Have Some Wine
When You Just Can't Live Without That Windows Program

by Charles Olsen

Years ago, when I was still happily using Windows XP, I started to see articles about what was in store for us with Windows Vista --considerably higher hardware requirements and new DRM (digital restrictions management), with no real improvement in our computing power or experience. I didn't see any reason to put up with this kind of crap, and it was this new version of Windows that convinced me to switch to Linux.

Some of the software I was using also had Linux versions --including OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Thunderbird. And even when the same program didn't exist in Linux, I could find equivalent programs that worked just as well.

The one problem I ran into was Info Select. Not that I couldn't find a program to replace it -- both Tomboy and BasKet can perform the same function of providing a place to store random bits of information and retrieving them quickly and easily. (After trying both, I liked Tomboy best.)

My problem was that I had been collecting notes in Info Select since the 1980's, when it was a DOS TSR program called Tornado Notes. If you don't know what "DOS" or "TSR" mean, that's not relevant to this article. The point is that I had 20+ years of notes collected in this program, and I needed a way to access them.

Recognizing that much of the information could be years out of date, I didn't want to just transfer all that data into Tomboy. But I still needed a way to retrieve it on occasion.

One solution would be to set up my PC for dual-boot, so that I could boot into Windows when needed. But that's slow and inefficient, and my goal in switching to Linux was to avoid Windows.

It's also possible to run Windows in a virtual machine using VirtualBox or VMware. This would eliminate the need to reboot before using a Windows program, but it would still mean that I'd have to run Windows.

I found a better solution in Wine, a program that allows you to install and run Windows software in Linux. Not all Windows programs run in Wine, but many do.

Wine stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. Wine is a compatibility layer that allows you to run Windows programs in Linux. It consists of a program loader which loads and executes a Microsoft Windows binary, and a library that implements Windows API calls using their Linux equivalents. 

You can download Wine from www.winehq.org, but the easiest way to get it in Linux is to install it from the repository. Once it has been installed, you'll find a new item on the context menu if you right-click on a Windows EXE file in your file browser. The new item will allow you to open the file with Wine.

When you run the file, it will look pretty much like it would if you were installing the program in Windows. You'll see the same screens that you would in Windows, including the EULA, activation keys, install directories, etc.

After the install is finished, you'll find the application on your main system menu under Wine. On the Gnome desktop I'm using at this time, it's under: Applications > Wine > Programs > Info Select. If I want to get to it with one click, I can add it as a button on my panel.

Once I've launched Info Select, I can start opening my old data files. Everything works just like it did in Windows, allowing me to search my notes, add new notes or delete notes. Now all of my old data is available.

Wine also creates directories in your Linux home folder to match the directories that the software would find on a Windows PC, so the program doesn't get confused by the Linux directory structure. A simulated drive C: is created at /home/username/.wine/drive_c. Under drive_C are folders for Program Files, Users and Windows. You're not restricted to just these folders, though. Once I had Info Select installed, I was able to open data files I had saved under my /data partition.

Not all Windows applications will run in Wine, though the program is under development and new programs are being added all the time. Of the programs that do run, not all of them run flawlessly. The WineHQ web site has an AppDB page, which lists applications that are known to work in Wine.

It also tells how well they are expected to work. Applications are separated into three categories according to how well they work:

Platinum: Applications which install and run flawlessly on an out-of-the-box Wine installation

Gold: Applications that work flawlessly with some special configuration

Silver: Applications with minor issues that do not affect typical usage

Some of the Platinum applications include Command & Conquer 3, Counter-Strike, The Sims 3, Half-Life 2 and Star Wars: Jedi Knight -Jedi Academy.

Programs on the Gold list include Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Starcraft, Guild Wars, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Some of the Silver applications are Fallout 3, Photoshop CS2, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Battlefield 2, City of Heroes, MediaMonkey and Google SketchUp.

You can search the entire AppDB at appdb.winehq.org.

Wine is open source, which means you can download the source code and examine or customize it.

There is a commercial version of Wine from CodeWeavers. CrossoverLinux is a more polished version of Wine, and CodeWeavers provides technical support. When you purchase Crossover, the money funds the developers working on Wine. CodeWeavers allows you to download a fully functional trial version of Crossover, so you can try it before you buy it.

CodeWeavers takes the new development for Crossover and passes it back to Wine, helping Wine continue to improve.

CodeWeavers also publishes Crossover Games, a version of Crossover that is optimized to run Windows games.

If you're trying to avoid Windows but just can't let go of that last Windows program or two, Wine or Crossover may give you the freedom to abandon Windows.


Crossover Linux
Crossover Games
Crossover Mac

Charles Olsen is a writer, trainer and IT professional. He can be reached at charles (dot) olsen (at) pobox (dot) com. See more articles at and listen to the mintCast podcast at www.mintcast.org.