Last week I reviewed Win4Lin, a solution that makes it possible to run certain versions of Microsoft Windows on Linux. This week CrossOver Office is the next tool I am going to have a look at. Again my main focus will be programs I need to run myself.Now what is CrossOver Office? CrossOver Office is a special, commercial, version of WINE developed by CodeWeavers. It is tuned to run some widely used office applications, like the largest part of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), Adobe Photoshop and Intuit Quicken. A complete list of officially supported applications can be found on the CodeWeavers site. Supported applications get a medal, indicating how well they work. Applications with a gold medal should work as well as they do under Windows, silver applications might have some significant bugs, but should be usable, bronze applications install and run, but might have severe bugs. Because WINE implements many important parts of the Windows API, CrossOver Office does not need Microsoft Windows.
CrossOver Office can be purchased through the Codeweavers site. They provide it both as a download and on CD-ROM (though you will have to pay a bit more for the medium costs). What you buy is not only the product, but also 6 months of support. During this time you can download new CrossOver Office versions when they are released, and you will have a higher level of access to the support system.
The CrossOver Office download is provided as an self extracting shell script, which can be started with sh install-crossover-office-2.1.0.sh. This launches a graphical installer, which is shown in the first screenshot. The installer is self-explaining, and the installation process is really simple. Clicking “Begin Install” installs CrossOver Office to /opt/cxoffice, and adds menu items to both KDE and GNOME.
After the installation the CXSetup tool can be started as a normal user. In GNOME the CXSetup tool was added to the “Other” menu under the name “Office Setup”. CrossOver Office is also added to the menu system in Debian, so Debian users get menu entries in all supported window managers. Users who use neither GNOME, KDE, nor Debian can launch the CXSetup tool by executing /opt/cxoffice/bin/cxsetup.
As you can see in the second screenshot the Office Setup tool is quite easy to use. The first window that is shown after starting Office Setup shows which applications are installed. After clicking the “Install…” button the list of supported applications will show up, and the user can start installing applications. The user can both choose to let the Office Setup look on the application CD-ROM for a setup program or to point to the actual setup program. The installation screen also features some Microsoft fonts that can be installed over the Internet, although recent versions of Microsoft Office include most of these fonts.
Test-driving CrossOver Office
Now it is time to test-drive CrossOver Office. As with my Win4Lin review I am going to have a look at some programs I personally use. First of all we will have a look at one of the most important supported applications: Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office has a gold medal the CrossOver site, so there should be no real problems running Microsoft Office. As you can see in the third screenshot the Microsoft Office installer launches flawlessly. After that Office is installs perfectly, CrossOver Office even simulates a Windows reboot to make Office think the system is rebooted. After the installation CrossOver adds a “Windows Applications” entry to the menu, which contains shortcuts to the Microsoft Office applications.
As you can see in the fourth screenshot Microsoft Word 2000 launches perfectly. I have used Microsoft Word 2000 on CrossOver Office for a few weeks to edit a longer publication, and it works quite well, and very fast. I only experienced two glitches: first of all, sometimes the Word window is not redrawn (or not redrawn correctly), which makes the text in the Word window a bit distorted. The second problem I had running Word under Slackware Linux is that when the Word window is inactive and activated again it sometimes causes to lock up X for a few seconds. As far as I can see running Linux kernel 2.6.x solved the problem. I have no evidence to back this up, but I think this is caused by a threading problem. Other than that Word worked perfectly for me.
During the Microsoft Office installation Internet Explorer 5.0 was also installed. I never use Internet Explorer, but this gives the opportunity to test a program that is supported by Codeweavers with a silver medal. The good news is that it works, the bad news is that it does not work very well. The tool-bar is constantly flickering when something is typed, and frames, input fields, pull-down boxes, etc. are often drawn badly. The fifth screenshot shows what I mean. I do not have any of the other silver applications, so, let’s fire up some unsupported applications…
When I chose to install another application CrossOver setup suddenly started to complain about my fstab settings (oddly it did not do that when I installed Office 2000). I fixed the fstab settings as advised, but it did not help. So, I rather chose to force the installation. The first application I tried was a complete collection of Shakespeare works I bought out of curiosity. It is named “William Shakespeare, The Complete Works on CD-ROM”. The installation did not work and aborted instantly with the message “DDE requires ddeml.dll”. Too bad, no Shakespeare today. I moved on and tried to install “Uitvindingen 3D”, a Dutch encyclopedia about inventions. Just like the Shakespeare CD-ROM the installer fails to load. The only conclusion I can make is that applications that are not officially supported only run in a few cases. And when it runs there are a lot of glitches. For example, I tried to run an older version of DreamWeaver I once bought. It ran, but it was not very usable.
The Codeweavers support system is well thought out. They provide a ticket system, which is publicly accessible. People who buy CrossOver Office can use Level 3 support at the ticket system. When a customer has a problem, a Codeweavers employee is assigned to that customer, and the employee tries to help out the customer. When the problem is solved the ticket is closed. Unfortunately, support requests do not seem to be answered very quickly. At the moment of writing, some tickets are not replied to (by CodeWeavers employees) for more than twenty days. Maybe things have been handled privately, but the tickets are not closed, and this seems to be the case for multiple tickets.
In the end I have very mixed feelings about CrossOver Office. The clear advantage is that it does not require Microsoft Windows. On the other hand only three applications have a gold medal: Microsoft Word 2000, Microsoft Excel 2000 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2000. If you only need to run these applications CrossOver Office is a fair deal, if you are willing to pay $59.95 for it. The silver applications work, and CodeWeavers provide support for these applications. But if you depend on them and want them to work correctly, I would rather advise to have a look at Win4Lin or VMWare if you can, because there might glitches or bugs that make CrossOver Office less attractive. Please note that Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint XP have a silver award, so they are not guaranteed to work as well as Office 2000. If the applications you need to run do not have a gold or silver award it is better to avoid CrossOver Office completely. Some widely used applications do not run with CrossOver Office, for example Autodesk AutoCad 2000, Microsoft Money 2002, Macromedia Fireworks MX, Adobe Illustrator 8.0, Jasc Software PaintShop Pro and Adobe Pagemaker 7.0.
To wrap it up, CrossOver Office is only interesting in very specific situations. Personally I think CodeWeavers should rather focus on offering companies contracts for porting their Windows applications to Linux. They seem to have a lot of experience and a good WINE implementation, which can be used to port Windows applications rapidly. SOHO users are better off looking at Win4Lin or opensource alternatives.