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The Dice Project

Using Microsoft Windows Applications/Documents on DICE

Written by Tim Colles

This version dated 2nd July 2003

This document is designed to help users choose the best approach for handling Microsoft Office documents or running Microsoft Windows applications under DICE. The best approach to take will naturally vary from user to user and depends on the particular applications and user requirements. For a more comprehensive technical report see Approaching Microsoft Applications under Linux.

If you only need to occasionally view Microsoft Office documents (such as Word, Excel or Powerpoint) then OpenOffice should meet most demands. OpenOffice is a Linux based Office productivity suite comparable in features and usablilty to Microsoft Office. It is also capable of loading and saving Microsoft formatted document types. OpenOffice is already available under DICE, just use the command ooffice to setup your local profile. You could then do oowriter blah.doc to open a Microsoft Word file for example. Use the support request web form if you need any further assistance setting up and using OpenOffice.

While OpenOffice can handle most day-to-day Microsoft Office documents it does have limitations and will stumble with complex PowerPoint presentations or Excel spreadsheets with heavy macro usage. In these cases the next best alternative would be to use Crossover Plugin. This is a product which makes available the real Microsoft free document viewers for Word, Excel and Powerpoint such that they can be run from the command line directly under Linux. Since these are the genuine Microsoft viewers they should be able to load and print any Microsoft document irrespective of complexity. Crossover Plugin is not yet available under DICE but we are considering purchasing a site license so that anyone can use it as easily as OpenOffice. This would then hopefully be available with the next release of DICE for the beginning of the Autumn session 2003.

Crossover Plugin has the limitation that documents can only be viewed and printed, they cannot be modified. While OpenOffice can be used to modify and save Microsoft formatted documents, there may be problems due to format incompatibility, particularly if you do a lot of interchange in this manner with real Office users. So in these cases the best alternative would be to run Crossover Office. This works the same way as Crossover Plugin and allows the real Microsoft Office applications to be run natively under Linux in a window like any other Unix/X11 application. Again, since the real applications are running there are no problems with interoperability when sharing documents with people running Microsoft Office under Windows. There are some glitches with the Office applications that crop up when running under Crossover Office that don't occur when running under Windows but these don't get in the way of usage and generally it works very well. Like Crossover Plugin, Crossover Office is not yet available under DICE. However, since a license is required both for Microsoft Office and Crossover Office to use it, it is unlikely to be made generally available. Instead we are likely to support an infrastructure that will allow those users that have paid for the necessary licences to use it easily on their own DICE machine. This approach is likely to only be suitable for staff and research students.

If your reasons for running Windows applications go beyond basic Office document handling then the next best option would probably be VMware. This is a program that emulates a normal PC hardware under Linux. While significantly more cumbersome and resource intensive than Crossover it does run a real Windows operating system (Win2k or WinXP for example) and consequently allows any Windows applications to to be run from within its OS window on Linux. It can run full screen (so just looking like a real Windows box) or it can run with a reduced screen size as a Unix/X11 window. VMware is already available on DICE and on request your machine can be configured to run it. It needs a reasonably recent machine to run at an acceptable speed. You need to purchase a license for VMware and any Windows applications running on it. In addition you will be entirely responsible for installing and maintaining the Windows OS and applications in the disk file VMware uses to represent the PC hard drive. Because this disk file can be large (about 3GB for WinXP) you may need to arrange to have local disk space on your machine to hold it. It is also unlikely that this can be regularly backed up except by special arrangement, so VMware should be configured to access your normal home directory as a Windows drive for any documents and data that needs to be backed up. This approach is likely to only be suitable for staff and research students.

If the Windows applications you are running are particularly graphically intensive or they rely on custom PC hardware it may not be possible to use VMware. In this case the only options are either to have a dual-boot machine or a pure Windows machine instead of a DICE machine. A dual-boot machine is a very cumbersome solution for adhoc Windows usage - you choose on machine boot whether to start Linux or Windows and must stick with that choice until reboot, so it is just a space-saving alternative to having two separate machines on your desk, one Linux and one Windows. There are also security concerns with the dual-boot approach. Neither of these approaches is currently supported in any way and dual-boot may not even be generally available for DICE in the near future because of these security concerns.


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