One of my biggest hesitations about moving to a completely Linux-based environment at home is that I actually use several programs that only run on Windows systems, and so far I have not found truly comparable free/open source alternatives. Having done a lot of online reading about this issue, I find that there are always two or three programs that people often can't live without and that don't run on Linux (which is why dual boot situations are often desirable). There have been many attempts to port Windows programs to Linux platforms, but none have worked better (so far) than Wine.
Wine is a program you can download on Linux platforms that allows you to install and run Windows programs. It is not an emulator, as the name suggests, but is more of an application layer that runs on top of your Linux platform. While it is available in the Ubuntu package repositories (see my previous post about downloading software), that version is older (as are many default installations in the repositories). The best way to download Wine on Ubuntu or Debian is by following these instructions from the Wine HQ site.
Once you have Wine installed, you can begin installing Windows-platform software. Just to see how it would work, I went out to the web and downloaded the Windows version of Mozilla Firefox:
and double-clicked the icon on the desktop. Since it's an .exe file (Windows executable) that would not normally function in a Linux environment, it is opened by Wine, and up pops the familiar Windows Firefox installer window:
When I click next, it installs very quickly (Linux does work faster than Windows in nearly all respects - there are reasons for this that I might go into in a later post). Here's a screenshot of Windows Firefox running on Ubuntu under Wine:
Of course, I already have Firefox, as it comes standard with Ubuntu, so this is not the same thing as, say, Adobe Photoshop or Dreamweaver, but it illustrates the functionality of Wine. Give it a try!