office suites, including KOffice, OpenOffice, and Oracle Open Office, all read and manage Microsoft Office files. In addition, these office suites are fast approaching the same level of features and support for office tasks as found in Microsoft Office.

Wine (Windows Compatibility Layer) allows you to run many Windows applications directly, using a supporting virtual windows API. See the Wine website for a list of supported applications, http://www.winehq.org, AppDB tab. Well-written applications may run directly from Wine, like the Newsbin newsreader. Often you will have to have a working Windows system from which you can copy system DLLs needed by particular applications. You can also import Windows fonts by directly copying them to the Wine font directory. Each user can install their own version of Wine with its own simulated C: partition on which Windows applications are installed. The simulated drive is installed as drive_c in your .wine directory. The .wine directory is a hidden directory. It is not normally displayed with the ls command or the GNOME file manager (View | Show Hidden Files). You can also use any of your Linux directories for your Windows application data files instead of your simulated C: drive. These are referenced by Windows applications as the z: drive.

In a terminal window, using the wine command with an install program will automatically install that Windows application on the simulated C: drive. The following example installs Microsoft Office. Though there may be difficulties with latest Microsoft Office versions, earlier versions like 2007 should work fine for the most part (see http://www.winehq.org, AppDB tab, search on Word). Applications are rated platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and garbage. The Microsoft Office applications are silver.

When you insert the Microsoft Office CD, it will be mounted to the /media directory using the disk label as its folder name. Check the /media folder (Filesystem in the Computer window, Places | Computer) to see what the actual name is. You then run the setup.exe program for Office with wine. Depending on the version of Office you have, there may be further subfolders for the actual Office setup.exe program. The following example assumes that the label for Office is OFFICE and that the setup.exe program for Office is on the top level directory of that CD. $ wine /media/OFFICE/setup.exe

The install program will start up and you will be prompted to enter your product key. Be sure to use only uppercase as you type. Once installed, choose Applications | Wine | Programs | Microsoft Office, and then choose the application name to start up. The application will start up normally. If you right-click on a menu entry, like the one for Microsoft Word, you can choose Add this Launcher to Desktop entry to add an icon for the application on your desktop. The application is referenced by Wine on the user’s simulated c: drive.

The Windows My Documents folder is set up by Wine to be the user’s Ubuntu Documents directory. There you will find any files saved to My Documents.

Wine is constantly being updated to accommodate the latest versions of Windows applications. However, for some applications you may need to copy DLL files from a working Windows system to the Wine Windows folder, .wine/drive_c/windows, usually to the system or system32 directories. Though effective, Wine support will not be as stable as Crossover.

CrossOver Office is a commercial product that lets you install and run most Microsoft Office applications (Silver rating). CrossOver Office was developed by CodeWeavers, which also supports Windows web browser plug-ins as well as several popular Windows applications like Adobe Photoshop. CrossOver features both standard and professional versions, providing reliable application support. You can find out more about CrossOver Office at http://www.codeweavers.com.

CrossOver can be installed either for private multi-user mode or managed multi-user mode. In private multi-user mode, each user installs Windows software, such as full versions of Office. In managed multi-user mode, the Windows software is installed once and all users share it. Once the software is installed, you will see a Windows Applications menu on the main menu, from which you can start your installed Windows software. The applications will run within a Linux window, but they will appear just as if they were running in Windows.

With VMware, you can run Windows under Linux, allowing you to run Windows applications, including Microsoft Office, on your Linux system. For more information, check the VMware Web site at http://www.vmware.com.

Another option, for users with high-powered computers that support virtualization, is to install the Windows OS on a virtual machine using the Virtual Machine Manager (Ubuntu Software Center | System | Virtual Machine Manager). You could then install and run Windows on the virtual machine and install Microsoft Office on it.

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