back to article My Microsoft Office 365 woes: Constant crashes, malware macros – and settings from Hell

Microsoft Office remains one of the most important software products available, despite some rather nasty flaws. For me, Microsoft Office and video games anchor me to Windows. While video games seem set to remain largely Windows-only for the foreseeable future, Office is losing its grip. For a long time, I used Office because …

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Uhm, last time I checked, or rather last time fetchmail ran on my Sun workstation (i.e. a couple of minutes ago), Office 365 had a perfectly good POP3/IMAP server...?

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Last time I checked you only get mail off of POP3 or IMAP, and none of the calendaring, contacts and so forth that I actually need. Especially that I need to persist across multiple devices in real time.

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alternate mail/calendar client

couldn't something like Thunderbird or Evolution do what you want? Thunderbird works very well for POP and IMAP, and I haven't seen anything in the calendar extension for Thunderbird that lacks usability. So maybe the thing you want is an even BIGGER/BETTER calendar extension for T-bird? There might be one available. It's worth checking into, I think.

I've been using Open/Libre office on non-windows systems for a long time. It does what I need, and seems to have BETTER compatibility for "that type of document", i.e. NOT being forced to "UP"grade just to read a particular document format. I had that happen with Office '95, so I bought '97, and ended up with (@#$*(&^(*@#$) CLIPPY on my desktop, when '95 worked perfectly well. Eventually, '97 stopped working properly with XP machines that had 1Gb or more of RAM, so I simply started using Open/Libre Office on Windows machines as well. I *NEVER* went back.

seems like "lack of a mail client" that you like is a nice OPPORTUNITY for the Mozilla project, or for T-bird addon makers. I'm sure that a 'pay for' add-on is WAY cheaper than your 365 subscription.

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Re: alternate mail/calendar client

'seems like "lack of a mail client" that you like is a nice OPPORTUNITY for the Mozilla project, or for T-bird addon makers.'

Mozilla seems to be trying to get rid of T'Bird. There was discussion of LibreOffice picking it up.

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Orv
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Re: alternate mail/calendar client

The problem comes when you need to interoperate with Exchange users. They have their own, proprietary calendar protocol that nothing else speaks well. You *can* send invitations back and forth, and they'll sort of work, but you can't get free/busy information or any of the other things that corporate calendaring systems rely on.

In general calendaring is still a set of walled gardens, with everyone having to be on the same vendor's system for things to work. Even stuff that should work together in theory, like iCal and Google Calendar, mostly only works one way. (You can sync from Google to iCal, but iCal can't sync changes back.)

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Re: alternate mail/calendar client

It's true that finding something that isn't Outlook which will play well with Exchange is difficult, but it's not impossible. At the office, I've used both Evolution and Thunderbird (with an addon called "Exchange EWS Provider") to interact with Exchange calendaring. I can see free/busy information and I can reply to calendar invites. Both clients also have full IMAP support. Ironically I have less problems with Exchange than my Mac using colleagues do with iCal.

I'm hoping another outfit adopts Thunderbird and gives it the love it needs to improve. Like the author, I've done periodic research into different email clients and haven't found an alternative I like better that's cross-platform.

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Re: alternate mail/calendar client

I've tried the Exchange EWS provider. It's picky. It's usable if you sacrifice enough virgins to it and don't look at it funny, but not what I'd call stable. I never understood this because Android can talk to Exchange without any problems whatsoever, so I never got why Thunderbird would only update the calendar when it felt like it.

Also: trying to sync both exchange and gmail calendars on the same Thunderbird? This ends very badly. With Outlook I can use gsyncit. Not the greatest, but it mostly works. I have yet to convince Thunderbird to play ball. :(

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"surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

Is a comment I frequently encounter when I advocate the use of open source software to run a company's office/email needs. It reminds me of "nobody got fired for buying IBM kit".

