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How to run Windows software in Linux: Everything you need to know

Chris Hoffman | March 24, 2015
Even the most die hard Linux lovers have to run a Windows program every now and again. Here's how to do so.

Linux is more capable than ever. With over 1000 Linux games available on Steam and a general shift towards more web-based desktop software, there's less need for Windows than ever. After all, you can now watch Netflix on Linux without any hacks, and you can even use Microsoft Office on Linux--a web-based version of it, at least.

But, as most dedicated Linux desktop users will eventually discover, there comes a time when you just need to run a particular piece of Windows software on your Linux PC. There are quite a few ways to do so. Here's what you need to know.

WineWine is a way to run Windows software on Linux, but with 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 is attempting to re-implement enough of Windows from scratch that it can run all those Windows applications without actually needing Windows.

This is the only method here that won't actually require a copy of Windows, but the downside is that it won't run every application properly. You may encounter bugs or performance issues, especially if you're using Wine to play video games. But if you're running a popular game released a few years ago, you may find that it performs very well. Many people use Wine to play World of Warcraft on Linux, for example. You can get an idea of how an application will run and any tweaks it might require by visiting the Wine Application Database website and searching for that application.

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

Codeweavers also offers a commercial version of Wine, known as CrossOver Linux. You have to pay to use it, but Codeweavers tries to go out of their way to officially support popular applications (like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and some big PC games) and ensure they work properly. Codeweavers also contributes its changes back 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 gotten faster, virtual machines have become comparatively more lightweight.

This process involves installing a copy of Windows in a "virtual machine" program like VirtualBox, VMware, or Linux's built-in KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) solution. That copy of Windows thinks it's running on real hardware, but it's really running in window on your desktop. Modern virtual-machine solutions can even break Windows programs running in the virtual machine out of that window, allowing them to act like normal windows on your Linux desktop.

 

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