Impressions of wine

Wine is a mighty thing. Wine is a project to allow Linux (and Mac OS) users to run Windows programs.  It does not emulate a Windows machine, the way, for example, DOSBox emulates the hardware that DOS runs on or that VirtualBox (VB) does on a much larger and more complex scale.  It is more like an interpreter. The website calls it a ‘compatibility layer’. What that means for us non-experts, is it takes Windows’ instructions to the hardware and translates them into Unix equivalents, then passes them on. This is a less flexible approach than simulating hardware (it is specific for Windows, for example, where a VM can run any number of operating systems) but it is much faster and allows excellent seamless integration with the Linux environment.

I have used Wine on and off for years, but I am not a regular user. I use VB to run a Windows 7 VM on my main workstation, because I have to work with people who use Microsoft Office and various add-ins like MathType, and at the time when I set the VM up it was probably the best solution.

I’m not so sure now.

I have an old CD of MS Office 97. I recall trying to install it under Wine a few years back, and it was not highly satisfactory. Word threw some funny errors, and I could not type into Excel. But that was a few years back, and I use Debian on my desktop, which is not renowned for using the latest versions of packages.

So I thought I’d try it again.

I have a Netbook running current Debian, which is a lot newer than the ‘old stable’ I have on my workstation. I have a USB CD drive, so I gave it a lash.

Brilliant.

Plugged in the CD drive. It appeared in the file manager. [Caja — I use MATE, which I think is a great example of a FOSS project. Dissatisfaction with where the Gnome desktop was going (when it switched from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3) prompted people to get together to continue to refine Gnome 2. The result is a desktop environment which is very congenial for us slightly older users who first saw a GUI in the 1990s and reacted violently when Microsoft introduced the ribbon, for example. Now users can choose between Gnome and MATE, and everyone has more options.] I then opened a terminal and went to the CDROM subdirectory (in this case, at /media/cdrom) and ran:

/media/cdrom $ wine autorun.exe

or whatever the installation program was called. Wine opened it like a native Linux application, installed the program (the psuedo-Windows hard drive is hidden away in .wine/drive_c of the user’s home directory).

It appeared in the ‘Other’ menu under the MATE Applications menu. So did a bunch of other stuff; it seemed to generate menu entries for all sorts of Windows executables that I did not want to use.

But that’s OK. Installed and ran Mozo, the MATE menu editor, and turned off all the entries I didn’t want, and moved Word and Excel to the Office category, and bingo I have Word and Excel (97, admittedly) running like native applications, almost no effort required.

Found an old zip file of Rietica1.7.7 (32 bit) on my hard drive; that installed perfectly as well. The Rietica website only hosts the new 64 bit version; I’ve not tried that.

 

Don’t know if I’ll even use Word and Excel, but the jump in the quality of the experience compared to Wine a few years ago shows how it’s a vibrant, massively useful project. A great solution.

 

Older tech.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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