CodeWeavers has released the latest version of its CrossOver software for Mac and Linux users. If you want to try working without Windows but can't live without a must-have Windows app, CrossOver just might be the answer.

Matthew McKenzie, Contributor

June 19, 2009

4 Min Read

CodeWeavers has released the latest version of its CrossOver software for Mac and Linux users. If you want to try working without Windows but can't live without a must-have Windows app, CrossOver just might be the answer.CodeWeavers CrossOver is a commercial product based on the open-source Wine project. Wine emulates key Windows software libraries, allowing Linux or Mac users to run Windows applications. And unlike virtualization tools like VMware or Parallels, Wine doesn't require users to install a licensed copy of Windows to get started.

(You will, of course, need access to the Windows software you want to run, including, if necessary, a paid-up license or activation code.)

CrossOver 8.0 adds support for several applications, including Quicken 2009, Internet Explorer 7, and Adobe Photoshop CS2. According to Codeweavers, it also offers improved support for Microsoft Office 2003/2007, Outlook 2000, and Adobe FrameMaker, among others titles.

Why pay for CrossOver 8.0 instead of using Wine free of charge? One word: support. The CrossOver Standard and Pro versions (which sell for $39.95 and $69.95) include six and 12 months of paid support, respectively. The Pro version offers some other benefits, including multi-seat deployment tools and physical software media.

Bear in mind that CrossOver, like Wine, allows users to install and run -- or try to run -- almost any Windows software. CodeWeavers maintains a substantial database of Windows applications that lists their current level of functionality under CrossOver. The company limits its formal technical support, however, to a shorter list of about 130 Windows apps, including business productivity tools, graphics software, Web design and development apps, and even Windows system software such as DirectX (a required component for users who run Windows games).

So, is CrossOver an effective business software tool? The answer is yes -- sometimes. And when it does work, it can save users quite a bit or money.

Let me elaborate a bit on that answer. CodeWeavers, and the Wind developer community in general, have tackled an enormous project here. The approach they have chosen to run Windows software is complex and fiendishly difficult. As a result, some software titles -- including those on the CodeWeavers formal support list -- run better than others.

My own experience, for example, suggests that Microsoft Office runs very well on Linux systems. Adobe Photoshop CS2 also runs smoothly for me on Ubuntu Linux, although users running newer versions of Photoshop may be out of luck.

Internet Explorer, in my opinion, is less reliable running under CrossOver. (But then again, how many non-developers will even care about running IE on Linux or Mac systems?)

Other reviewers tend to see the same inconsistencies. And I can't comment on some key applications, such as Quicken, since I don't own a copy and have never tried it on CrossOver Linux.

Besides raising the support bar with each new CrossOver release, CodeWeavers offers another way to work around these issues: A very liberal software trial policy. Anyone can download a fully-functional version of CrossOver 8.0 and use it for 30 days. That's more than enough time to try out the Windows applications you want to run and check for any hidden glitches or performance issues.

As a result, I think CrossOver is a valuable tool for some -- but not all -- business users. Those most likely to benefit from CrossOver have particular requirements:

-- A company wants to move some of its users to Linux or Mac systems, but those users rely heavily on one or two key Windows apps. -- Users either cannot or will not use alternative software that runs natively on a Mac or Linux system. -- Performance and/or licensing issues make virtualization tools an unattractive option. -- A company is prepared to trade off the time required to test CrossOver under real-world conditions in return for the prospect of saving quite a bit more in future Windows licensing fees.

Conversely, companies running Windows apps with a reputation for spotty CrossOver support, or those looking to move a substantial number of users relying on multiple Windows apps, are less likely to get satisfactory results.

CrossOver obviously isn't a silver bullet for companies that want to give up Windows without giving up key Windows apps. It is, however, one option in a range of solutions that include running virtualization tools, moving to a mixture of Windows and Linux desktop systems, adopting dual-boot setups, and seeking out Linux-based alternatives to existing Windows software.

Just keep in mind that one size definitely does not fit all when you're considering a move away from Windows. But with a little time and effort, your company is still likely to find a solution that fits comfortably.

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