How-To Geek

4+ Ways to Run Windows Software on Linux


Linux has come a long way, but you may still need to run Windows applications occasionally – especially Windows-only PC games. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to run Windows applications on Linux.

Of course, before you try to run an old Windows program, you should look or alternatives that run natively on Linux. You’ll have a better experience if you can find a decent alternative that runs without any fiddling.

Use Wine

Wine is a compatibility layer that allows Windows applications to run on Linux. It’s basically an implementation of the Windows API on Linux. Of course, Microsoft doesn’t publish all the information we need to re-implement the Windows API from scratch, so Wine has to be reverse-engineered. While it works amazingly well given how little Microsoft has given us to worth with, it’s nowhere near perfect.

To run an application in Wine, you can install Wine and use it to launch an installer’s .exe file. Before you do, you should take a look at the Wine Application Database website, which will tell you how well an application runs in Wine. Wine is frequently used for games, as games are the one type of software that can’t run in a virtual machine. While Wine can be used to run desktop applications like Photoshop and Microsoft Word, these will run flawlessly in a virtual machine (see below).

You can also try using an application like PlayOnLinux, which helps automate the process of installing supported games and other software in Wine.

The Netflix Desktop app uses a patched version of Wine to run Netflix on Linux – Silverlight doesn’t work properly with the current version of Wine.

Run Windows in a Virtual Machine

While Wine may have bugs or crashes when installing applications, a virtual machine will be able to run those desktop applications just fine. Install Windows in a virtual machine program like VirtualBox, VMware Player, or KVM and you’ll have Windows running in a window. You can install windows software in the virtual machine and run it on your Linux desktop.

Virtual machines introduce some overhead, but with today’s fast CPUs, running many types of software in a virtual machine shouldn’t be a problem. This is especially true after you’ve tweaked those virtual machines for speed. This doesn’t apply to games – virtual machines don’t have very good 3D graphics support, so all but the oldest games will fail to run.

To integrate the Windows applications with your desktop, you can use VirtualBox’s seamless mode or VMware’s Unity mode. The applications will still be running in a virtual machine, but their windows will appear seamlessly on your desktop, as if they were running on Linux.

Try CrossOver

If Wine seems like too much of a pain, you may want to try CrossOver Linux. CrossOver is a commercial product so it will cost you money, although CodeWeavers offer a free trial. CrossOver essentially takes the Wine software and packages it so that it’s guaranteed to work properly with popular applications like Photoshop, Office, and even popular games. CodeWeavers provides commercial support for these supported programs, so you have someone to turn to if something breaks.

This option isn’t for everyone – often you can run the same applications by using Wine – but if you’re just interested in running a few popular applications on your Linux desktop and paying someone else to do the tweaking for you, CrossOver may be your ticket. CrossOver also sends their patches back to the Wine project, so the money you pay helps fund open-source Wine development.

As with Wine, CrossOver won’t work perfectly with everything. Like with Wine, CodeWeavers has a compatibility database website.

Use a Remote Desktop

If you have access to a remote Windows system, you may want to try running your applications on the remote Windows system and using remote desktop on your Linux system to access them. The applications will be running remotely on a real Windows system, so they should work properly.

Many Linux desktops include software for accessing remote Windows desktops already. If not, you can install the rdesktop package.

When All Else Fails: Dual Boot

You can’t run every Windows program on Linux – when a big new PC game comes out, it will often be quite some time until it runs properly in Wine. While Steam on Linux and rumored Linux support from Blizzard may change this in the future, games are the one category of app that have the most issues on Linux – although many older games work perfectly.

Instead of giving up on Windows entirely, consider keeping it around in a dual-boot configuration. When you want to play a new game that doesn’t work properly on Linux, restart into your Windows system.

If you’re dual-booting, you can even access your Linux partitions from Windows so you’ll always have access to your files.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/12/13

Comments (20)

  1. tecn0tarded

    once you get use to linux you’ll find there’s no reason to use windows programs. most of the open source software does an adequate job for normal everyday users. sign up for the forums and ask questions. even though i make fun of it, linux does work.

  2. Erik Lundmark

    CrossOver had a free download last Xmaz, I use it to play Angry Birds [X]. Works a s good as on Windows, Wine had problems with layering (black textures), ssOver includes all the dlls needed.
    AND Photoshop CS2 is now FREE! So I’m all set :)

  3. Ruja
  4. Santo

    Dual boot is the best way to try Linux and Windows in the same computer.

  5. Ed

    I use Virtualbox within Linux Mint because I found LibreOffice doesn’t do everything I need it to do like Office does. However I recently found PlayOnLinux allowed me to install Office 2010 within Linux flawlessly.

  6. EricInDayton

    Virtual box has come along way, but still has performance issues with some of the most recent graphics intense games. The only problem with dual boot is that depending on how often you use it, switching to windows can mean a hour or more of slow performance while it updates with all the Microsoft patches. A good option if you can afford it is to set up a machine with windows, firewall, secunia psi, and your games and then leave it on. Windows and secunia will keep it patched and ready to go whenever you want it and you can use remote desktop to play your games from your main Linux desktop or even a tablet.

  7. Brian Clarke

    Don’t forget Dosbox – I use this to run an old version of Quicken that won’t run in Wine on RHEL 6. There’s even Windows ports that should allow you to run 16 bit programs on 64 bit Windows – although I haven’t tried that…

  8. krokkenoster

    I am going to buy a computer without anything on it and I want to go to LINUX directly but I have one gripe DRIVERS for modems and printers and other hardware

  9. Keltari

    Wine is a crapshoot. Some applications work fine in Wine, however most do not. Even “gold” certified applications have issues and its just not worth the hassle.

