5 Tools to Help You Run Windows Programs in Linux

Get the best of both worlds with these Windows emulators

Even though open-source software includes free tools, including email clients, office applications, and media players, you might need a software app that works only on Windows. In this case, use one of the tools listed here to run Windows apps on your Linux PC.

Windows Applications And Linux

These tools are based on or use WINE. Aside from virtual machines, WINE is the only way to run Windows applications on Linux. There are wrappers, utilities, and versions of WINE that make the process easier, though, and choosing the right one can make a difference.

01
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Plain Classic WINE

WINE Windows compatibility layer for Linux
What We Like
  • Doesn't require a Windows license to use Windows applications.

  • The simple core utility behind these tools.

  • This is the stable and officially supported version.

What We Don't Like
  • It doesn't always run the latest versions of Windows products.

  • Some games and applications run sluggishly.

  • Lacks helper scripts.

  • Doesn't have the latest patches and improvements.

WINE stands for Wine Is Not An Emulator. WINE provides a Windows compatibility layer for Linux that makes installing, running, and configuring many popular Windows applications possible.

Install WINE

To install WINE, run whichever of the following fits your Linux distribution.

On Ubuntu, Debian, or Mint:

sudo apt

On Fedora and CentOS:

sudo

On openSUSE:

sudo zy

On Arch and Manjaro:

su

Open Windows Programs in WINE

With most desktop environments, run a Windows program with WINE by right-clicking the file and choosing Open with WINE program loader

Or, run the program from the command line using the following command:

wine pa

The file can be either an executable or an installer file. 

Choose the Windows Version

WINE offers a configuration tool you can launch using the menu of the desktop environment, or from the command line using the following command:


The configuration tool lets you choose the version of Windows to run programs against, manage graphics and audio drivers, manage desktop integration, and handle mapped drives.

You might find this guide to WINE and the project website and documentation helpful.

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WINE Staging

WINE Staging on Ubuntu
What We Like
  • Wider application compatibility.

  • Better performance than regular WINE.

  • Frequent updates.

What We Don't Like
  • Requires an extra repository on most distributions.

  • Still needs some configuration to use.

The next step from the mainstream WINE release is WINE Staging. The staging release includes patches and improvements that aren't considered stable enough to make it into the mainstream release. Still, these releases are usually stable enough to use on a daily basis.

Using WINE Staging usually gets more applications working and improves the performance of the ones that work. Unless you use WINE for business applications (Microsoft Office doesn't count), which you shouldn't be, you should probably pick WINE Staging.

WINE Staging requires you to set up an additional software repository on most distributions, but after that, it's as simple to install as vanilla WINE.

Install on Ubuntu, Debian, and Linux Mint

Enable 32-bit architecture:

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386

Import the WINE developer key:

wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/winehq.key
sudo apt-key add winehq.key

Add the repository. Replace eoan with your Ubuntu release.

sudo apt-add-repository 'deb https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/ eoan main'

On Debian, use the following example, replacing buster with the Debian release.

 deb https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/debian/ buster main 

Update your repositories, and install WINE Staging:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install --install-recommends winehq-staging

Install on Fedora

Add the repository from the WINE developers. Replace 30 in the address with your Fedora release.

dnf config-manager --add-repo https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/fedora/30/winehq.repo

Then, install the latest WINE Staging release using DNF.

dnf install winehq-staging

Install on openSUSE

openSUSE has WINE Staging in its repositories. To install it:

zypper install wine-staging

Install on Arch Linux and Manjaro

WINE Staging is in the official Arch repository. Install it normally.

pacman -S wine-staging
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Lutris

Install GOG Galaxy with Lutris
What We Like
  • Easy to play games.

  • Manage configurations without hassle.

  • Get the latest versions of WINE.

  • Manage games in one place.

What We Don't Like
  • Takes a little setup on some distributions.

  • Focused almost exclusively on games.

When it comes to playing Windows games on Linux, there's no better option than Lutris. Lutris is relatively new compared to the other entries on this list, but it's more than earned its spot by making it just as easy to install Windows games on Linux as it is on Windows.

