Win4Lin 3.0: Excellent value but lacks frills

NeTraverse Win4Lin 3.0 allows you to run Windows or Linux apps on the same machine regardless of the operating system. Here's the review of this new version of Win4Lin, which has lost none of its functionality or speed.

By Bill O'Brien

NeTraverse has taken its Win4Lin Windows emulation product from public beta to commercial product and now, with version 3.0, to a kinder, gentler program to install. In the process, Win4Lin has lost none of its functionality or speed.

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This article first appeared on CNET's Enterprise Business site. TechRepublic is part of the CNET family of Web sites dedicated to educating and empowering people and businesses in the IT field.

Easy on-ramp
Win4Lin offered a fairly easy installation prior to this new version, and now it's even easier. NeTraverse has added a graphical interface to the installation routine so that rather than having to type at the command line level, you simply point and click (see Figure A).

Figure A
With Win4Lin's graphical installer, you don't need to worry about mistyping long, complex commands.

NeTraverse has also reduced the number of installation steps from four to three. To lay the groundwork, you first install the Win4Lin interpreter and reboot into the new Win4Lin shell, and then copy the Windows installation files from a valid Windows 95 or 98 CD to your hard disk. (You perform both of those tasks logged in as root.) Then you log on as the user who will have Windows access and perform the actual Windows installation. The only thing we didn't appreciate about the installation for version 3.0 is that Win4Lin now has a 28-character code key that must be entered during installation, in addition to Windows' own 25-character CD key.

Doing Windows
As in the past, you can run Windows in either of two modes: within a window that sits atop the Linux desktop or in full-screen mode (see Figure B). The latter lets you use the keyboard shortcuts [Ctrl][Shift][F7] and [Ctrl][Shift][F8] to switch between Windows and Linux environments.

Figure B
Win4Lin lets you run Windows in its own window or in full-screen mode.

Although Win4Lin lets you launch the windowed mode from a clickable desktop icon, NeTraverse hasn't quite conquered the display resolution problem in this mode. For instance, if you set Windows for the same resolution as Linux, option buttons on dialog boxes will likely disappear below the bottom of the screen. At or above 1024x768 resolution, you can maneuver the dialog box within the window to see the hidden option buttons. But below that resolution, you're often forced to use the Tab key to select a button that's out of sight (assuming you know the tabbing progression). Of course, you won't have this problem in the full-screen mode, and Windows runs a bit faster in this mode anyway.

We encountered only one problem when trying to run Windows in full-screen mode: It wouldn't work using Win4Lin's standard fwin & command. That prompted us to contact technical support. A support technician offered an alternative command, fwin -auth, which did the job.

Running Windows apps
The first Windows application we attempted to install was Microsoft Office 2000 Deluxe. It consistently locked up the entire system whether we installed Office 2000 first or as an upgrade to Office 97 (which installed flawlessly). This problem caused us to contact technical support yet again.

This time, we discovered that there's a known problem with Office 2000 Deluxe, where the installation grinds to a near halt and takes two hours to complete thereafter. However, our total lock-up was something new. The NeTraverse technician suggested that we copy the contents of the Office 2000 Deluxe CD-ROM to our hard disk and try installing it from there. We had the room on the disk, so we complied, and it worked—the installation finished in less than 15 minutes.

NeTraverse still hasn't added DirectX support, so we didn't try any programs that rely heavily on DirectX. Just to be a little extravagant however, we installed Kodak's PhotoEnhancer app, which lets us download images from our ancient DC50 digital camera. The installation completed without a hitch, but we couldn't use the software until we installed a serial port in Windows—surprisingly, Win4Lin doesn't do this automatically. We had to do this outside of Windows in the Win4Lin setup program. The user's manual, a wonderfully written, printed document, details the relatively painless procedure. The app worked like a charm after that.

Bottom line
NeTraverse has done a credible job of fine-tuning the mechanics of Win4Lin. We noticed no perceptible improvement in speed when running Windows, but it hasn't become any slower, either. (In any case, the program's speed was already acceptable in version 2.0.) The product offers no support for DirectX, and its OS support is limited to Windows 95/98. But at $79 for the downloadable version, Win4Lin remains an excellent, cost-effective Windows emulator for basic Windows functionality under Linux.

This document was originally published by CNET on July 17, 2001.

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