A short write-up1
on how to get GNU and Windows2
You should only do this if you find it absolutely essential.
Chances are that you do not need this at all. GNU software runs
very easily on the Linux, Hurd and *BSD platforms and handles
e-mail, web, editing, drawing and programming more than
Modulo the above warning, some users may still want to read on
for a variety of reasons.
There are essentially three ways to get GNU and Windows(TM)
software to interoperate:
- The above solution. Just migrate to GNU/Linux. Your life
will definitely show improvement after about 6 months.
- Use Windows tools on GNU/Linux. This is the solution
offered by tools like Wine, CrossOver, Lindows and
- Use GNU tools on Windows. This is the solution offered by
Cygwin and MinGW.
We will approach this problem from bottom-up since (3) is
the most likely choice of people who were not convinced by the
Contrary to what you may have heard, the GNU
folks are not against you using GNU software on a Windows
platform. Use it, get familiar with it, and find out (after a
while) that you hardly use the so-called tools that come bundled
with your so-called operating system. Then
you are ripe
for the switch-over to solution (2) or even (1) (being hopeful
Secondly, it is not essential (though it is ideologically
desirable) to use Linux or *BSD or Hurd to run GNU software. GNU
software was designed with portability in mind. GNU
software runs easily on multiple platforms (except Apple but that
is long story). In fact, a typical user of a GNU/Linux system
uses very little of the Linux aspect and would probably not be
able to tell the difference between her system and GNU/*BSD.
It is thus appropriate that the solution outline below be
called GNU/Windows -- perhaps that is an oxymoron!
The two systems described below work within the
user interface of Windows or DOS. In addition, you can also get
the look and feel of a ``terminal window'' (as in X) with a
command prompt. Standard (for GNU
systems) utilities like TE
X, EMACS, GIMP,
Ghostscript, Xfig, Gnuplot and others are also available. Cut and
paste between these utilities and the Windows programmes is also
possible. You can even run web services via Apache and use Secure
Shell (OpenSSH). You can read/compose your mail using Mutt or Elm
or Pine. At the same time if you have essential need for Internet
Explorer or Outlook or Office then these come from your Windows
Cygwin is a POSIX environment developed by
RedHat which allows users to experience the glory of using GNU
tools on a Windows platform. At base it consists of
which is an emulation layer that emulates
the GNU library calls on the windows platform. In addition
numerous pre-compiled tools from the GNU software suite are made
available at www.cygwin.com
along with a
Installation of a cygwin system from Windows is as easy as
connecting to the above site and clicking on various buttons. In
other words, one can safely say that the users wanting the
easiest approach to using GNU tools while not losing their
favourite Windows environment will find CygWin the most
comfortable of all.
(For those who know their
history of the recent past--recall that Linux started off as a
better way to port the GNU compilation suite to Minix). The
Minimalist(!) GNU system for Windows is at the base a port of
(that extremely basic) GNU compilation suite to Windows. In
combination with MSYS (or minimal system) which provides a POSIX
command line and programming environment, this provides a context
in which most of the standard configure
and make install
installations of GNU software work.
Thus, to install a MinGW-base GNU/Windows system you need to
download and install the MinGW and MSYS packages from
mingw.org. This provides us with the environment to
download and install source-based packages from
ftp.gnu.org and other sources.
Clearly, this solution is not for the faint-of-heart. Perhaps
someone will someday make a ``distribution'' like CygWin using
MinGW. On the other hand perhaps someone has to use
Windows and is a bit of a ``hacker''. Such a user will find this
While some may have entitled this
section ``Windows on Linux'' , we will stick with calling the
system GNU. It will become more and more clear as we go along
that it is the GNU-ish aspect of the underlying system that is
required to make things work rather than the Linux aspect. In
fact, most of the solution outlined below work quite well with
*BSD or Hurd and some can be made to work with Solaris or HP/UX
as well. (Now if only some one set up a GNU/Solaris or GNU/HPUX
The user is faced with the common X (or other)
graphical interface in its simpler (twm
or more fancy (KDE or Gnome) form. The Windows applications can
be started in a ``sub''-window (which can even be full screen).
Thus (if you must) you can run Internet Explorer, Office or
Outlook right from within your X interface with no need to
re-boot. At the same time you are in a multi-user environment
with the protection from viruses and other nefarious bugs and
crashes that this can bring you. (Don't try any of these as
root!). You can even run Windows applications in ``sandbox''
environments if you are particularly paranoid.
