Wabi: Caldera's Solution for Windows Applications

Wabi is a Sun Microsystems application that runs Windows 3.1, 3.11 and Windows for Workgroups on Unix.
  • Caldera Wabi 2.2 for Linux

  • Price: US$199

  • Platforms: SPARC Platform Edition, Intel Platform Edition

  • Ordering Information: http://www.caldera.com/, 800-850-7779 in the U.S. or 801-269-7012 internationally.

  • Reviewer: Dwight William Johnson

I find it a bother to reboot my computer to run the Microsoft Windows applications I need, so I was very excited when Wabi showed up on my doorstep.

Wabi is a Sun Microsystems application that runs Windows 3.1, 3.11 and Windows for Workgroups on Unix. You must have one of these versions of Windows to install into the framework which Wabi sets up on your Linux system. Then you must install the Windows applications you wish to run into this environment. While Wabi itself is installed into /usr/opt, the Windows installation must be repeated in the home directory of each user who wishes to use Wabi. All of the directory structures created by these installations reside inside the Linux directory structure and are accessible from Linux.

The Linux version of Wabi 2.2 has been licensed and published by Caldera and retails for $199. Information about how to obtain Wabi is on the Caldera Web site: http://www.caldera.com/; you can also call them at 800-850-7779 and 801-269-7012 (international).

In addition to its own Caldera Network Desktop, Caldera claims Wabi also runs on the Red Hat, Debian and Slackware Linux distributions which have a 1.2.13 or later kernel and the X Window System (X11R6). A local or networked CD-ROM drive is required for installation. A minimum of 10MB free disk space plus space for Microsoft Windows and its applications is required on your hard drive.

Sun Microsystems has certified an impressive array of 16-bit Windows applications to run under Wabi 2.2 (see Sidebar).

Many other 16-bit Windows applications can also work under Wabi, they just have not been tested and certified by Sun Microsystems and Caldera. For example, I installed QuickBooks 3.0, and so far, it appears to work perfectly.

Wabi enables most of the capabilities of Windows:

  • Cut, copy and paste between Windows applications

  • Access DOS-formatted diskettes

  • Run in enhanced mode

  • Object linking and embedding (OLE) between Windows applications

  • Dynamic data exchange (DDE) between Windows applications

  • Network installation and use of applications

  • Windows Sockets networking

And, because it is running in a Linux environment, you can also do the following:

  • Cut, copy and paste between MS Windows applications and X Window System applications

  • Access network file systems transparently

  • Use on X terminals

  • Run on one system, display on another system

  • Run additional applications simultaneously on your desktop

  • Share serial and parallel ports

  • Support multiple simultaneous users on one system

  • Access NetWare files and directories

Functions not supported include those requiring Microsoft Windows networking, special device drivers and DOS commands. In particular, Wabi does not support:

  • MIDI or AVI

  • Full NetWare IPX/SPX connectivity

  • Shared Wabi Windows directories

Inside the attractive Caldera Wabi box, I found the Wabi for Linux CD-ROM and 180-page indexed user's guide. As a Linux user hardened to the perusal of man pages, READMEs and HOWTOs, I found the high quality of the illustrated Wabi for Linux User's Guide a refreshing change. Free software is a great concept, but I can easily justify spending a little money for a product with documentation that so clearly communicates what needs to be done.

Installing Wabi on my Linux box with Red Hat 4.0 and 2.0.27 kernel went without a hitch. When I first tried to bring it up, however, my system immediately froze. This sent me scurrying to find support, and I was very pleased with what I found. Caldera provides technical support by e-mail and also hosts two mailing lists, “caldera-users” and “wabi-caldera”. All three of these support sources got back to me quickly with solutions. In this case, I had to uninstall Metro-X 3.1.2, which does not work with Wabi, and replace it with XFree86-3.2. I also found I needed to temporarily disable the font server by calling Wabi with wabi -fs.

My next challenge was to install Windows: Wabi did not show me an A drive. A quick query to “wabi-caldera” disclosed I had to expand the permissions on my floppy drive with:

#chmod 666 /dev/fd0

Windows easily installed from floppy diskettes after this. Wabi also permits installation via network.

In my case, configuring Wabi was extremely easy. The defaults were adequate to access DOS files in the Wabi-created C drive. And the PostScript driver provided by Windows enabled me to immediately print to my Hewlett-Packard 5MP printer.

