By Bill O'Brien
Fact of life: Nothing does everything for everyone, not even Linux. That's why, as Linux's list of native applications continues to ramp up to more sizable proportions, Windows is still a nice thing to have around for now. We wanted to run Windows apps on a Linux box without the fuss of separate partitions, so we called on three Windows-on-Linux solutions—VMware, Win4Lin, and Wine—to strut their stuff for us. With an emulator (or, in the case of Wine, a Windows compatibility layer), you can maintain the Linux foundation while being able to call up Windows applications as needed.
It would be nice if getting Windows compatibility onto a Linux machine were as simple as slamming Windows onto an otherwise blank computer. Thankfully, although each of these packages has its own set of quirks, none is terribly difficult, and they all tend to work to varying degrees, depending on what you're looking for.
Don't forget the obvious: For everything but Wine (and possibly also for Wine right now), you'll need a copy of Windows itself—95 or 98—and copies of any applications you might want to run. Win4Lin, Wine, and VMware provide only the platform, not the software. And, although Linux will function in a modest environment, modesty has never been one of Windows' virtues. You'll need 64 MB of memory for Windows 95; 128 MB is Windows 98's sweet spot.
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The test machine
We rolled out an 800-MHz Pentium III system with a 6.4-GB IDE hard drive, a Diamond Viper V770 graphics card with an Nvidia TNT2 chip, and baptized it with Red Hat 6.2. We considered installing Nvidia's Linux drivers, but, since they're still in beta and feature no less than 18 pages of installation instructions, we demurred. Windows' GUI is dependent on a fast graphics card, but Linux is less so; plus, if we wanted Windows at its peak performance, we'd have installed it on a separate partition, not as an emulator or a virtual machine.
CNET recommends VMware Workstation 2.03
Although VMware will take a relatively deep bite out of your wallet, we highly recommend it as an essential corporate tool for IS managers working from Linux platforms while supporting Windows environments. Crashing Windows is not rocket science, and being able to do so in its own workspace, without affecting the Linux layer, is very convenient. Short of having separate Windows boxes cluttering your desk, VMware is the way to go. Wine, when it's ready, will probably undermine VMware, but that's yet to happen. And if you just need to run the occasional Windows application, Win4Lin will serve you well.
Get the full story
Use the following links to read the full reviews on VMware, Win4Lin, and Wine: "VMware brings Linux and Windows together" "Win4Lin 3.0: Excellent value but lacks frills" "Wine: Intriguing, but still a work in progress"
This document was originally published by CNET on Feb. 28, 2001.