Linux users can use LibreOffice, Google Docs, and even Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, but some people still need — or just want — the desktop version of Microsoft Office. Luckily, there are ways to run Microsoft Office on Linux.

This is particularly useful if you’re still on the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows XP and don’t want to pay an upgrade fee to upgrade your computer to Windows 7 or 8. This obviously isn’t supported by Microsoft, but it still works fairly well.

Ways to Install Microsoft Office

There are several different ways to install Microsoft Office on Linux:

  • Wine: Wine is a Windows compatibility layer that allows you to run Windows programs on Linux. It’s not perfect, but it’s optimized enough to run popular programs like Microsoft Office well. Wine will work better with older versions of Office, so the older your version of Office, the more likely it is to work without any trouble. Wine is completely free, although you may have to do some tweaking yourself.
  • CrossOver: CrossOver is a paid product that uses code from the free version of Wine. While it costs money, CrossOver does more of the work for you. They test their code to ensure that popular programs like Microsoft Office run well and ensure upgrades won’t break them. CrossOver also provides support — so if Office doesn’t run well, you have someone to contact who will help you.
  • Virtual Machine: You could also install Microsoft Windows in a virtual machine using a program like VirtualBox or VMware and install Microsoft Office inside it. With Seamless Mode or Unity Mode, you could even have the Office windows appear on your Linux desktop. This method provides the best compatibility, but it’s also the heaviest — you have to run a full version of Windows in the background. You’ll need a copy of Windows, such as an old Windows XP disc you have lying around, to install in the virtual machine.

We’ll be focusing on using Wine or Crossover to install Office directly on Linux. If you want to use a virtual machine, all you have to do is install VirtualBox or VMware Player and create a new virtual machine. The program will walk you through installing Windows and you can install Office inside your virtualized Windows as you normally would.

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Installing Microsoft Office With Wine

We tested Office 2007 with this process, as Office 2013 is known not to work properly and Office 2010 doesn’t appear to be well supported. If you want to use an older version of Office, like Office 2003, you’ll likely find that it works even better. If you want to install Office 2010, you may need to perform some more tweaks — check the Wine AppDB page for the version of Office you want to install for more information.

First, install the Wine package from your Linux distribution’s software package repository. On Ubuntu, open the Ubuntu Software Center, search for Wine, and install the Wine package.

Next, insert the Microsoft Office disc into your computer. Open it in your file manager, right-click the setup.exe file, and open the .exe file with Wine.

The installer will appear and, if everything goes well, you should be able to go through the installation process on Linux as you normally would on Windows.

We didn’t run into any problems while installing Office 2007, but this will vary depending on your version of Wine, Linux distribution, and especially the release of Microsoft Office you’re trying to use. For more tips, read the Wine AppDB and search for the version of Microsoft Office you’re trying to install. You’ll find more in-depth installation instructions there, filled with tips and hacks other people have used.

You could also try using a third-party tool like PlayOnLinux, which will help you install Microsoft Office and other popular Windows programs. Such an application may speed things up and make the process easier on you. PlayOnLinux is also available for free in the Ubuntu Software Center.

Why You Might Want to Use CrossOver

If the Wine method doesn’t work or you encounter problems, you may want to try using CrossOver instead. CrossOver offers a free two-week trial, but the full version will cost you $60 if you want to keep using it.

After downloading and installing CrossOver, you’ll be able to open the CrossOver application and use it to install Office. You can do everything you can do with CrossOver with the standard version of Wine, but CrossOver may require less hacking around to get things working. Whether this is worth the cost is up to you.

Using Microsoft Office on Linux

After the installation, you’ll find the Microsoft Office applications in your desktop’s launcher. On Ubuntu, we had to log out and log back in before the shortcuts would appear in the Unity desktop’s launcher.

Office works pretty well on Linux. Wine presents your home folder to Word as your My Documents folder, so it’s easy to save files and load them from your standard Linux file system.

The Office interface obviously doesn’t look as at home on Linux as it does on Windows, but it performs fairly well. Each Office program should should work normally, although it’s possible that some features — particularly little-used ones that haven’t been tested very much — may not work properly in Wine.

Of course, Wine isn’t perfect and you may run into some issues while using Office in Wine or CrossOver. If you really want to use Office on a Linux desktop without compatibility issues, you may want to create a Windows virtual machine and run a virtualized copy of Office. This ensures you won’t have compatibility issues, as Office will be running on a (virtualized) Windows system.

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Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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