CrossOver – Would you like some Wine with your Windows apps?

About a month or so ago, I attended an Apple briefing on Microsoft interoperability using the new Intel Macs. It was a lot of fairly familiar ground, with Boot Camp and Parallels, but they also introduced a new product, still in alpha testing, from CodeWeavers called CrossOver that got me really excited because it was showing Windows applications running directly in an X11 window using Wine. Wine has been around on Linux and other Unix boxes for a while, and has been worked on by the Darwine Project folks for a while now, but CrossOver is the first really polished looking Wine solution that I’ve yet seen for OS X.

Why was this so exciting? My day job involves supporting a number of Macs in a heterogeneous environment and sometimes I’ll be sent problems to solve that can only be fixed by launching Virtual PC on my PPC Mac or (now) Parallels on my Intel Mac. People will send me Visio documents that OmniGraffle can’t open, I’ll need to access a website that only works correctly with Internet Explorer 6.x for Windows, and so on. So I launch Windows, I wait for it to load, I log in, check to make sure my virus protection and MS patches are up to date, then actually get to work by launching whatever I need. In a rush, I’ll skip checking the virus protection and patches, but you get the idea.

CrossOver skips a good chunk of that, including the part about checking for patches and virus updates because I’m not running Windows, I’m running Wine instead. As stated on the Wine HQ site: “Think of Wine as a compatibility layer for running Windows programs. Wine does not require Microsoft Windows, as it is a completely free alternative implementation of the Windows API consisting of 100% non-Microsoft code, however Wine can optionally use native Windows DLLs if they are available.” With CrossOver, if I need to work with an application I already have installed, I launch CrossOver, go under the Programs menu, and launch the application I want. The time savings alone is great, as is the ability to run older versions of applications along with newer versions, like Lotus Notes 5 and 6. The latter ability is enabled by Wine’s use of “bottles”, which are virtual C: drives, complete with Windows registry, that you install your applications into. CrossOver’s bottles are based off of Windows 98 and Windows 2000, and you can have multiple instances of each OS as individual bottles. In other words, if for some odd reason you need to have Office 97 running side by side with Office 2003, you can. You’ll set up a Windows 98 bottle and install 97, then set up a Windows 2000 bottle and install 2003. Both Offices will live on their own bottle, not interfere with each other and both show up as available options under CrossOver’s Programs menu. Even better, you can archive copies of your bottles once you have them set up the way you want. Hose your current bottle, and you can go back to the archived version.

I want to emphasize that this is still alpha software, so it’s not done yet and in some spots has some distance to go. (For example, having Outlook included in the list of supported applications is in the plan, but not there in the actual product yet.) For all that though, I’ve found CrossOver to be pretty stable and plan on signing up to be a beta tester once it gets there.

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