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Sofware in Review → Emulation/migration → Emulation frameworks →

CrossOver Linux 6.01 review

By Jem Matzan

Though each CrossOver Linux (formerly known as CrossOver Office) release offers substantial improvements, version 6.01 is the most revolutionary release I have seen since I started reviewing this product circa version 3.0. Many important new programs are supported, but the real news is not in the number of programs supported, but also their purpose: World of Warcraft, Half Life, and iTunes now have silver (almost perfect) status along with dozens of other applications. There are nine gold applications now as well. Overall, CrossOver has again made a number of significant and upgrade-worthy improvements to an already useful product.

CrossOver Office overview

This section is for those new to CrossOver Linux. If you already know what CrossOver is and want to find out what's new in version 6, skip down to the next section.

CodeWeavers' CrossOver Linux is a software framework that emulates the Microsoft Windows 98 and 2000 application programming interfaces (APIs) on GNU/Linux. This allows Windows programs to run on GNU/Linux without having to run a virtual instance of the operating system ala a virtual machine like Win4Lin or VMware. It was originally designed to bring Microsoft Office and Intuit Quicken to GNU/Linux, but many more programs have been tested and are known to work with CrossOver to some degree.

Not all Windows programs will run perfectly -- some won't even run at all, although most of them will at least install properly. Want to find out if your must-have application works with CrossOver? Check out the compatibility list, and keep in mind that not all of these programs have been updated to reflect changes made in version 6.01, as most entries rely on user and volunteer feedback for CodeWeavers' rating system. Check the forums for each application to see what actual users are saying about compatibility with version 6.01, or download the free trial and find out for yourself.

CrossOver Office is available in three editions: Standard, Professional, and Server. Standard and Professional are essentially the same, except Professional has multi-user support and special deployability functions. Professional is designed for businesses, Standard for home users. CrossOver Office Server edition allows CrossOver Office to run on thin clients. Traditionally CrossOver has been GNU/Linux-oriented, but there is now an Apple OS X version of CrossOver Standard, and the Server edition's thin client will work on both Solaris and GNU/Linux.

CrossOver Linux is based on the free software Wine API emulator, and adds only commercial support and proprietary installation tools to help with configuration. So in essence, CrossOver is no more capable than recent builds of Wine, but it does have a number of extras that add a great deal of value through convenience. Despite its basis in free software, CrossOver Linux is governed by a proprietary license that prohibits sharing.

What's new in 6.01

The most significant new feature in 6.01 is support for popular online Windows games, namely Half Life and World of Warcraft. The second most significant change is in the name: with the introduction of an Apple-based product, CrossOver Office has officially become two separate Office products. Therefore the new name for the traditional CrossOver Office is CrossOver Linux, and the new Apple product is CrossOver Mac.

Also added in 6.01 is improved support for Microsoft Office 2003, native connections to Microsoft Exchange Servers via MS Outlook, and Microsoft Project and Visio 2003 are now supported as well.

Putting it to the test

Of course the first thing I did to test CrossOver Linux 6.01 was to install World of Warcraft, which I play quite frequently in my off hours. The installation was flawless, the patch downloading procedure is better than it is on Cedega 5.2, and The Burning Crusade expansion pack installed without having to change or tweak any settings. Likewise, general game performance did not require any amount of configuration hacking. With regard to these findings, I was amazed to find that CrossOver Linux 6.01 worked better with World of Warcraft than the latest Cedega, which is based on essentially the same Wine framework, but has different customizations and focuses entirely on games.

The other traditional test I have had for CrossOver Linux over the few years I've been writing about it is compatibility with the latest release of Corel WordPerfect Office. Even though WP Office X3 is in many ways a dud compared to previous releases, WordPerfect's following is still quite strong (especially among lawyers and judges, due to WP's array of legal-specific tools), and nearly impossible to migrate away from if you rely on its special features. In all previous editions of CrossOver, I was unable to get WordPerfect 12 or X3 to work properly. This time, however, I found it to work reasonably well. After disabling the "enhanced" file dialogues, I was able to start WP X3 and work on documents without any trouble. After the first start, I had to open a different WP Office program like Quattro Pro, Presentations, or Mail before WordPerfect would start. Though this is certainly an inconvenience, WordPerfect X3 and all of the other programs in WP Office X3 appeared to be usable.

CrossOver Linux 6.01
CrossOver Linux 6.01: Another big leap ahead

When installing the usual set of initial programs -- Internet Explorer, DCOM, Core Fonts -- CrossOver informed me that there was a virus of some kind in one of the aforementioned packages. Since CrossOver automatically downloaded these for me, and since they seemed to come directly from microsoft.com, I suspect that this is a bug in CrossOver, not a virus in the downloaded binaries. Perhaps there was a checksum mismatch, or a newer version of one of these programs was downloaded when an older version was expected. The only workaround I could find was to install DCOM separately rather than let it be automatically installed as a dependency of Internet Explorer.

