They are three different pieces of software, but they can work together:
- Wine: a tool to run Windows-based software on Linux/Unix operating systems
- MS Office: the most popular office suites, a tool that needs Wine to run on Linux
- GVFS: the file system built into Gnome that allows network access
Here is the scenario — you go into the office with your Ubuntu laptop, and your project has an Excel Spreadsheet that you have to use to collaborate on. Sure, Google Docs would be better for collaborating, but you don’t have a say in the matter. So, you can either dust off the installation of Windows on the other partition (and install the 500 updates pending), or you can install Office on top of Linux with Wine.
Now, you can get to the spreadsheet in the Gnome File Manager (nautilus) using the network features. I usually press Ctrl+L to open up the box where you can type in a URL. Then, I type something like — smb://<server name>/<share>/. It will probably ask you for your credentials to login to the share, but you should be able to see the xls file.
The next challenge is how do you open it in Office. Office doesn’t understand the network locations that Gnome knows about. Really, Wine is what doesn’t know about the network. Gnome mounts the network share under the .gvfs directory. Wine doesn’t show the hidden directories, so you can’t get to it.
To solve that problem, I created a network folder that is not hidden, and I linked the .gfvs directory to it:
ln -s ~/.gvfs ~/network
Now, I can see the samba shares in the Office open dialog. I do still have to go to the File Manager and browse to the share first — that is what mounts it. Then, I can open it in Office.
I also had an issue with multiple people having the same spreadsheet open. I opened the spreadsheet, so I should have had the exclusive rights to update it. Then, my coworker opened the same spreadsheet, and it should have made her’s read only. Mine was editable like it should have been but so was hers. Then, when I tried to save it, I gave me an error. I haven’t experimented with it enough to know if that was a one-time glitch in the network, or if that is something I have to worry about.
I found this bug listing, but my problem was different. I have written to the share in the past, so I don’t think it is report 0 bytes free. I found this article that describes what I am doing much better.
The other feature I wish I could have is the ability to drag the files from the file manager to Word or Excel. It works if the file is on my own computer, but it doesn’t when I am on the network. Maybe one day…