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Switching from Windows to Linux is remarkably simple. The problems arise when you need to perform a particular task, such as running an application or video game, and finding that the software isn’t compatible.
One obvious example is Microsoft Office. We’ve already looked at how to install Microsoft Office in Linux, but what if you just want to use Microsoft Excel?
Perhaps you have a particularly complicated spreadsheet you need to use. It might be an XLS or XLSX file that you’ve been working on for years, and requires you to use Microsoft Excel rather than a Linux-based, open-source Office alternative.
Well, you’re not alone. This happened to me, too. Here’s how I installed Microsoft Excel on my Ubuntu PC.
I Need to Install Microsoft Excel on Linux
It’s generally straightforward to install Microsoft Excel on a Linux computer… if you have the right hardware, and a favorable scenario. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Basically, I needed to do the following:
- Print a spreadsheet or chart
- Working on a low power system
- Usually offline
Several options are available if you want to run an Excel file in Linux. Unfortunately, none of them (outlined below) were appropriate.
Alternatives to Installing Excel
You don’t have to install Excel to open an XLS or XLSX spreadsheet. These are the alternatives I considered, and why I ignored them.
1. Running LibreOffice Calc
LibreOffice is the most common alternative to Microsoft Office on Linux systems. In the main, it is a very good replacement. Most switchers from Windows can barely notice the difference between Calc and Excel. However, it isn’t great with macros, and as noted above, doesn’t usually print spreadsheets accurately.
Why I Ignored: My spreadsheet needed a macro to be run before printing.
2. Use Microsoft Office Online
The browser version of Microsoft Office is extremely useful; it’s arguably the best thing Microsoft has ever done. Free to use, it places word processing, email, spreadsheets and presentations in the hands of anyone who wants to use them. To be honest, it’s a better solution than Google’s online office suite, and is easier to use.
Why I Ignored: The laptop is usually offline.
3. Run Excel in a Virtual Machine
Although this is a popular option for many users with mid-to-high-end computers and laptops, if your computer isn’t up to the task, then virtualization isn’t an option. Typically, computers with Intel Core i5 or later CPUs support virtualization. Less advanced processors (such as the Core i3, Intel Dual Core CPUs, and ARM processors) just can’t handle it.
If you’re running Linux on an old laptop or PC, for example, you’ll be unable to run Windows in a virtual machine and install Microsoft Excel there.
Why I Ignored: Low-end, older laptop doesn’t support virtualization.
My only solution, therefore, was to install Excel on Linux.
How Can You Install Windows Software on Linux?
Surprisingly, you can install Windows software on Linux. This includes applications and games alike. Sometimes, it might be a case of installing the software natively (many old games can be run this way), or with emulation. For instance, old MS-DOS software can be run on Linux (and Windows and macOS) using DOSBox. This is an MS-DOS emulator. However, other legacy systems can also be emulated, with the right emulation software.
To install Excel on Linux, I required an installable version of Excel, and Wine and its companion app, PlayOnLinux. This software is basically a cross between an app store/downloader, and a compatibility manager. Any software you need to run on Linux can be looked up, and its current compatibility discovered.
Using PlayOnLinux, I was able to discover that the latest version of Microsoft Excel I would be able to run was the 2013 release. For stability, however, I opted for 2010, which I fortunately have on disc. Note that Wine supports software installed from EXEs and virtual ISO files as well as physical media.
Install Microsoft Excel on Linux With Wine and PlayOnLinux
In many current versions of Linux, Wine and PlayOnLinux are pre-installed. To find out if you have these installed, open the application menu, and find Games. You might also find them listed under Accessories.
If not, you’ll need to manually install Wine and PlayOnLinux. Both can usually be found in your Linux operating system’s default package manager, particularly in the case of Ubuntu and other Debian-based distros. Simply search for Wine and PlayOnLinux, then Install.
Once you’ve got Wine and PlayOnLinux on your system, it’s time to start installing. Begin by running PlayOnLinux to search for the software you want to install. Click Install a program to open the search tool. If you want to install Microsoft Excel, you’ll need to search for Microsoft Office, and have your installer disc to hand. As noted above, the most recent reliable option is Microsoft Office 2010 (the 2013 version is included, but is still undergoing testing).
However, for this to work, you’ll need the winbind software. You can get this by opening up the terminal and entering:
sudo apt-get install playonlinux winbind -y
Wait while this installs, then switch back to PlayOnLinux. With Microsoft Office 2010 selected, click the Install button. A few moments later, the Microsoft Office installation wizard will appear. Here, select Microsoft Excel 2010, and click Install. Agree to the EULA, then hit Install again.
PlayOnLinux will then manage the installation of Microsoft Excel on your Linux system. Note that as it completes, you’ll be notified of some errors concerning the installation of OneNote, Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint. As you didn’t select these, you can ignore the messages by clicking Next.
Once complete, the installed Microsoft Excel will create a shortcut on your desktop. All you need to do is double-click the shortcut — as you might on Windows — and Microsoft Excel will run on your Linux PC!
Install Excel Viewer on Linux
There’s a good chance that you don’t have a copy of Microsoft Excel. In this case, the only option is for Microsoft Excel Viewer 2003. This is free software, which means that PlayOnLinux will download and install it for you automatically. Click Install, then Next, until the installer starts. Take the time to read the warnings, then choose Download the program and Next.
Wait as the installer continues, and offers to install Microsoft fonts for you. This might prove useful, but make your own choice here. After this is sorted out, you’ll see the main Excel Viewer installer. As noted in the earlier warnings, accept the default options, and follow the installation wizard to the end.
Moments later, Excel Viewer will be installed. While you won’ t be able to create new spreadsheets, this is an ideal tool for viewing and printing existing spreadsheets. if a desktop shortcut is not created, you’ll find Excel viewer ready to run in the PlayOnLinux app window.
Enjoy Windows Application Compatibility With Wine
Many Windows apps and games can be run on Linux thanks to Wine. It’s not perfect, and can do with some tweaking at times when things go wrong. But other than running your favorite Windows software in a virtual machine, it’s the best option.
I found that using Microsoft Excel Viewer was enough for what I needed. You might require the full Excel application. It doesn’t matter — both will work in Linux!
Unfortunately, failing to overcome a need for Windows software results in many switchers quitting Linux and heading back. Given how easy it is to use Wine and PlayOnLinux, that shouldn’t happen to you.
Has discovering that you need to run Windows software in Linux after switching changed your view of Linux? Will you go back to the Microsoft OS, or remain with your chosen free and open source operating system? Let’s talk about it in the comments.