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Windows Emulators for Linux: VMware, Win4Lin Face Off

Windows emulation software gives Linux desktop users the ability to run those "must-have" Windows programs. Computerworld community member Charles Bushong takes contenders VMware and Win4Lin for a test run -- and picks a winner.

By Charles A. Bushong
April 4, 2002 12:00 PM ET

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Linux provides a very good upgrade path for servers in businesses of all sizes. Among the reasons for this are its versatility, ease of administration, minimal upfront cost and lack of client-access license entanglements. Also, users typically don't have direct contact with servers, so the underlying operating system isn't a big deal to them.
Not so with desktop computers for work or home.
My experience as a user and programmer on Windows operating systems -- and as a participant in some lively discussions that take place in the Computerworld community forums -- confirm that the transition to Linux isn't always easy for the user or the administrator. Almost all users have some Windows program that they must have in order for Linux to be as functional as Windows is for them.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of options for providing users with their must-have applications on a Linux desktop. I've discussed some of those in a previous story (see "Linux and Windows: Can't We All Just Get Along?"). This time, I've taken a hard look at two other alternatives.
Two Approaches, Five Programs
Emulation programs fall into roughly two groups: Those that require a Microsoft Windows license and those that don't. Programs that don't require a Windows license include the following:

  • Lindows, a $99 distribution of Linux that will run some Windows applications directly. It's due to ship soon from San Diego-based Inc.

  • CrossOver Office 1.0.0, from CodeWeavers Inc. in St. Paul, Minn. This $54.95 software package currently supports only Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes Windows applications.

  • Wine, free software that implements a Windows compatibility layer on top of Linux, is available from the Wine Development HQ Web site. But it doesn't support all Windows applications.

I focus here on two emulation software programs that require a Windows license:
  • NeTraverse Win4Lin 3.0, $89.99 from NeTraverse Inc. in Austin, Texas

  • VMware Workstation 3.0, $329 from VMware Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif. The company also offers a server version. (Regrettably, VMware Express, the $49.95 desktop version that I reviewed last time and runs one Windows 9x virtual machine at a time on Linux, has been discontinued.)

VMware vs. Win4Lin
Although the no-license options are getting better all the time, and new versions are about to be released, the products with the best compatibility with Windows applications still require a license for Microsoft Windows. Win4Lin and VMware Workstation aren't clones of each other, but they share certain qualities.
Both lack support for the DirectDraw and Direct3D Windows drivers that improve performance in graphical programs. That makes it impossible to

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