Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CodeWeavers CrossOver - a definite difference maker

There is debate about whether one should want to be able to run Windows applications in Ubuntu or find and learn to use open source alternatives that may be as effective for getting work done.

Some argue that using Windows apps in Ubuntu is in reality hindering growth for the open source developers. Others say that trying Ubuntu at all might not happen for some who have particular software needs that are either not met by currently available open source aplications or are under-served by open source apps that do not deliver the performance or user experience of the Windows favourite.
There are many other good reasons to support a Linux operating systems ability to run Windows applicaitons, explained very well here.

As a user who is still in "trial mode" (using the dreaded wubi installation in dual boot mode with XP on my machine), I've earnestly tried using whatever open source apps approximate my experience. For the most part, I've actually embraced the open source alternatives (for whatever I can't do online to begin with).

And then there's Microsoft Office.

I'm not a programmer, I don't write code of any kind, but I have built spreadsheet models in Excel that have managed in excess of half a billion dollars in inventory, fleet and other assets under management. I personally think Microsoft Excel is among the most useful pieces of software in the history of computing.

I've tried open source office productivity alternatives and, for me, I've got to stick with Excel. So, what to do?

Well, there are several ways to make Ubuntu (or any other Linux OS, AFAIK) co-exist with Windows on one machine. There are folks who are either very techie or have a techie friend who can hook them up with a system that can run two different operating systems on the same computer, at the same time (one on each monitor with drag and drop capability across monitors). There are other set ups where Windows is installed inside Ubuntu and runs in its own window, one step removed from the critical system files that viruses seek to terrorize by being cradled in the utopian open source operating system. Then there is a dual-boot set up, where one has two operating systems (or more, if they're so inclined) but must "shut down" from one in order to boot into another (not the most elegant or efficient when working on something across platforms).

The point here is, while I'm technically still in "try it" mode, I would have to shut down Ubuntu and switch to Windows to run Excel. That is not elegant. Ideally, I would want to be able to run Microsoft Office from within Ubuntu.

Most people who also want that functionality end up running Ubuntu and a program called Wine (previously linked with respect to reasons for supporting Windows apps in a Linux operating system). I took one look at the instructions for installing Wine and said "there's got to be a better way." It was just too technical for my patience (this IS "non-techie tak", right?)

Well, there is an easier way. I found CrossOver, from the good people at CodeWeavers.

They've got various levels of installation at tiered pricing. "Pricing", you ask? But, isn't everything on Ubuntu supposed to be free? Of course not. Do all Windows apps charge a registration fee? Of course not. But, you know what - the price for CrossOver was well worth it. I did take it for a 30-day free trial spin, and that showed me all I needed to know, I had to register it, keep it running, and maintain my use of MS Office while in Ubuntu.

Sure, Wine is, um, "free". But it requires more of my time than I could afford to invest (or, waste, as the case would most likely have been) in figuring it out. How much is your time worth?

Let's be clear. I'm not slamming Wine, not at all. In fact, you've got to read CodeWeavers very passionate and driven commitment to Wine in their own words to appreciate that paying to register CodeWeavers software very specifically supports the Wine project.

You see, contrary to popular misconception (in part due to over-zealous open source fans over-promising on "how simple" Ubuntu is), a Linux operating system is very complicated and can require honest-to-goodness programming chops to really leverage (not unlike...any other operating system out there. After all, it is a computer operating system). One of Linux's strengths is that it is a "command line OS", meaning that while the graphical user interface is pretty and solid and mouse-navigable, there's a whole lot of muscle under the hood for those so inclined to get things done with commands via the terminal (almost like DOS lurking behind Windows).

There are those who just love getting their hands dirty with code to make Wine work wonders. Those types may not need something like CrossOver. I'm just not one of them. As such, if I was going to be able to use Ubuntu, I needed a simpler way to run MS Office, and CrossOver provided it.

It was easy to install, easy to make work. The support is great, which is another key value to paying for registration. I should pause here for a moment - to say "the support is great" really needs to be underscored, because the concept of the Zulu word "ubuntu" ("I am, because you are"; beautiful, isn't it?) is all about appreciating others for their contribution to one's whole being. It's about a sense of community, belonging, and not only getting from others in the community but also giving to others in the community; it's about sharing. In this context, read again, with a new depth of understanding, when CodeWeavers says "thank you, esteemed customers....we deeply appreciate your support of our business philosophy" - because I am a paying customer, CodeWeavers can be Codeweavers. They are, because I am. And vice versa - I am able to do my thing because CodeWeavers is out there doing their thing. Okay, end of group hug.

Thus, "support" is not a hassle, it's not a burden, it's not a "necessary evil" - it really is a part of the entire product and promise of CodeWeavers.

Bottom line, I now can run Microsoft Office in Ubuntu. I will admit, I'm not the biggest Microsoft fan (not a fan of Windows, I absolutely do not use Internet Explorer if I can possibly avoid it, etc...) but I use Excel. Come to think of it, I'm not the biggest fan of MS Word, either. But, I use Excel, and now I can use it in Ubuntu, which means I am almost completely free of having to boot to the Windows side at all.

And that makes me very happy.