UBUNTU! no, seriously.
September 9, 2010 5:16 PM   Subscribe

i've given up on windows, and i'm enthusiastic about not dealing with its security issues ever again.

having said that, i have a large-ish handful of windows apps that i would still like to be able to use in lieu of seeking out adequate replacements for everything i use regularly.

what are the benefits of running a windows app in WINE vs. running a VM with windows in it?

i'm looking at the "compatible apps" list for wine and seeing some gaps that friends have told me don't actually exist... for example, Photoshop. guy says he runs it in wine with no problems, wine page doesn't list it as "supported".

alternately, what kind of performance hit would i be taking running a VM with windows in it? i know that i can scale resources to help it out, but if i were (for example) running XP on a machine and then i wiped that machine, threw ubuntu on it, and ran winXP in a VM, how much worse would the performance be under the best of circumstances? i'm assuming 1:1 is not quite what i'd be able to reach, but how close would it come?

it's not a terribly strong pc (or modern... it's a single core w/ a couple gigs of RAM), and there's nothing fancy about the hardware. i'm aware that drivers might possibly be an issue, but i figure with onboard video and sound i'd just burn those bridges when i came to them.

i've got some linux experience, but it's been years since i've had a machine running anything other than XP. i'm not scared about the process or worried that i'll muck something up, i'm mainly just trying to gauge how existing windows software actually runs under these solutions.

also, i'm considering Ubuntu. i've heard some other linux suggestions as well (mint, for example, which is debian-based). are there any inherent benefits with regards to running winXP-apps via the methods described in any particular flavor of linux?
posted by radiosilents to Technology (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you only considering LInux or is a Mac an option? Im not clear if the goal is to keep your current computer and just install a new OS on it. But people seem to like their Macs and think that they are more secure than Windows.
posted by dfriedman at 5:28 PM on September 9, 2010

Doesn't running windows in a VM open up the same "security issues"?
posted by gjc at 5:30 PM on September 9, 2010

Wine/Cedega is a funny thing. There are definitely some unsupported programs that REALLY DON"T WORK (the Sims games for example), and some unsupported programs that actually DO work. Hitting various forii and some vigorous google-searching can help you find advice and help for programs you're not sure on.

Some games and apps actually have semi-supported Linux versions altogether. Neverwinter Nights was one, though it was a bit fussy. Again, vigorous google-searching can uncover those. Sorry for the repeated gaming references, but that's where most of my linux-fu resides.

Ubuntu is supposed to be pretty awesome. That's what I'm planning on switching to, when I do.
posted by Heretical at 5:30 PM on September 9, 2010

Mac is not an option, no available compatible hardware. keeping the current hardware, just trying to make it suck less.
posted by radiosilents at 5:31 PM on September 9, 2010

Here's the biggest problem with wine: different versions will run different software.

So, you're chilling along happy with v1.0.1, and then you pull out Mondo Program by Foobersoft. And you try it, and man, it almost works, except for that one thing you need. And then you read that v1.0.2 of wine will fix it. So, you happily do some sudo apt-get install wine, and get MondoProgram to work, and you're really happy.

Until the next week, when you go back to Photoshop, which had been running just perfectly before, but which now explodes the moment you try to launch it.

It sucks. And constantly installing/reinstalling/changing the versions of wine you need sucks. And so does having multiple versions installed simultaneously, because they all want to read/write to the same configurations.

If you had just one piece of software, I'd say, "Go for it, try wine." But, if you have multiple pieces of not-fully-supported software, then it's probably a better choice to go with virtualization--assuming you have the horsepower to do it.
posted by Netzapper at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2010

Install Ubuntu's latest long term support release and then install the VirtualBox package. Using Windows XP as the client OS, on full screen mode, is barely distinguishable from running on true hardware for routine tasks like word processing and web browsing.

