How to run Windows apps in Ubuntu

No matter how many useful applications come bundled with Ubuntu, it’s difficult to live without some Windows programs, particularly if you work in an industry where, say, Word, Excel or Photoshop compatibility is a must.

Luckily, it’s entirely possible to run many Windows applications within Ubuntu using an optional package, Wine.

Wine is frequently described as an emulator, but in fact it works as a “compatibility layer” offering Linux-based alternatives to the libraries that Windows applications call on during use, and a process – the winerserver – that translates the functions of the Windows kernel and UI into their Linux equivalents.

Using these and some clever jiggery-pokery with file systems, Wine convinces Windows apps that they’re running on a Microsoft OS and enables them to run happily on Ubuntu with a minimal performance hit.

Wine convinces Windows apps that they’re running on a Microsoft OS

The good news is that it’s usually easy to use. First, you need to install Wine: search for it in the Ubuntu Software Centre, or download the latest version from WineHQ.

Now, it’s time to install your Windows app. Just download the file or insert the CD or DVD, and you can often double-click on the standard Windows installer (or let the CD autorun) and install an application just as you would in Windows. Wine handles the whole thing for you, practically transparently. Nor is there any hassle in running installed software: you can either run the application from a desktop shortcut or from Applications | Wine | Programs.

Will Wine always work?

Sadly, Wine doesn’t always flow smoothly, and not all applications work perfectly first time. Some just won’t work whatever you do, while others rely on security systems that scupper Wine.

Others will work, but with limited functionality, woeful stability or significant bugs. On the plus side, maintains a database of Windows applications, with volunteers testing new software as it appears, and grading them from Platinum (runs flawlessly out of the box) to Garbage (won’t work at all).

Office 2007 and Word 2007, for example, are rated as Silver and will work for most English-language users straight away. InDesign CS3 and CS4, however, are listed as Garbage, although they may install and run as part of an Adobe Creative Suite.

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