  10. RichardS

    There is too much emphasis on Operating Systems. Users like most of us should concentrate on our data and apps, not the process that facilitates them. MS, Apple and even Linux have us talking and spending money on the OS ad infinitum. What I would like to ‘see’ is an invisible OS on which my apps just work – any apps. Why do there have to be different platforms?. It’s no help to anybody. The OS should be free, and very basic. It should be the apps which take centre stage.
    As a comparison, how much time do ordinary motorists like most of us spend discussing or playing with the engines in our cars or re-installing the ignition system, – we’re much more interested in driving and playing with the audio etc. Plus I don’t have to use special Ford petrol or Honda petrol in my car, I can use any petrol.

    What the world needs is a computer that runs any application without any need to become involved with the OS. Ultimately I suspect that when cloud computing has replaced all local activity we might get to this situation.

  11. Gprime

    Wow.. what a bad topic name “4+ Ways to Run Windows Software on Linux”

    Actually you have named 1 Wine

    The others are not running on Linux, they are running on Windows.

    Nice try

  12. gyffes

    Wow, peckerhead much, GP?

    In each case, with Linux as the base OS, they’re running “on linux”.

    I hear your mom calling, she wants you to disconnect the modem so she can use the phone, now.

  13. Keltari

    @ RichardS – thats what cloud computing is, running apps and storing data in the ether, independent of local pc or os.

  14. Keltari

    @Gprime – The article is correct, the article didnt say that they would be executed locally, just that you can run them. Still Wine/CrossOver are basically the same thing and dual booting is not running in linux…

  15. Denny

    I have tried Linix and always have problems. No support or the support is so complicated you won’t understand how to make it work. I bought the Ubuntu manual and check out YouTube and the persons doing the videos jump to solve bugs in ways you cannot follow. I hate Windows and Linix doesn’t make sense without a better user friendly support system.

  16. Drunk on WINE

    I think we can all agree that WINE is not a very good solution for running Windows apps in Linux. There may be a few apps out there that work well with WINE but for the majority of them WINE pretty much sucks. (Hopefully, that kicks the WINE developers in the pants to make it better. Ya, right!)

    Or here’s an idea! Stop fiddling with convoluted “patches” like WINE and maybe try to develop a true Windows compatible distro. Something with a totally different “shell” than anything any Linux distro has come up. That could mean looking to the UNIX world or even BSD. After all, that’s what Apple did! (Again, I won’t hold my breath.)

    In the meantime, I’ll begrudgingly be using Windows (7) simply because no one want’s to make a descent PVR/DVR app for Linux that will allow people like me to use a TV tuner card or even a network TV tuner device the way Windows Media Center can. Forget games! For a while, it looked like Ubuntu TV was about to do it but then like everything Canonical does they messed it up and went the “embedded” route (remember that Unity mess?). You might want to point out XBMC or even MythTV. But again, it’s either pointless due to some major configuration screw ups or just plain bad design. I won’t even point out the really pathetic hardware support both XBMC and MythTV have but I will say they are good if you don’t care about DVR/PVR capabilities and things like TV tuners. But then again, there’s also these things called “browsers” for that stuff too! (Mere evidence of how coders really have no vision! And probably why most wear glasses.)

    So let’s get all the cooks in the kitchen stirring that pot of (WINE) soup and baking those wonderful “virtual” morsels while the whole world starves to death munching on Microsoft’s expensive bread and drinking Apple’s even more expensive Kool Aid. About the only thing good you can say about Ubuntu, Mint and really only a handful of others, is at least they’re trying to offer another CHOICE even if it is nothing more than ketchup and hot water.

  17. Robyn

    EricInDayton had it right with: “The only problem with dual boot is that depending on how often you use it, switching to windows can mean a hour or more of slow performance while it updates with all the Microsoft patches.”
    The only reason I run Windows natively anymore is for Poser Pro 2012, which need 3D hardware acceleration that VirtualBox simply can’t quite do. Yet. Poser in WINE has issues: indeed, I haven’t had that much luck running *anything* Win-based in WINE, but that’s probably just me. :-/
    As Eric put it: if I *do* feel inspired to go to Windows dual-boot to run Poser, by the time Windows has finished all its nonsense (unlike GNULinux, it’s rude and insistent on doing housekeeping *NOW*) I’ve sort-of lost interest. I suppose I should just make a practice of booting to Windows to do all this stuff but life’s too short to have to maintain Windows. ;-)

  18. bedlamb

    2 Santo
    I agree that dual booting Windows and Linux is a good option. I’ll add that the user should be comfortable with re-installing Windows, and have good backups.
    I’ve loaded Ubuntu twice and Mint once. When I’ve eventually wanted to try some other option, and removed Linux, I didn’t regain the use of the disk space. In order to proceed, and I’m a middle-of-the-road user, I had to re-install and start fresh.

    That said…
    Anybody know if Puppy can be installed, or does it need to be run from a disk?

  19. Bob

    Linux sucks.

  20. Cody

    Linux is a great free alternative to any other OS and does not suck. the only people it sucks for are those that are either 1 to lazy to bother to learn anything new or 2 to stuborn or ignorant to try to learn. yea Windows is easy, take a mac or linux guy thats never seens a windows pc and stick him in front of it I am sure he will gripe about plenty of the problems and learning curves and the fact that the software he is used to doesn’t work on windows. People get used to a set way of doing things and once they do they refuse to try anything new.

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