Can Linux run Windows EXE files?

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Users who have recently migrated from Windows to Linux often wonder if they can run Windows applications and programs on their new system. The answer to this question affects a user’s perspective on Linux in general, as operating systems need to be easy to use and at the same time, welcoming to the idea of ​​running different file formats.

A direct answer to the question is: Yes. You can run EXE files and other Windows programs on Linux, and it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

By the end, you will have a brief understanding of executable files, as well as the different ways to run these programs on Linux.

Executables on Windows and Linux

Before running EXE files in Linux, it is important that you know what executables are. Generally speaking, an executable is a file containing commands allowing the computer to execute certain particular instructions (as written in code).

Unlike other types of files (text or PDF files), an executable cannot be read by the computer. Instead, the system compiles these files and follows the instructions accordingly.

Some common executable file formats include:

  1. EXE, BIN and COM on Microsoft Windows

  2. DMG and APP on macOS

  3. OUT and AppImage on Linux

Internal differences in operating systems (mainly system calls and file access) are the reason why an operating system does not support all available executable formats. But Linux users can easily solve this problem by using either compatibility layer software like Wine or a virtual machine hypervisor like VirtualBox.

Ways to run Windows programs in Linux

Running a Windows app on Linux isn’t rocket science. Here are the different ways to run EXE files in Linux:

Using a compatibility layer

Windows Compatibility Layers can help Linux users run EXE files on their system. Wine, short for Wine Is Not an Emulator, is a popular Windows Compatibility Layer that lives up to its name.

Unlike emulators and virtual machines, Wine does not run the program in a Windows-like environment created on the Linux system. Instead, it simply converts Windows system calls to their POSIX equivalent commands.

Overall, compatibility layers like Wine are responsible for converting system calls, reforming the directory structure, and providing operating system-specific system libraries to a program.

Installing and using Wine to run Windows programs on Linux is straightforward. Once installed, you can run the following command to run an EXE file using Wine:

wine program.exe

Linux users who want to play Windows-only games can opt for PlayOnLinux, a front-end wrapper for Wine. PlayOnLinux also provides a detailed list of Windows apps and games that you can install on your system.

By running Windows in a virtual machine

Another solution is to run Windows EXE files using virtual machines. A virtual machine hypervisor, like VirtualBox, allows users to install a secondary operating system that runs in their base operating system.

All you need to do is install VirtualBox or VMWare, create a new virtual machine, and configure Windows on it. Then you can just start the virtual machine and run Windows in your Linux operating system. This way, you can run EXE files and other programs as you normally would on a Windows computer only.

Related: How to Configure a Windows Virtual Machine in Linux

Cross-platform software development is the future

Currently, much of the software available focuses only on a single operating system. Most of the apps you can find are available exclusively for Windows, macOS, Linux, or a combination of these operating systems. You rarely have the chance to install software that works on all popular operating systems.

But that all changes with cross-platform development. Software developers are now creating applications that can run on multiple platforms. Spotify, VLC media player, Sublime Text, and Visual Studio Code are some examples of cross-platform software available for all major operating systems.


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