all you need to know

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Linux is more capable than ever. With over 1,000 Linux games available on Steam and a general move towards more web-based desktop software, Windows is less needed than ever. After all, now you can watch Netflix on Linux without any hacking, and you can even use Microsoft Office on Linux, at least a web version of it.

But, as most dedicated Linux desktop users will eventually find out, there comes a time when you just need to run particular Windows software on your Linux PC. There are several ways to do this. Here’s what you need to know.

Wine

Wine is a way to run Windows software on Linux, but no Windows required.

Wine is an open source “Windows Compatibility Layer” that can run Windows programs directly on your Linux desktop. Essentially, this open source project tries to re-implement enough Windows from scratch that you can run all of those Windows apps without actually needing Windows.

It’s the only method here that won’t actually require a copy of Windows, but the downside is that it won’t run all apps correctly. You may experience some bugs or performance issues, especially if you are using Wine to play video games. But if you are using a popular game that was released a few years ago, you might find that it works just fine. Lots of people use Wine to gamble World of warcraft under Linux for example. You can get an idea of ​​how an app will perform and what adjustments it might require by visiting the Wine app database website and searching for that app.

The version of Wine from PlayOnLinux, running on Ubuntu.

First, download Wine from the software repositories of your Linux distribution. Once it is installed you can then download the .exe files for Windows applications and double click on them to run them with Wine. You can also try PlayOnLinux, a sophisticated interface on Wine that will help you install popular Windows games and programs.

Codeweavers also offers a commercial version of Wine, known as CrossOver Linux. You have to pay to use it, but Codeweavers tries to do everything possible to officially support popular apps (like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and some great PC games) and make sure they run smoothly. Codeweavers is also making its changes to the main Wine project.

Virtual machines

Virtual machines are a very convenient way to run Windows software on your Linux PC. As PCs have become faster, virtual machines have become comparatively lighter.

This process involves installing a copy of Windows into a “virtual machine” program such as VirtualBox, VMware, or Linux’s built-in KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) solution. This copy of Windows thinks it’s running on real hardware, but it’s actually running in a window on your desktop. Modern virtual machine solutions can even break Windows programs running in the virtual machine outside of this window, allowing them to act like normal windows on your Linux desktop.

virtualbox on ubuntu

VirtualBox in Ubuntu Linux.

This solution is more infallible than Wine. Since you are running these Windows applications on an actual copy of Windows, you will not encounter any bugs.

However, using a virtual machine requires a full copy of Windows, and the hardware overhead is greater because that copy of Windows must run with your primary operating system. In particular, demanding PC games that need access to your computer’s graphics card won’t perform well at all – you’d better use Wine for those. But for productivity apps like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, this is a great solution.

Double start

Dual-booting is technically not a way to run Windows software on Linux itself, but it’s the number of Linux users who are running Windows software. Rather than using it directly in Linux, all you need to do is restart your computer, choose Windows, and boot into Microsoft’s operating system. Windows software can then run in its native environment. Thanks to modern SSDs, this rebooting process should be faster than ever.

install Linux in dual boot

Installing Linux in a dual boot configuration.

This is especially ideal if you’re a PC gamer who just can’t give up Windows yet. Rather than giving up all those Windows games, you can just restart your computer when you want to play Windows-only games. Since you’re using old-fashioned Windows running directly on hardware, you won’t have to deal with any compatibility or performance issues.

The best way to configure a dual boot system is to install Windows first. If Windows is installed on your computer, this is sufficient. Then install the Linux distribution of your choice and tell it to install it with Windows. You will then be able to choose your preferred operating system each time you start your computer. This Ubuntu guide to installing Linux alongside Windows can help you through the process.

Want to stay up to date on Linux, BSD, Chrome OS, and the rest of the world beyond Windows? Bookmark the World Beyond Windows column page or follow our RSS feed.

The best option really depends on what you’re trying to do. If you need to run a single application or game that performs well in Wine, Wine may be ideal. If you need to run a variety of desktop apps, like the more modern versions of Office and Photoshop, which Wine might struggle with, a virtual machine will be best. If you’re a PC gamer who always wants to play the latest Windows games, dual booting will give you the performance you want without the headache of Wine.


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