For more advanced configuration, Wabi provides the Wabi Configuration Manager, which is extremely easy to use and accessible from an icon inside the Control Panel. Here, the user can attach Windows diskettes, drives, COM ports and printers to their Linux equivalents both on a stand-alone Linux box or across a network. The user can also attach a DOS emulator to the Program Manager RUN command, the MS-DOS prompt and DOS applications launched from icons under Windows.

As the DOSEMU packaged with Red Hat 4.0 does not allow parameters and Wabi requires them, I was not able to test this capability beyond a simple MS-DOS prompt. Using DOSEMU, I am able to access DOS through my virtual consoles and xterms quite to my satisfaction, so not being able to launch DOS applications from Windows icons is, for me, no great loss.

With that behind me, I noticed my keyboard did not work in the necessary way. For example, ALT-ESC and DEL did not work. By this time I had fortunately found an additional area of support—the Wabi area of the Caldera Web site at http://www.caldera.com/. I found documentation of the keyboard problem with XFree86-3.2 here, and I quickly implemented the fix—placing XkbDisable in my XF86Config and enabling .Xmodmap in my user directory.

One real nuisance is Wabi's creating sticky windows, which appear on every virtual X screen. As I was writing this review, some of the subscribers on the caldera-wabi list were working on a solution by launching Wabi under Xnest using the following script:

Xnest :1 -geometry 790x572+0+0 &
exec wabi -display :1 +fs

This works great to control the display of Wabi inside one window. I was unfortunately not able to use it, because Xnest does not inherit the keyboard controls from the original server but instead implements its own internal default, which is not the IBM keyboard needed for Microsoft Windows. So for now, when Wabi is running, it hogs all of the X screens.

Installing the four Windows applications I wanted to use—Aldus PageMaker 5.0, Aldus FreeHand 3.10, Excel 4.0 and QuickBooks 3.0—was quite routine, and they all appear to work quite well.

Wabi is fast. I don't notice any difference in speed between Windows running under Wabi and Windows running under DOS. Cut and paste between Windows and X Windows applications works as advertised. Hey, I really like this! Microsoft Windows has never been so much fun.

In concept, Wabi aims toward a seamless integration of Microsoft Windows with Linux. In practice, there are loose ends in the implementation. For example:

  • The File Manager sets up a diskette for formatting, then gives an error. Formatting of diskettes must be done in Linux.

  • The floppy drives must be world-writable in order for Wabi to function, thus compromising system security over a network.

  • Wabi's sticky windows reduce the functionality of X while Wabi is running.

  • Neither Wabi nor Microsoft Windows provides support for the popular 600-dpi printers. I had to settle for a 300-dpi PostScript driver. These are only minor nuisances, and workarounds are easy to come by. There are major factors, however, which limit Wabi's marketability:

  • Not enough applications are supported.

  • Support for only 8-bit displays limits Wabi's usefulness for layout and desktop publishing even though the applications do run.

  • Microsoft is currently deploying 32-bit Windows 97, putting Wabi two generations behind.

  • I feel the price point for Wabi is too high for the Linux market. A $49.95 Wabi would make a lot of money for Caldera. Wabi, at $199, may sit on the shelf until Linux is a mainstream operating system in corporate America.

If you want or need the versatility and convenience of running Microsoft Windows from your X desktop over your network, you don't mind paying for the privilege, and your expectation is not too great, I would suggest buying Wabi for Linux now. You won't be disappointed. It is a professionally conceived and executed product with many nice touches that will give you solid performance. If you like the idea of Wabi but want to run 32-bit applications, drive a 24-bit display, or use mostly applications not on the certified list, wait for Wabi 3.0. The Unix version is scheduled for release in July. Neither Sun nor Caldera has yet announced a Linux version. However, I will be very surprised if we don't see one. Let us hope Sun and Caldera will see the light and begin to price Wabi for the mass market Linux is rapidly becoming.

Dwight William Johnson has been working on and around computers since 1967. Linux has been his preferred platform since April 1996. He lives in a huge ranch home with his family and ten cats in Sequim on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, where he has been known occasionally to plunk on one of the grand pianos in his living room or saw on one of the violins or even (God help us!) raise his voice in song. He can be reached via e-mail at djohnson@olympus.net.