With Lutris, you can play games, like Overwatch, on Linux in only a couple of clicks. There's no need to know the technical details. Someone already did the hard work for you.

Lutris also integrates with other Linux gaming platforms, like Steam, to keep your game library organized. With Lutris, you can access all your games in one place. Lutris keeps separate configurations for each game, so it can manage multiple versions of WINE at once, using the ideal one for each game.

Installing Lutris is fairly simple too.

Install on Ubuntu and Linux Mint

Install the Lutris PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:lutris-team/lutris

Update Apt, and install Lutris:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install lutris

Install on Debian

Add the Lutris repository configuration:

echo "deb http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/home:/strycore/Debian_9.0/ ./" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/lutris.list

Then, import the Lutris signing key:

wget -q https://download.opensuse.org/repositories/home:/strycore/Debian_9.0/Release.key -O- | sudo apt-key add -

Finally, update Apt, and install Lutris:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install lutris

Install on Fedora

Lutris is available in the default Fedora repositories. Install it with DNF.

sudo dnf install lutris

Install on openSUSE

openSUSE has Lutris in its repositories too. Install it normally.

sudo zypper install lutris

Install on Arch Linux and Manjaro

Arch also has Lutris in the main repository:

sudo pacman -S lutris
04
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Play On Linux

Play On Linux
What We Like
  • Good gaming support.

  • Install multiple versions of WINE simultaneously.

  • Excellent community support.

What We Don't Like
  • Starting games in full-screen mode can sometimes cause crashing.

  • Error reporting is lacking.

Similarly to Lutris, Play On Linux provides a graphical interface for WINE. Play On Linux came before Lutris, and it offers many of the same features. Play On Linux is bare-bones and doesn't include support for Linux native games. It takes a general approach, so you may find better office application support here, even though it's probably not as good as something like Crossover.

Install Play On Linux

On Ubuntu, Debian, and Mint:

sudo apt in

On Fedora and CentOS:

sudo dnf in

On openSUSE:

sudo zypper in

On Arch and Manjaro:

sudo pacm

Available Windows Programs

When you first run Play On Linux, a toolbar appears at the top with options to run, close, install, remove, or configure applications. You'll also see an installation option in the left panel.

You can choose from a number of applications, including development tools such as Dreamweaver, an assortment of retro classics such as Sensible World of Soccer, modern games such as Grand Theft Auto versions 3 and 4, the Half Life series, and more.

The graphics section includes Adobe Photoshop and Fireworks, and you'll find browsers in the internet section. The office section is a bit hit and miss. Those apps may not work.

Play On Linux requires you to have the setup files for the programs you are installing, although you can download some of the games from GOG.com.

Software installed via Play On Linux is generally more likely to work than software installed with plain WINE.

You also can install non-listed programs. However, the programs listed have been specifically configured to be installed and run using Play On Linux.

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Crossover

Crossover for Linux
What We Like
  • Streamlined setup makes it easy for Linux newcomers to use Windows programs.

  • Reliable 24/7 customer support with the premium plan.

What We Don't Like
  • Applications take up more space on the hard disk due to how it handles containers.

  • Free trial is limited to 14 days.

Crossover is the only item on this list that isn't free. It's a commercial product based on WINE. Installers are available for Debian, Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, and Red Hat.

When you first run Crossover, you are presented with a blank screen with an Install Windows Software button at the bottom. When you click the button, a new window appears with the following options:

  • Select application
  • Select installer
  • Select bottle

A bottle in Crossover is like a container that installs and configures each Windows application.

When you choose Select application, you'll see a search bar from which you can search for the program you wish to install by typing a description.

You also can browse the list of applications. A list of categories appears, and as with Play On Linux, you can choose from an array of packages.

When you choose to install an application, a new bottle suitable for that application is created, and you are asked to provide the installer or setup.exe. 

Why use Crossover when Play On Linux is free? Some programs work only with Crossover and not Play On Linux. If you need that program, then this is one option.

While WINE is a great tool, and the other options listed provide extra value for WINE, some programs may not work properly, and some may not work at all. Other options include creating a Windows virtual machine or dual-booting Windows and Linux.