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Re: "surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

Simple: sticking your neck out. Obviously IBM kit is good because they look credible. Actually you can replace IBM kit for any other good looking commercial thingamagick.

Open source is scary because you actually need to know what the heck you're talking about. And if the shit does hit the fan then it'll be on your plate. Because you took it "as is". Obvious result: "Its not my responsibility IBM kit no workie, we need to sue! (and not fire me for not doing my homework)".

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Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

The great thing about much open-source software is that there's no big deal about rescuing data if shit should meet fan. Data is usually in a form that can be recovered, and reinstalling an open-source application is generally a doddle.

Compare this with Office 2016 where reinstallation following some hiccup takes hours, followed by the hoops required to convince MS that you are entitled to perform the reinstallation and activate the software. Oh, and has one ever had to use the Inbox Repair Tool?

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Re: "surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

"Its not my responsibility IBM kit no workie, we need to sue!"

Ignoring the facts that their lawyers are bigger than yours and that no lawyer has yet been able to fix a tech problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

Nobody got fired for buying IBM..

I know plenty of people that got fired for buying IBM lotus notes and IBM CM Synergy...

The point is, things change. 15 years ago, Microsoft and IBM were safe purchases, those days are long gone.

Take a look how poor TFS is compared to Atlassian suite.

Take a look at how poor internet explorer and edge are compared to google chrome

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Re: "surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

> And if the shit does hit the fan then it'll be on your plate. Because you took it "as is".

How is that different to MS telling me to piss off - I PAY (my client pays) FSCK'ing dosh to MS Support to get told to F off ???? HELLO???? Don't get me wrong, this was for a customer's file server that was paging like shit ... with 32Gb of RAM ... I repeat, Windows 2008 R2 file server, paging the shit while having 32Gb of RAM ... I replaced that box with Suse, 4Gb of RAM, CPU 5 years older ... customer happy. We put Suse on the former Windows file server with a bunch of containers ...

yes, customer pays Shitloads for me to come over and fix shit, but I have always made sure I replace at least one MS server, so they recoup their expenses for me ... What I work, MS loses 10 fold in cash flow!

PS: I hate Suse, with a passion, but customer wanted that ... I would have unleashed Jessie!

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Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

"Office 2016 where reinstallation following some hiccup takes hours, followed by the hoops required to convince MS that you are entitled to perform the reinstallation and activate the software"

Actually had to do that twice this week. Both times took around 10 minutes from start to finish. This was the complete reinstall/repair option. All sorted.

Something might be wrong at your end.

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Re: "if the shit does hit the fan" Something might be wrong at your end.

Ok, perhaps you were lucky. Let me elaborate, with two examples:-

(1) My client bought a handful of pc's from a big, very reputable manufacturer. Office 2016 was bundled on them and the licence keys arrived separately in "sealed" cardboard envelopes. (The "seal" was the standard packaging tape you can buy from a typical stationers, once the cardboard packaging was opened the product keys were clearly visible through a sealed plastic envelope). Initial installation went seamlessly and I successfully activated MS Office. A week later my client was saying that the package would disable if not activated within x days.

MS servers seemed to either have amnesia over the details I'd originally used to activate the software, or I was being told that this particular key had been used too many times. This choice of response was inconsistent depending on the steps by which I troubleshooted this issue and so I reinstalled MS Office after trying to get hold of a support representative. This caused similar messages.

It turned out that there was an alleged possibility that the product keys had been eyeballed and used by third parties at some stage between manufacture and receipt by my client.

The period between installation and final resolution of the problem was measured in DAYS, not minutes.

(2) A client came in one morning to find their pc had been upgraded [sic] to Windows 10. "Ugh, what's this?" she asked. I put it back to Windows 7 again (no problem there), but Office 16 got the right hump and refused to work. Got it working again after some coaxing :-

"If you are experiencing problems with your application, try uninstalling and reinstalling it."

Uninstall Office16.

Error: Office 16 is not installed.

