Software maker weds Linux PCs, Windows applications

Software maker NeTraverse hopes to eases problems for businesses migrating to Linux with its Win4Lin products.

David Becker
David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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SAN DIEGO--End users and Linux can be like men and marriage--they like the idea, but commitment is a bear.

An Austin, Texas-based software maker hopes to make it easier with products that allow Linux-based PCs to run Windows and Windows-based applications in a safe virtual sandbox.

James Curtin, CEO of NeTraverse, an exhibitor and presenter at the Desktop Linux Summit here, said his Win4Lin products are intended to serve as a bridge for companies making the switch from Windows to Linux.

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Such transitions often involve a few Windows applications that can't easily be replicated in the open-source world, he said. "It's that last 20 percent of the software stack that causes 80 percent of the problems in adopting Linux," Curtin said.

Win4Lin provides at least a temporary fix by allowing Windows to run as a window on the Linux desktop. Unlike more common "emulator" programs, such as the VMWare products recently acquired by storage giant EMC, Win4Lin runs Windows as a Linux application, using the same shared memory as Linux.

NeTraverse offers the product in two flavors: a standard desktop distribution and a terminal server version that runs Windows and related applications on a central server, allowing employees to connect as needed.

Besides simplified administration, the server version has the added benefit of allowing information technology administrators to selectively turn off access to applications once they decide an employee has had time enough to get comfortable with an open-source alternative, for example.

Curtin said the most common Windows applications that businesses can't easily replicate in the open-source world are Microsoft's Visio charting tool and Project project-management package, while consumers cling to Intuit's Quicken and QuickBooks bookkeeping applications.

Many customers also have custom applications written for older versions of Windows, Curtin said. Rewriting the applications for Windows XP would be as complicated as redoing them in Linux, making the cost advantages of a Linux migration more attractive. Win4Lin provides a safety net while the migration is under way. "We work with a lot of health care companies that developed a lot of stuff for Windows 98, and it's getting pretty creaky now," Curtin said.

Other customers use Win4Lin to make a stealth migration to Linux. Open-source software actually runs the PC, but all persnickety users ever see is the Win4Lin-managed Windows environment. "They get the administrative benefits of Linux kind of under the covers," Curtin said.