I also had some trouble displaying the license text during The Burning Crusade installation. Not that a lot of people would notice the substitution of one form of illegible gibberish for another, but I would imagine that this could cause some legal problems for Blizzard, should it ever decide to maliciously enforce its license.

One thing that consistently amazes me about CrossOver Linux is its ability to work on nearly any GNU/Linux distribution you give it. I tested it on Ubuntu 6.10 and Mandriva PowerPack and Discovery 2007 both on AMD64 and x86 systems. Previously I ran CrossOver Office on Gentoo Linux as well, though it did much better when installing through Portage rather than downloading the installation script manually. There are no unusual dependencies, and beyond changing the executable permissions on the script, there's no expert knowledge required to get CrossOver going. Menu integration in both KDE and GNOME is decent -- a new CrossOver menu is added and in addition to the CrossOver-specific applications, your Windows software is also given launch icons in this location. Ideally Windows software would be installed into the proper menu category (Office -> Wordprocessors for Microsoft Word, for instance), but the segregation of Windows and native GNU/Linux programs isn't necessarily a negative point for many users, and the new programs aren't difficult to find as long as you're aware of the new CrossOver menu category.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

Overall this is an excellent release, and definitely worth buying if you need to run Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect Office, or other business or desktop applications in GNU/Linux.

CodeWeavers' foray into the Windows game market seems to be a significant threat to TransGaming's Cedega product, especially considering how well it works with World of Warcraft. With more than 8.5 million subscribers worldwide, Warcraft in itself is enough of a force to financially motivate companies like CodeWeavers and TransGaming to compete on this level. However, I believe that CodeWeavers may have made a dramatic miscalculation in its World of Warcraft support. It might work really well right now, but how well will it work after the next Warcraft patch? Patches notoriously screw everything related to the game, from add-ons to network connections to the compatibility with emulation frameworks that makes the game run on GNU/Linux. Every patch sends Warcraft-related developers -- and sometimes Internet service providers -- scrambling to fix new problems. In order to maintain constant support for World of Warcraft, CodeWeavers will need to frequently adapt the framework to accommodate the game's mercurial nature. With only 2 releases per year, this will not be possible; Cedega, by contrast, has a new and improved gaming engine nearly every month, and sometimes more often if Warcraft patches require it. A quick look through the Cedega engine release notes shows just how much time and effort TransGaming spends keeping up with Warcraft patches. So is it time to forget about Cedega and switch to CrossOver? Definitely not if you're a serious Warcraft player, but perhaps I'm wrong, and CrossOver Linux will turn out to be a more resiliant product than it appears to be -- time will tell.

Other than my prediction that Warcraft support will be problematic in the future, I think this is the best CrossOver Linux release to date. There's still room for improvement, though. Here's what I'd like to see in a future release:

  • Better bottle management. The concept of "bottles" to store application-specific environment settings is a good one. Unfortunately it ignores cross-application dependencies, which makes sharing bottles a more common task than CodeWeavers appears to have intended. Many applications depend on some base packages like Internet Explorer, Media Player, Core Fonts, and DCOM. It doesn't make sense to install multiple copies of these programs, and according to the warning message in the Install Windows Software installation tool, sharing bottles among applications can screw things up. The solution is to have an option to create a common bottle that will be extended instead of directly modified. Bottle naming conventions also need to switch from operating system names to application names. How am I supposed to know what software has been installed into the "win98" bottle?
  • Browser plugin support for Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer is pretty useless without the Flash, Acrobat, and Java plugins. I'd like to have the ability to install these plugins into Internet Explorer. Perhaps this is already possible, but I didn't install the Flash Player and such to the correct bottle, in which case this suggestion is an extension of the first one.
  • Native graphics toolkit support. Maybe I'm just dreaming here and this can never be possible, but I'd like to see Windows applications conform to the graphical settings of the current desktop environment. Not that cosmetics are really all that important, but I find that I lose a certain amount of productivity when toolbar and menu colors and icons are dramatically different among frequently or concurrently used programs. There is a moment of disorientation when switching between programs that have vastly different interfaces, especially when you're concentrating on your work or thinking about a challenging problem. I think this can be avoided with a more consistent look and feel between Windows and native GNU/Linux programs.
  • Improved menu integration. As mentioned above, it can be difficult to find newly installed Windows programs if the user is not aware that there is a new menu category for them. The expectation is to find office programs under the Office category, games in Games, etc. Some desktop environments require a restart of the X server in order to update the menu as well; I think there should be a little more user instruction with regard to this issue.
Purpose Migration tool/win32 API emulator
Manufacturer CodeWeavers
Architectures x86
License Proprietary; the core is governed by the GNU General Public License
Market Home, small business, and enterprise users migrating to GNU/Linux
Price (retail) U.S. $40 for Standard, $70 for Professional, $60 for the Mac edition, and $300 for Server (client licenses are an extra $70 each; site licenses are also available)
Previous version CrossOver Office 5.0
Product website Click here