Install Office 16.

Error: Office 16 cannot be installed as it is already installed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

Interestingly it seems nobody with pointy hair or a suit ever seems to want to commit to their data having value when a Microsoft product destroys it.

If Firefox has as much as a hiccup and they throw a hissy fit, but losing their entire career's worth of everything because of a Microsoft product upgrade means nothing.

Sometimes I can even detect some guilty sense of relief, that all the crap they ever produced is now gone without chance of recovery, so none of it can come to haunt them...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

Always blame the user, not the billion dollar outfit that created the damn thing...

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Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

Not if you are utilising all of m$ with several GB of email ...

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Re: "surely the whole world can't be wrong?"

> [Maybe] ...the whole world-28 can't be wrong?

Judging by the 28 'up' votes when I last looked.

[ exclusively an OO/LO user for the last 7 years and love it - even on my Chromebook + Crouton ]

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Re: "if the shit does hit the fan"

I had a 'licensing issue' arise on my PC Sunday night and ended up having to re-install the OS and everything from scratch including MS Office. On my MAC, my Office constantly fails if the computer is not connected to the internet to validate the licensing although I have not had to reinstall the software due to a license validation issue yet. But in the case of the PC, the installer software has been buggy in the past and common functionality (like clicking a file to open the corresponding Office application) has failed due to the Office 2016 to Office 2013 upgrade process not working in Windows 10. In order to sort out that mess, it took a clean install of the OS to get 2016 to install correctly. Not a great product if you ask me.

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Meh

Tell me what you want to do...

I'm not Clippy hiding behind a search box to make you think I'm a modern interface object... nope, that's some other well-hated e-helper from the 1990s trying to keep current. Not me. New PC?

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Happy

Thunderbird with Lightening

When I moved to Linux, I was suffering from Outlook withdrawal, too. I solved it by using Thunderbird with Lightening and (a bit of evil here) hooked the calendar to Google Calendar. This gave me email, calendar and tasks with the added advantage of having my phone calendar (I use "aCalendar" on Android, also hooked to Google) sync with computer one.

I was even able to find a third-party tool to convert all my Outlook email into a file Thunderbird could read and was able to import everything in all my archives.

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Unhappy

Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

"I was...my Outlook email into a file Thunderbird could read"

That is a damn sight better than Google managed with tools to import stuff to Gmail

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Vsio

When I installed O365 it wouldn't let me install my 2013 version of Visio. Said it wasn't compatible. After much tinkering and experimenting, I found that if I installed Visio and then installed 365 it would work. What a pain.

TBH, the only reason I use windows on my personal machine is for VPN to the office and Visio. The rest I can do on mint.

Email client? Meh. I use web mail and it isn't an issue.

I'm not so sure that your assessment of games is entirely true. More and more games are being made available for linux platforms. As Windoze continues to get worse and worse, I see this trend continuing.

Unfortunately, I am a windows sys admin and work in a windows shop. So its windoze all day during the work week.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Have you thought about putting your Windows installation in a virtual machine on your personal machine and installing Mint on it? There's VirtualBox that you can use for free to do this. (I think it will run on there, I'm only running it on my Mac to run an older version of Mac OS so that I can run an old version of Quicken that won't run on new versions of Mac OS. The refuse to buy the newer versions of Quicken because they really cut back on the functionality.)

I had a contract quite a while ago where I needed to use Windows to VPN into a telco and I ran the Windows instance on a virtual machine on my Linux laptop. The added bonus by doing it this way was that the VPN didn't take over my access to the Internet as I was communicating with a telephone switch via the VPN and didn't have Internet access through there. On the Linux side I still had Internet connectivity and in the Windows VM I could still do my tests on the switch.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me? How does this benefit me?

