Getting and Installing Linux – Part 5

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Running Windows programs on Linux:

An overview of WINE and Virtual Machine

by James Stephens

In addition to all the software available for Linux, Linux also possesses the ability to run Windows software using either WINE or in a virtual machine. This can be valuable in many ways, from running legacy software to running Windows and Linux on the same machine at the same time.

WINE is the open source implementation of CrossOver, which Apple users may already be familiar. It is essentially a translator: WINE sits between a Windows application and the Linux system, presenting what appears to be a Windows system to an application and generating Linux instructions for processing. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty good. It’s fast and efficient, requiring little more resources then the application itself, making it suitable for older machines. When properly configured, Windows applications install as if in Windows and run on Linux like any other application. The backward compatibility of WINE is actually better then that of Windows itself. So if you have beloved but outdated software you can run it again with WINE. In my case that is a Windows 3.1 controlled audio mixing console. A lot of people like to play the old Windows 95 games. For more information including a list of compatible Windows software and performance assessments go to

National Geographics Topo!, running on Linux using WINE
National Geographics Topo!, a Windows program, running seamlessly on Linux using WINE.

Virtual machine is another means of running Windows software on a Linux system. Using VirtualBox a virtual machine is created which runs within the existing operating system on which a guest operating system or systems may be installed, just as if it were a real world machine. The virtual machine borrows hardware resources for its guest from its host operating system: processor, memory, and so forth. Unlike WINE, the guest operating system runs directly on the computer hardware along with its host. This borrowing increases hardware requirements somewhat, though limits may be set. In my experience you need 4Gb of RAM to comfortably run Windows in a virtual machine on desktop Linux. I would recommend using the non-free version of VirtualBox together with guest additions available for download or through your distribution’s software manager. Note that the term non-free refers to licensing restrictions and not cost.

VirtualBox running on Bob Zimmerman's Linux KDE system
VirtualBox, running on Bob Zimmerman’s Linux KDE system.

Keeping the hardware limitations in mind all kinds of things are possible. You may run multiple Linux distributions on the same hardware without fear of conflicts or bloat. I often audition new Linux distributions this way. You may run Windows and its software on Linux together, sharing the desktop and clipboard to take advantage of the best of both. And that’s just cool! This just to name but a few possibilities. For more information including tested operating systems go to

Next: Working with Virtual Machine

The previous posts in this series, Getting and Installing Linux::


  • Nick P

    Thanks for the tutorials James. I’ve learned from every one of them.


  • Mitch S.

    I didn’t have success with WINE the few times i tried but they were on rather obscure programs.
    You got me willing to try some more.
    Thanks for the info/tips.

  • Mitch,

    I use wine and have mixed results. The popular the Windows program, the more likely things will work without problem. For example, today I installed Word 2003 using Wine on my KDE machine and it worked like a charm. (The distro’s Word replacement, LibreOffice, which is another version of OpenOffice, is very buggy. I had finally had enough.)


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