No matter how many useful applications come bundled with Ubuntu, it's difficult to live without some Windows programs, particularly if you work in an industry where, say, Word, Excel or Photoshop compatibility is a must. Luckily, it's entirely possible to run many Windows applications within Ubuntu using an optional package, Wine.

Wine is frequently described as an emulator, but in fact it works as a " compatibility layer" offering Linux-based alternatives to the libraries that Windows applications call on during use, and a process — the winerserver — that translates the functions of the Windows kernel and UI into their Linux equivalents. Using these and some clever jiggery-pokery with file systems, Wine convinces Windows apps that they're running on a Microsoft OS and enables them to run happily on Ubuntu with a minimal performance hit. The good news is that it's usually easy to use. First, you need to install Wine: search for it in the Ubuntu Software Centre, or download the latest version from

Now, it's time to install your Windows app. Just download the file or insert the CD or DVD, and you can often doubeclick on the standard Windows installer (or let the CD autorun) and install an application just as you would in Windows. Wine handles the whole thing for you, practically transparently. Nor is there any hassle in running installed software: you can either run the application from a desktop shortcut or from Applications I Wine 1 Programs.

Sadly, Wine doesn't always flow smoothly, and not all applications work perfectly first time. Some just won't work whatever you do, while others rely on security systems that scupper Wine. Others will work, but with limited functionality, woeful stability or significant bugs. On the plus side, maintains a database of Windows applications, with volunteers testing new software as it appears, and grading them from Platinum (runs flawlessly out of the box) to Garbage ( won't work at all). Office 2007 and Word 2007, for example, are rated as Silver and will work for most English-language users straight away. InDesign CS3 and CS4, however, are listed as Garbage, although they may install and run as part of an Adobe Creative Suite.

It's important to note that these findings are dependent on who and how many people have tested, and that your mileage will vary. For example, the Office 2010 32-bit installer is currently listed as Bronze, while Word 2010 is listed as Garbage. However, we've had people within the PC Pro office comfortably using Word 2010 within Ubuntu.

Meanwhile, you'll find some games listed as Platinum, then struggle for hours to get them working in Ubuntu. It's also entirely possible to find applications that will fail on your first attempt to install, but succeed on the second for no real reason. Overall, however, the WineHQ database is a fairly reliable guide, and worth consulting if you need to use a specific application.

What can you do if Wine doesn't work? Well, there are some useful tricks you might want to deploy. First, it's possible to configure Wine to behave like a specific version &Windows, by going to Applications I Wine I Configure Wine, clicking the Add Application button to add a Windows application to the list, and then setting the Windows Version using the dropdown menu at the bottom of the screen.

In some cases, you can also use the Graphics settings tab of the Wine Configuration menu to either start the application within a virtual desktop or switch off Direct3D hardware support. Of course, doing so might make some applications, notably games, virtually unusable. There are also Wine plugins, such as the incredibly useful Winetricks script, which install additional Windows libraries and ensure maximum compatibility.

Some of these are integrated into the default Ubuntu Wine installation or the latest version downloadable from WineHQ – but don't take anything for granted. You can see more detailed instructions at http://wiki. If you're planning to run games then give the PlayOnLinux application a try. This acts as a front-end for Wine and incorporates a range of Wine scripts and additional Windows libraries, all in aid of getting as many games as possible to run. It also supports Valve's Steam client, allowing you to persuade a number of games that you may have already purchased on a Windows PC to run within Ubuntu using Wine. Making heavier use of graphics and audio hardware, games can occasionally be challenging to get working, but the WineHQ apps database offers excellent support.

Most of all, remember that the WineHQ database contains a mass of information, and that Google is your friend. With so many Ubuntu users trying to get Windows applications to work, it's likely that someone will have encountered the same difficulties as you and – hopefully found a way to solve them.

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