I don't do any serious gaming, and I find the native video and audio apps for Linux to be sufficient, so I don't do a lot of "performance" computing in the VM. If you are really only interested in a small universe of specific Windows apps, maybe search Google a bit to see how they perform on VirtualBox.
posted by rkent at 5:39 PM on September 9, 2010

+ fast
+ Apps appear directly on your desktop, no machine-in-a-box
- not all Apps supported

+ best compatibility
- uses a bit more ressources (esp. because it has to run a whole Win system not just 1 App)

About the performance hit... with modern CPUs supporting Intel VT / AMD-V, performance hit on the CPU is about 0%. 5-10% maybe on CPUs not supporting it.
Disk and Memory hit is a bit more, maybe in the 10-20% range.
Please note that VMs can't pass through graphics stuff to your video card (well limited supported seems to become available). This means no playing Crysis on your VM.

About the distro... I personally use Debian, but I'd suggest running Ubuntu - biggest community if you need help, and most things are quite easy to set up.
Running XP Stuff... system should work stable and have a recent Wine version, so Ubuntu is fine.

dfriedman: yeah some people like MacOS. I don't - I have a MacBook Pro, running Debian on it
posted by roerek at 5:40 PM on September 9, 2010

Wine is hit or miss and it's really difficult to generalize about it. Some programs work fine on other people's machines — even running the same distro — and not at all on mine. Hardware issues? Some conflict with some other user software I have? Who knows. Sometimes you can Google around and find solutions to particular problems with apps under Wine, sometimes not. The compatibility list on the Wine site is a good source of clues to such solutions, but other than that I'd take it only as a rough guide.

If you have a bunch of Windows stuff you rely on every day, I think you'd really want a VM running, at least as a backup. This is much, much easier to get going now than it used to be, and even if you find most of what you want to use runs in Wine most of the time, it's nice to know you have a fully functional Windows environment when you need it.

I can't really give you much guidance on the performance issues, sorry.

are there any inherent benefits with regards to running winXP-apps via the methods described in any particular flavor of linux?

No, I don't think it will matter, though you may want to look at a tutorial for setting up VirtualBox or KVM or whatever for the distro you're considering to make sure it sounds sane.
posted by enn at 5:43 PM on September 9, 2010

Using Windows XP as the client OS, on full screen mode, is barely distinguishable from running on true hardware for routine tasks like word processing and web browsing.

Doing lots of browsing from within the Windows VM negates the security advantage of running a different OS. Do your browing from Ubuntu and use the file sharing mechanism built into the VM system to shuttle files back and forth.

Also, set up snapshots of your OS so you can roll back easily in case something goes awry or gets infected. That's one thing you can't do easily with Wine or a physical box.
posted by benzenedream at 5:51 PM on September 9, 2010

Doing lots of browsing from within the Windows VM negates the security advantage of running a different OS. Do your browing from Ubuntu and use the file sharing mechanism built into the VM system to shuttle files back and forth.

You can actually set up the VM so that it runs as its own user. If that user has no privileges, then the security risks are pretty irrelevant. Who cares if the VM is all infected... it can't do anything to your real system.
posted by Netzapper at 5:55 PM on September 9, 2010

I've tried to happily use Wine and a VM, but found it to be quite painful. Wine is overly optimistic about what it can run, and the VM does hog resources and still isn't as 'good' as running Windows natively.

What worked best for me was to get a second used computer, either off Craigslist or one of the Dells from work coming off lease, and just run the two boxes with a KVM switch to go back and forth and a portable NAS drive for shared files. Worked great, best of both worlds for a couple hundred bucks. Cost was worth the benefit. As a bonus, if one system needs some tender loving care or is busy doing something CPU and/or HD intensive, you've got the second to use in the meantime.

Doesn't answer the question, just presenting another option that may be more attractive. Once you fully make the switch, if ever, you can always sell the second system or re-purpose it as a DVR or something.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:41 PM on September 9, 2010

I've been running Linux at home for years. (4? 6? Honestly can't remember.) Lately (2 yrs ago?), I switched to Ubuntu and love it - Canonical is doing great stuff for it-just-works Linux.

BUT! I have never, ever gotten anything to run satisfactorily in Wine. I've tried a few things - Quicken, a couple language learning packages, educational software. It was always a huge hassle. In the long run, it was universally easier to find an open source alternative. (Or, for my kids' specific educational software, get a used WinXP box like hungrysquirrels suggests.)

I think a virtualization setup would be the way to go, and follow benzenedream's advice on snapshotting it frequently. As a matter of fact, I need to go install VirtualBox and play with it.
posted by richyoung at 8:53 PM on September 9, 2010

I'm not sure a VM would run very well on a older single core machine with only a few gigs of ram.

