Bridging Linux and Windows: Top Apps

The dividing line between the Linux and Windows platforms gets thinner all the time.
Posted September 6, 2011

Matt Hartley

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Nearly every day I hear about people who express interest in taking the leap into the Linux space. What would-be Linux users fail to realize is that there's software that makes switching between the Linux and Windows worlds almost effortless.

So in the interest of sharing this knowledge, I've put together this article to share different applications and technologies that can be helpful to blur the lines between the two platforms.

Tools offered right out of the box

When most people think of sending a document from a Windows PC to one running Linux, it's not uncommon to forget that there are technologies that can make this task reasonably seamless. Obviously these solutions need to be setup to work between platforms initially, but once this has been done it's all smooth sailing from then on.

Samba - One important example of a Linux friendly technology is called Samba. Using Samba between a Linux and Windows PC allows the end-user to comfortably print from one platform to another with a printer attached. It's helpful with cross-platform file sharing as well. In both instances though, Samba isn't secure. So it's best left to usage on a secure LAN or used with care via a WLAN.

A Web browser - Another overlooked example is your pre-installed Web browser. Regardless of which one you happen to prefer, a browser generally works the same on any given platform. Whether you are using webmail or collaborative web documents, the list of web apps that are available to you with a browser window open are staggering.

Connecting to Windows apps with Linux

Don't buy the common line that you cannot use Windows software if you're a Linux user. These days, dual-booting is only mandatory for those people using CPU intensive applications on the Windows desktop. There are more viable options to consider that allow you to run Linux and use Windows software at the same time.

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VNC – Whether it's used through a SSH tunnel or locally, VNC is a fantastic way to use a separate PC without having to sit right in front of it.

What's really great about using VNC is that you can run Linux as your main desktop OS, while running a Windows application server "headless" (without a monitor) somewhere within the office. Full-screen enabled, this option gives you 100% of the processing power you need to run legacy Windows applications without having to turn your back on the Linux desktop in the process.

Wine – Using the free Wine software – which is an emulator that provides a compatability layer – won’t help you with all Windows applications on the Linux desktop. However, running Wine can be reliable when running software with a proven Wine compatibility track record.

Instead of accessing a separate PC or running in a virtual environment, Wine allows you to run Windows applications within the confines of the Winelb (Wine software library). This means that with Wine installed, some Windows applications will run on a Linux-based PC without the need for a Windows operating system to power them.

Virtual Machine – Regardless of your preferred virtual machine, access to one translates into fluid access to another OS when needed. One common approach to dealing with legacy Windows applications is to run the virtual machine on the Linux desktop.

In this way, you're working within your preferred environment without having to boot to a separate PC to get access to non-Linux software. This approach does require access to an installation of the Windows operating system, but it can prove to be more convenient that dual-booting.

Synergy – Using Synergy is almost like running a KVM setup, only you don't need to press any buttons to switch between desktops. I've used the Synergy front-end known as QuickSynergy for sometime now. To date, it has never failed me and allows me to reach additional resources on other desktops, as if they were all connected.

It's also a handy alternative to relying on VNC or a virtual machine in that I don't have to do anything other than move my mouse over to the next desktop.

Dropbox – Without a doubt, Dropbox is the single best way to share small files between desktops without any specific configuration needed. When paired together with something like VNC or Synergy, moving files between desktops is drop dead simple. This isn't to say that I don't also rely heavily on SSH access, rather that Dropbox requires zero setup time by comparison.

Treating a Windows box like Linux

It's important to remember that Linux isn't a fit for every person out there. Sometimes, there are circumstances that limit how much Linux access can be brought into the workplace. Realizing this limitation, below are some helpful options to keep within your company rules while still allowing you Linux access.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, Wine

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