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CrossOver Preview runs Windows apps on Android and Chromebooks, even Photoshop

By on September 2, 2016 0


Last week, CodeWeavers announced that after three years of development, a preview version of CrossOver for Android will be released. Why was I so excited? Because CrossOver lets you run Windows programs on Mac and Linux, and they brought their expertise to Android. After trying the Preview version for a week (which you can sign up for here), I’m extremely impressed with its capabilities, despite a few major limitations.

Disclaimer: Since I don’t have an Intel-based Android tablet and my Chromebook doesn’t have the Google Play Store yet, I tested CrossOver on the latest version of Remix OS on my Dell Windows laptop. It is possible that some of the bugs I encountered were issues with Remix, but CrossOver’s compatibility with Windows programs is the same no matter how you run it. CrossOver for Android is at the start of beta, so everything in this review is subject to change with subsequent updates.

First impressions

The entire CrossOver user interface consists of the virtual desktop, where all Windows programs live, and an “Install Application” button. The install functionality is where CrossOver shines on the desktop. With the open source WINE project that CrossOver is based on, running a program (not even at all) might mean looking up forum posts to see what LinuxFan78 typed in the command line.

CrossOver tries to alleviate this pain with its installer, which downloads a certain program and makes all the necessary settings for the program to run automatically. For example, when I installed Steam through CrossOver, it downloaded several fonts required by Steam before proceeding with the actual Steam installation.

Screenshot_20160902-135710

CrossOver for Android only has a few “known apps”, but if you want you can try installing one of the available CrossOver apps. The selection is quite large, but if you want to install something that is not on the list, you will have to download a web browser like Firefox in CrossOver and download it manually.

The virtual desktop is pretty basic, showing a few app shortcuts at the top and a Start menu with access to your programs at the bottom. There is also a very basic file manager, a setting to add / remove programs and the Wine configuration tool.

Games

Perhaps the most exciting prospect of running Windows programs on Android (or a Chromebook) is playing Windows’ vast library of games. This is a huge reason why Wine even exists, despite the rise of Steam OS and Linux games, most new titles are still locked to Windows. Linux and Mac users have been using Wine, CrossOver, and other similar software for years to play Windows exclusive titles.

Screenshot_20160902-120940

Steam is easy to install and run, just choose it from the Install Application dialog box and click Next / Accept on all installer pop-ups. But when trying to play games this is where I ran into problems. Wine, and therefore CrossOver, only supports DirectX 9 – which means most new Windows games just won’t work. CodeWeavers is working hard to add support for DirectX 10 and 11, but it’s a huge undertaking. Many games also offer an OpenGL mode, except that also doesn’t work here. Android only supports OpenGL ES, not the full OpenGL specification expected by Windows programs.

Another frustrating issue is that games cannot lock the mouse inside the program. To my knowledge, Android doesn’t allow apps to lock the mouse at all, so FPS titles won’t be playable without a controller. Games running full screen also seem buggy, but most games have windowed modes anyway. Finally, there is no way to change the virtual desktop resolution, so older games that expect a smaller screen may have issues.

Screenshot_20160902-122228

I haven’t tried many of my Steam games, but managed to run three titles – Half Life 1, Team Fortress: Classic, and Game Dev Tycoon. Half Life 1 (pictured above) only worked when I turned off full screen mode and switched to software rendering instead of OpenGL. The mouse didn’t lock, so it was out of control, but the movements were smooth. Team Fortress was the same story, and Game Dev Tycoon surprisingly worked without messing with the settings.

If your game can run on software renderer or DirectX 9 and doesn’t need to lock the mouse, chances are it will run in CrossOver. Especially if you install it through the CrossOver installation mechanism. As previously reported, CodeWeavers has been working on DirectX 10 and 11 support on the desktop versions of CrossOver, so it wouldn’t surprise me if these changes spill over to the Android version at some point.

Other software

You will need to use a web browser to install software not available in CrossOver itself. I used the CrossOver installer to download Firefox, seen below. I tried running a recent version, version 45 to be exact, but it would freeze every time I saved a file, so I reverted to Firefox 7 (which is still usable for most sites).

Screenshot_20160902-120700

One of the best use cases for CrossOver is to run full Microsoft Office, but Office 2013 and later versions don’t work at all due to their dependence on DirectX 10. CodeWeavers officially supports Office 2010 and earlier, but I didn’t have a copy. of this version, so I tried LibreOffice. If you’ve never used it, LibreOffice is an open source office suite compatible with MS Office and works quite well in CrossOver.

Screenshot_20160902-122736

Granted, it worked until I tried to save a file and then it froze. So close !

Saint Photoshop, Batman

I was incredibly surprised to see my copy of Photoshop CS3, without changing any settings, work in CrossOver. Well, most of the time.

Screenshot_20160902-123432

I have tried basic image manipulation including transformations, gradients, cropping, filters, etc. all with success. However, it crashes when you try to use fonts, and a few other times at random, but it is extremely impressive that CrossOver can run it. Photoshop CS6 requires a few additional packages in Wine called “winetricks” to work perfectly – but as far as I know there is no way to install winetricks in CrossOver yet.

Android / Chromebook integration

CrossOver’s integration with the host operating system, whether Android or Chrome OS, is rather limited but still more than I expected. The Android root file system appears as a drive in CrossOver, allowing you to transfer data back and forth without much hassle. For example, I could easily open images in Photoshop from the Android download folder.

External media like SD cards and USB drives also work well in CrossOver, as long as you can find them in Android’s folder / storage. Most programs will not run outside of the CrossOver environment, so you may need to copy the programs (and their files) to the virtual C: drive to run them.

CrossOver is one of the only Android apps I have tried that works with a right click, which is a necessity for Windows programs. It is noted that my laptop right click didn’t seem to work, I had to use a bluetooth mouse. But it’s more than likely that this was a Remix OS issue, so I won’t blame CrossOver for it.

Final thoughts

Windows, despite the challenges macOS and Linux have posed over decades, still maintains the largest software library of any operating system. That’s why CrossOver is so exciting: it opens up a whole new library of apps for Android devices and Chromebooks. As it stands, it’s pretty buggy and needs more work. But despite all the crashes and freezes I’ve been through, I can’t help but be amazed that it works at all. Photoshop alone is enough to get you excited.

CrossOver is huge for Android and Chromebooks, arguably more for Chromebooks. With CodeWeavers and the entire Wine community working towards better program compatibility, it’s only a matter of time before your favorite program or game runs in CrossOver.


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