That said, have you tried Windows 7? The security model is much better than XP.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:28 AM on September 10, 2010

I use Ubuntu for many of the same reasons - faster, no anti-virus needed, etc. It's great. But I do not get on with WINE at all. Instead, I've just found substitute apps. If I wanted to run a significant amount of windows stuff, I'd dual boot (which is very easy) or have another windows PC.
posted by rhymer at 1:36 AM on September 10, 2010

I can't help you out with running s/w on ubuntu. Last I tried virtual box to run XP on my linux box, it ran perfectly fine, but I was only using it to run one small specific app.

Ubuntu is great, I've been using it since 7, and been using 8 as my main os since. I only boot into vista to print with Qimage Pro. Ubuntu 10.04 is awesome, near everything works out of the box save setting up the nvidia drivers which are quite straightforward to manage. Wifi was a pain back in the old days :)

Check it out using the live cd, and if you are happy with it, may want to try it out using Wubi for a start (https://wiki.ubuntu.com/WubiGuide) before you do a full on installation. Sounds like a good thing, though I haven't tried it myself.

Personally, while I do miss certain windows apps (e.g. Winamp) I've just moved on to using all linux apps.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:28 AM on September 10, 2010

Windows 7 x64 is a lot more secure then windows xp that might be a better choice.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:26 AM on September 10, 2010

I use Ubuntu at home and at work. I've never been able to get WINE to work right. I either find alternatives or, if there is no alternative, use VirtualBox.

I know everyone says Ubuntu is unfuckwithable and you'll never need another anti-virus again and all that, but I must be in the special snowflake minority because...well, without explaining too much I'll just say it involved my work computer (which is used to process credit card transactions) and there was much drama. Lesson learned: no computer is free from hackability.
posted by geekchic at 7:47 AM on September 10, 2010

you'll be able to get some things to working, sorta. it will be a crutch as you transition to native linux apps, eventually you'll get there and wonder why you spent so much time fighting with wine. VMs can work, but without multi-core architecture and a lot more ram, you're going to see a big slowdown.
posted by jrishel at 8:30 AM on September 10, 2010

I took two screenshots to give you an idea of system load.

Running Chrome, Pidgin and Rhythmbox

VirtualBox (Vista) running Chrome, Pidgin and Windows Media Player
posted by geekchic at 8:43 AM on September 10, 2010

If that user has no privileges, then the security risks are pretty irrelevant.

Agreed. A lot of people would still run XP as an admin though, since much software has problems without those rights (and it's non-trivial to figure out which keys and files need perms changed).

Who cares if the VM is all infected... it can't do anything to your real system.

True, but if you slide into using the vulnerable VM as your main browsing machine, malware can get into all your online accounts and cause you headaches. Owning the most-used browser is good enough to cause significant pain, even if the underlying "real" OS is untouched. I've seen too many people who run a VM "to use IE on sites that need it" then end up drifting back to Windows for 99% of browser usage because it's familiar.
posted by benzenedream at 9:17 AM on September 10, 2010

Nthing suggestions for VirtualBox running XP for the things you need XP for. In addition to using snapshots to 'roll back' your system to 'before it got infected' or 'before some update broke something', it's also simple set up a virtual network share on the host (Linux) pc. You can then map your XP Documents & settings folder to the share so your work is always saved outside of Windows, and make the Virtual Windows disk "immutable" so that any changes disappear at its next reboot.
posted by dirm at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mint is probably one of the easiest distros to get started with. It's Ubuntu + a few extras. If your machine isn't too ancient you'll want to run a VM. VirtualBox is very easy and very slick. It even has a "seamless" option for integrating your desktops. Be sure to install the guest utilities.

If you only need one or two essential Windows programs, give Wine a try, but keep your expectations low. Windows was not meant to be friendly with other platforms. Most likely, you'll need to run them in a VM.

Frankly, I do almost everything in the browser. I access other unix machines in a terminal over ssh and Windows machines using rdesktop. Audacity for playing mp3s. The only reason I keep a VM with XP in it is for the odd times someone sends me a .docx or Visio.
posted by Loudmax at 10:10 PM on September 10, 2010

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