CrossOver Office aims to ease a switch to Linux

Many self-avowed Microsoft haters have stopped short of switching to Linux when they realized the pain involved with abandoning all of their favorite Windows software.

Jeremy White, CEO of CodeWeavers, wants to take away that excuse.

The latest version of his company's flagship software, CrossOver Office 5.0, now lets Linux users run Microsoft Office 2003, as well as earlier versions of Office and other popular productivity software such as Microsoft Visio and Internet Explorer, Intuit's Quicken, Lotus Notes, Adobe Systems's Photoshop and others.

Announced last week, CrossOver 5.0 also includes a new feature called "bottles" that creates virtualized, separate instances of Windows. That way, for instance, an IT manager can run something certified for CrossOver such as Office 2000 and something that is not, such as Adobe InDesign, without fear of the latter causing the former application to crash.

The standard version of CrossOver 5.0 costs US$39.95 per user, while a corporate, networkable version costs $69.95 per user.

Introduced three years ago, CrossOver has 200,000 users. Many are individual users or small firms, although White said enterprise customers include Cisco Systems Inc., The Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks Animation SKG, Pixar Animation Studios, the state government of Indiana -- and even a blanket license for the entire student body at the California Institute of Technology.

CrossOver is based on the open-source project Wine, which has been around for a decade and offers a reimplementation of Windows in Linux.

Compared with Windows emulators such as Win4Lin and VMware, CrossOver remains prone to hiccups or software crashes, White said. He attributed ongoing technical challenges to two things: creating CrossOver with just 20 employees supplemented by open-source contributions to Wine, and getting it to work on all of the individual flavors of Linux available.

"The Linux space, God bless its heart, is a nightmare," he said.

The upside is that CrossOver users don't need to buy and run Windows XP underneath Linux, as they would with its rivals -- thus saving money.

Only a few mainstream desktop applications are written for Linux, including the Firefox Web browser and Sun Microsystems's StarOffice productivity suite. That has led to the current chicken-and-egg situation, where users are reluctant to switch to Linux without more software, while software vendors are reluctant to write for Linux until more users switch.

White hopes CrossOver can help solve that conundrum by making the switch for corporate and individual users easier. If he's successful and software vendors start porting applications to Linux, White will eventually put himself out of business, which he said is fine by him.

"I hope we're just a bridge solution," he said.

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Eric Lai

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