Windows Virtual Machine
Every business seems to have a few crucial Windows applications which don't run acceptably with WINE. You can still accommodate them - and get extra mileage from your XP licenses - by setting up an XP Virtual Machine (VM) on your FOSS desktop. It's easy to do - all you need is the Oracle's FOSS VirtualBox and an install CD for XP - and you can use actual-real-live Windows XP in a FOSS environment.
You can install any apps you used to run on XP on this desktop-within-a-desktop and be almost certain they'll run here (the only exceptions are likely to be apps dependent on special hardware components). The VMs are great: you can copy and paste between them, easily share files, and most importantly with XP losing Microsoft security support, you can "sandbox" XP. It can be set up so it never talks to the outside world directly, thereby minimising the ways nasties can get to it.
VMs also lets you create periodic snap-shots which you can use to revert to a "known good" if, through bad luck, you contract an XP virus. You can minimise disruption by storing your important data files on your FOSS desktop's filesystem and using the VM's filesystem only for the apps themselves.
For expensive proprietary apps and those with licensing restrictions, you can run a single instance on an XP VM on a FOSS server on your network. For XP apps which depend on specialised hardware you can simply continue using XP system it already runs on, but use network configuration to isolate that machine from external security threats.
In either case, your users can use the apps from their FOSS desktop users via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) subject, of course, to each app's license limitations. This is equivalent to, but lower cost than, the proprietary enterprise convention of using Microsoft Terminal Services or Citrix.
Similarly, you could also fork out for newer workstations running either Microsoft Windows or Mac OSX to include in your otherwise FOSS network, similarly making them available to your users via RDP (subject to any license-related restrictions on those products).
Next week, I'll talk about managing networks of FOSS desktops, integrating Windows and Mac machines, and provide glimpses of other FOSS desktops.
Dave Lane is a long-time FOSS exponent and developer. An ex-CRI research scientist he currently does software and business development and project management for FOSS development firm Catalyst IT. He volunteers with the NZ Open Source Society, currently in the role of president.
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