Also: if I do that, I can't play games.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Thunderbird is great. But if you are forced to use Microsoft's awful exchange nonsense to connect to the email server, you need to install davmail to translate (unless you want to pay for the custom exchange addon someone made). I use thunderbird and davmail at work, it works, but it is definitely not a simple solution would recommend to someone who isn't tech saavy.

This is why we have standard! It annoys me when a proprietary protocol becomes more common that a recognised standard. It is a step backwards and everyone else suffers.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

If you run DavMail in the shop and have a benevolent admin there, they can set up a multiuser DavMail, run it in server mode and make everyone in the company happy by translating the string-of-netherworldly-incantations MS protocols to some real standards. This isn't even a hack, the DavMail people have all the features in place for it and I can vow that it works at least up to Exchange 2007. Don't know how beefy the server needs to be for what size of company, though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Was Thunderbird such a heavy trip to begin with?

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

I have been working on O365 deployments for some time now, and it is difficult to understand MS strategy about Visio/Project.

At first it was said that you couldn't install a standard version of Visio at the same time as the virtualized version (since O365 is only an App-V variant of Office).

Then it was possible, but not supported, if you did the installation in a specific way.

Last time I checked it was possible without tinkering but only if you had the 2013 version for Visio/Project and the 2016 version for O365.

And if you look at the configuration files for deployment, MS keeps changing the parameters (even the names for the various branches) ensuring that from one month to the following you may have to review all your setups to ensure that they keep working as intended...

Perhaps in one year or two O365 will be fit for business use?

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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

1) Allows multiple VMs to avoid the "this version of X won't coexist with that version of Y" sort of shit.

2) You can have email / web on Linux with (for the foreseeable future) less total risk than on Windows especially if you use apparmor on the browser, etc.. Though of course having a Linux VM on Windows could also do that.

3) Deters advanced malware from running if it detects your copy of Word, etc, is running in a VM that could be used for analysis.

4) The VM can be moved across hardware platforms during upgrades without the shitty business of re-registering it with MS.

5) In a decade's time the VM's internals (probably) look the same even though you are 3 generations of hardware down the line so you don't get a "sorry Dave, I can't let you run this OS on unknown hardware" sort of problem.

But for games then dual-boot otherwise performance will suck big time for intensive graphics.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Yea, this got me too... something about not being able to install a MAK version of visio along side click to run... I was not happy to say the least. Had to uninstall O365, install our MAK version of Office 2016 and then install the MAK version of Visio. Sigh

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

if I do that, I can't play games.

Of course you can. Give Windows exclusive access to a GPU then all games will work, just like they do on bare metal. That's how I do it a home, look for "GPU passthrough". You will need modern Linux kernel and relatively recent version of qemu or Xen. Also not all GPUs work well and specifix CPU and motherboard features are required to support it (VT-d and IOMMU). Which is a bit of a bother, I agree.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

VMs are great but to be honest I can't help feeling those that think running a machine within a machine within a machine to do one task, when you could actually just swallow a little pride and just use bloody Windows in the first instance, are making a bit of a rod for their back.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

You would need multiple license of Windows (and other software) to make it work, and I never found having to boot and maintain multiple VMs a good way to work but for secondary or specific tasks.

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LDS
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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

That's ok for your personal email (if you're OK to let Google know everything about you), but if the company you work for uses Exchange, and you're prohibited to forward anything to personal accounts for security and legal reasons, you have to use something which works with Exchange.

But since mail clients get out of favour of most consumer users, there hasn't been much interest in developing an Outlook substitute. Now Mozilla is also getting rid of Thunderbird, and doesn.t bode well for it. In Linux, the state of mail clients is not better. Only smartphone apps went much further to ensure Exchange support.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Trying to make games run well into a VM is just looking for unnecessary troubles. You can probably make them work, but you will still have unnecessary levels of translation and transitions, when you just want them to run smoothly and fast. If all you need to run is Candy Crush maybe it's ok, for most demanding games is just a waste of time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

"VMs are great but to be honest I can't help feeling those that think running a machine within a machine within a machine to do one task, when you could actually just swallow a little pride and just use bloody Windows in the first instance, are making a bit of a rod for their back."