If you are willing to spend some
money (of the order of $100-$200) there are complete
point-and-click installations of GNU (Linux) that come with
adequate tools to get current
applications from Windows
working. These solutions use the CrossOver package developed by
CodeWeavers who also contribute to the Wine project. The relevant
urls are codeweavers.com
. There is more than enough help and support
(after all you pay for it!) from these sites to install and run
these systems. Reports are generally positive.
you have some old DOS stuff that you absolutely must access, this
is your easiest solution. You need to install only one package
and then go through that more or less fully
automated install. After that you have DOS in a window panel or
even at a command line in an existing panel. You need to have a
DOS boot floppy or FreeDOS freedos.org
in order to have
even a ``base'' working system.
Wine Project at winehq.com
is an ongoing project that
aims to implement the Windows Application Layer on top of X and
Unix. In some ways this is a reversal of what CygWin does. The
problem is that the the POSIX and X interfaces are very well
documented so that constructing exact replications of these
interfaces is easier than doing it the other way around. The
Windows ABI changes with each release of Windows. Further, some
``fast'' interfaces are only released based on non-disclosure
agreements which makes the job of the programmers at the Wine
Project rather hard. Still, this is an excellent interface for
running a large number of Windows applications like Office (even
the latest XP version!). Moreover, since Wine implements the DLL
based interfaces of Windows you do not actually have to buy
Windows to get various programmes working.
Since Windows is such an incredibly
important operating system created by a company with the best
programmers in the world, they have no option but to invent their
own file formats and conventions that differ from standards
created elsewhere! In any case, there are always problems of
interoperation and most people want Windows only because some of
their friends and colleagues have it too and send them these
files which they can't access. Now it is not entirely clear why
it can't work the other way--why can't the Windows guys figure
out ways to convert their files before they send them? Perhaps
the answer is that GNU tends to empower folks and get them to
think about other people's problems as well--Windows users tend
to have a more monotonous view of a sanitised world!
Other than standards like PNG, JPEG and so on it
is possible that your Windows friends may send you files in WMF
or BMP formats. The program convert
that is part of the
ImageMagick suite is a general purpose graphical conversion tool
that will solve most of your problems. It does depend on external
tools like libwmf
for some formats like WMF. The only
complaint that some may have with Imagemagick is that it
(occasionally) produces ``fat'' files. Reading the documentation
on proper command line switches may help in this respect. In
reverse, you may wish to use this so that you avoid sending XPM
to Windows users. To convert PostScript files to PDF using
(get a new version of ghostScript!) is also a
good idea as most Windows programs cannot handle these files.
Most of the audio utilities have converged onto a
few formats and so one is on somewhat safer territory here.
However, you may find someone sending you RIFF files or some
other obscure format. The universal program is sox
is like convert
but for audio. Two exceptions to this
are MP3 and MIDI. For the former you may find mpg321
useful utility. The latter format is actually not an audio format
but is compressed musical notation somewhat like DVI for
X. In any case, there is extensive support for
MIDI in GNU. The most generic application for playing
MIDI is timidity
. Finally, there is ``Real Audio''. For
this you (currently) need the ``Real Player'' which may or may
not work. (More info on this is in the next subsection).
This is still an evolving medium so there are a
number of variants that have less or more support under GNU. The
typical VCD is stored as MPEG and can be played easily. The thumb
rule here is to use xine
. You can also find plugins for
by following the links at
. The sole exception to this is
``Real Video''. This is a proprietary format and one needs to buy
or download the player. However, the company has announced that
it plans to release the codec details soons. If this happens,
would be able to support conversion.
Numerous compression methods are in use. The
are typically required to convert files that may
be sent in archived format from Windows environments. The program
is also useful to extract files from the CAB
Under this umbrella of ``text'' one includes all the
remaining types of files! The first thing to note is that
text files require conversion because of
differences between the way lines are terminated on DOS and *nix.
The programs todos
neccessary conversion. The second thing to note the useful-ness
(used as strings -a
) which will try
to extract all possible textual data from any file. This may even
extract data which the sender did not know she was sending!
The typical file sent by most Windows users to others is a DOC
file. Unfortunately, the details about this format are
undisclosed and also undergo periodic review causing most
conversion utilities to choke. In spite of this the wv
library and suite is very useful as it does 90% of the job in 90%
of the cases. For the remaining cases you may have little option
but to use abiword or the much larger
openoffice or staroffice.
Another typical format used by Windows is RTF. Unlike DOC the
details of this format are publicly disclosed and so conversion
is feasible. The typical utility is unrtf.
Finally, some folks use PowerPoint to develop presentations
and then mail these presentations to folks! The program ppthtml
is able to convert the PowerPoint to HTML. After this a Web
browser like mozilla should be able to view the file.
Note however that there may be embedded graphics which are in WMF
files and embedded audio and so on. These would have to be
converted on-the-fly by making suitable ``Helper'' entries in the
``Preferences'' menu for mozilla.
- ... write-up1
- The author is grateful to Rahul Sinha for numerous pointers
regarding Windows systems.
- ... Windows2
- all trademarks used in this write-up are owned by their