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01/13/2004 Archived Entry: "Windows to Linux migration"

Could this be the "Coke Classic" move of software? Microsoft has said "oops" and has decided, after all, to continue support for Windows 98 and Windows ME. At least, for two more years, until 2006. I'm sure it's just coincidence that 2006 is when they're expected to release their next new operating system, code-named "Longhorn."

This seems an opportune moment for me to present a guide to Windows-to-Linux migration.

If you are preparing to move from Windows to Linux, the first thing you should do is make a list of the applications that you currently use. Chances are you can make this list by looking at the shortcuts on your desktop. Then you can decide how to provide those applications under Linux:

Equivalent programs. The best solution, when possible, is to find a "native" Linux program that performs the function you need. This is easier than you might think: almost all the applications that come with Windows have Linux parallels. If you're a typical computer user, you'll probably be able to find everything you need. Just a few examples:

MS Office Suite --> OpenOffice
MS Word --> AbiWord
MS Excel --> Gnumeric
Internet Explorer --> Mozilla, Opera
Outlook --> Evolution, Mozilla Mail
Adobe Photoshop --> GIMP
FrontPage --> Mozilla Composer, Amaya
Quicken --> GNUCash

For other applications, Linuxsoft.ru offers an excellent (and long) list of Linux equivalents for Windows software, complete with links. Most Linux distributions will include a large assortment of these programs.

If, however, you have some Windows programs that simply can't be replaced under Linux, you'll need to arrange some way to run those programs. Here are six options (two free and four commercial):

Dual Boot. For a transitional period, you might want to install Linux in addition to your existing Windows. Then, when you boot your computer, you can choose whether to boot Linux or Windows. (As you make the transition, you'll wind up booting Windows less and less.) Every Linux distro I've seen includes a boot manager so it can dual-boot with Windows (or another OS). You need to either partition your Windows hard drive to make room for Linux, or install a second hard drive. Some Linux distros include partitioning software, or you can download the free-but-cryptic GNU Parted, or you can buy the easy-to-use Partition Magic. The downside with this approach is that you need to reboot to change from Windows to Linux...a nuisance when you're using an old Windows program but your email program is in Linux.

Wine. Wine is a free, open-source Linux package that lets Windows 9x programs run under Linux. It attempts to provide the complete "application program interface" (the system calls) used by Windows 9x software. Wine is a work in progress, but a surprising number of Windows applications work with Wine already. Most Linux distributions include Wine.

Crossover Office. CodeWeavers sells an improved version of Wine called CrossOver Office, which has been optimized to run Microsoft Office. If your business requires "real" MS Office, this is an excellent investment. It's also much easier to administer CrossOver Office than Wine, since CodeWeavers has put a lot of attention into making it user-friendly. This is available for most Linux distros (and is included in Xandros Linux Deluxe, under which we run MS Word 97 and Eudora 6).

WineX. Transgaming sells another Wine derivative, WineX, which is optimized to run Windows games. If you need DirectX support for games, this is the product for you. This is an unusual product: you buy a subscription, and get periodic updates with support for more and newer games. But if you let your subscription lapse, you can still keep and use the last version you downloaded. (I've never used this product.)

Win4Lin. If your applications won't run under Windows "emulation," you might want to look at NeTraverse's Win4Lin product. This lets you install and run a copy of Microsoft Windows as a task under Linux. You have to own a copy of Windows, and you really do install Microsoft OS code on your Linux machine...but the Linux OS remains in control, so it's more stable (and a Windows crash doesn't bring down your entire machine). This is a good choice if you have some custom or esoteric Windows software that you must continue to support. I use this for a few tricky Windows applications, and so far I've found only one Windows program that won't run under Win4Lin. Most major Linux distros are supported.

VMWare. The final step in this progression is VMWare. VMWare turns your PC into multiple "virtual machines" which can run different operating systems in parallel...so you can run Windows and Linux at the same time on your computer. The difference from Win4Lin is that under VMWare, the operating systems are peers -- neither is subordinate to the other -- and that any PC operating systems can be installed. (I've never used this product.)

I use a hybrid approach. I use Linux applications as much as I can. For MS Word -- when I'm required to use it -- I run CrossOver Office. For the other Windows apps that don't have Linux equivalents, I use Win4Lin...except for the one recalcitrant development system, which requires me to dual-boot into my old Windows 95 OS -- still on the first hard drive (and gradually going unstable).


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