I'm really enjoying the recent media madness over the presidential election. It has been a real learning experience. For example, I've learned that I should be able to get just about anything I want by claiming to be "disenfranchised".
So last night when my wife served meat loaf, I complained that I would have requested something else but her dinner choices were too confusing. If she didn't want me to feel disenfranchised, she would have to make a whole new dinner.
In the unlikely event that you're an all-Linux shop, Windows fans in your organisation may be feeling a little disenfranchised. In the more likely event that you are an all-Windows shop, the Linux users almost certainly feel disenfranchised.
Here's one way you can enfranchise both groups: obtain a copy of NeTraverse Win4Lin 2.0 (currently in beta, see www.netraverse.com). Win4Lin allows you to install Windows 95 or Windows 98 as an application that runs on Linux. When you start up Windows, it appears in a window on your desktop, after which you can install and run almost any Windows application (you can't run most games because Win4Lin doesn't support DirectX).
I installed the Win4Lin 2.0 beta and Windows 98SE under Caldera eDesktop 2.4 and Debian 2.2. I used the Windows display settings to resize the Windows desktop to 1576 x 1087, which fits nicely inside my 1600 x 1200 KDE2 desktop. Then I installed Microsoft Office 2000 and Netscape Navigator 4.76. I tried all the applications that would make a Windows user feel disenfranchised under Linux: Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer, and Access. So far they all work perfectly.
The performance is downright amazing. At first I had some minor performance problems with XFree86 set to a colour depth of 24. Then I set the colour depth of XFree86 to 16 bits and allocated 48MB of RAM to Win4Lin and Windows 98 (the default is 24MB of RAM). With these settings, both KDE2 and Win4Lin really scream on my 600MHz P3 system. I can use Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Internet Explorer, and listen to a RealPlayer audio stream under Windows all at once with no problems. In addition, even with this entire suite running, Win4Lin has no perceptible impact on the performance of any of my Linux applications.
It can be a little tricky to install Win4Lin, depending on the Linux distribution you're using and the hardware you have. If you are using the default kernel for most Linux distributions, the Win4Lin installation program will patch the kernel binary. I customise every kernel I use, so that wasn't going to work for me. Fortunately, NeTraverse provides patches for various kernel source-code trees. I patched my kernel and had the Win4Lin-enabled kernel running in about half an hour.
The rest of the installation was pretty straightforward. Win4Lin copies your Windows CD to the hard drive, and you install Windows 98 fresh from there. The only thing that caught me by surprise was the fact that I needed a Windows boot floppy as part of the process.
Windows 98SE under Win4Lin has some limitations. Although all your TCP/IP-based Internet applications will work fine, you won't be able to do any Windows networking. That means you can't use Windows printers, use the network neighbourhood, or map network drives. You can, however, mount network resources using Linux and then assign them to drives for use by Windows. So you can usually duplicate whatever drive mapping you normally do in Windows by playing some tricks with Linux.
Win4Lin also has a tricky way of making just about any Linux printer - including remote printers - appear as a special hardware port to Windows. Unfortunately, I'm experimenting with the new Common Unix Printing System, so I wasn't able to fully test the capability of printing to my network printer.
You can download the Win4Lin 2.0 beta and use it free for 75 days. Win4Lin is reasonably priced at $US59 for the download, and $89 if you want the CD-ROM and a manual. If you really want to migrate to Linux but you'll feel disenfranchised without your Windows productivity applications, Win4Lin is a must-have.
Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org