VMs are great but to be honest I can't help feeling those that think running a machine within a machine within a machine to do one task, when you could actually just swallow a little pride and just use anything but bloody Windows in the first instance, are making a bit of a rod for their back.

I feel sure this is what you meant.

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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

1) That's what containers are for. I'm investigating those instead for this use.

2a) We're back to "there isn't a Linux mail client that does what I want".

2bi)Or I could just run browsers with defences. Which, you know, I'd need under Linux anyways.

2bii)Or I could run LINUX in the VM for browsing, since it is lighter weight.

2biii)Of course, if I have my browser in a different OS from my mail, etc, it makes it a pain in the ass to open links.

3)If the malware has gotten far enough into my computer that it detects it is in a VM and decides not to run, I've already really fucked up somewhere. Rather keep the stuff a little farther out, thanks.

4) This is indeed an advantage. Unfortunately, the reliance of modern MS client software on hardware acceleration has really put a damper on this.

5) This is indeed an advantage. Unfortunately, Microsoft's constantly shifting formats mean I'll have to run the latest software, which may require the latest OS, which...

...goddamn it, I hate Microsoft.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Funny, I've experimented extensively with this and it doesn't work worth a damn.

...especially for Crossfire.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Yeah; twitch games in a VM make Trevor a sad panda.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

@John 104 - I do not understand why anyone is down voting your post!

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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

6) makes it much easier to do a "whole system" backup and restore of a VM by essentially cloning the virtual hard drive.

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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

1) Probably - not had to look at that so far. But VMs also cover OS version/patch-level screw-ups in dependency...

2biii) If you mean opening a web page, no that is fine as email & web on Linux (assuming you sort out a client, of course). If you mean opening a word doc directly from email, maybe that limitation is a blessing in disguise?

3) True, but accepting the generally crap state of AV tools so far, I would rather like the *smart* malware to fall at this final hurdle.

5) For keeping up with new, yes. But what of supporting clients that stick to Office 2003 (or 97)? In that case you may well keep going for new OS but still want to keep an old OS and software on hand.

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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

2bi) Yes, most browsers support some sort of sandbox protection mechanism. But I quite like apparmor as its a separate protection mechanism (so two steps to p0wning your PC), and it allows you to define *where* the process is allowed to read and/or to write.

That is a nice feature, so you can't have a compromised browser encrypting your files outside of, say, ~/Downloads, nor reading sensitive stuff (say ~/.ssh contents) and sending to some Bad Guy even though it has the same nominal privileges as your own account. Also it can't overwrite your .bashrc file or similar (in your name) and it has two levels to breach to overwrite system files in order to permanently p0wn the machine for a single account or for everyone.

Sure I know its not perfect, but defence is all about layers. Just like Ogres have...

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

Very, very frightening, me.

(Galileo) Galileo.

(Galileo) Galileo,

Galileo Figaro

Magnifico.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

"you could actually just swallow a little pride and just use bloody Windows in the first instance, are making a bit of a rod for their back."

That way Microsoft make a rod for your back.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

"Now Mozilla is also getting rid of Thunderbird, and doesn.t bode well for it."

If LibreOffice picks it up it bodes extremely well for it.

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Orv
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Re: What does putting my Windows installation in a VM do for me?

Either way (VM or dual boot) you're not stuck with maintaining two OS's instead of one. Not a win, IMHO. I've done it before and found it not worth the trouble.

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Re: Thunderbird with Lightening

>Trying to make games run well into a VM is just looking for unnecessary troubles.

Most of the games I get run on Linux, but many systems come with some OEM version of windows or other. A windows partition is a small price to pay if that's important to you. Windows in a VM with exclusive access to the GPU is a great goal, but I don't think that ranks as an easy-enough solution for most people.

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