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Cygwin is a Unix-like environment and command-line interface for Microsoft Windows. Cygwin provides native integration of Windows-based applications, data, and other system resources with applications, software tools, and data of the Unix-like environment.

Cygwin is a dynamic link library (DLL) that acts as a Linux API emulation layer. Included with Cygwin is Cygwin/X, an implementation of the X Windows System. This can either run 'rootless', so that X applications draw their windows directly on the Windows desktop, or applications run enclosed under a root window. These applications can either be executed on the local machine, or connected to a remote computer.

It is important to recognise the limitations of Cygwin. This software is not a way to make native Linux applications run under Windows. Instead each Linux application has to be compiled to run under Windows, which is not trivial for a typical user to do.

Software is installed by a setup.exe tool, available to download from cygwin's web site. Whilst this tool provides a convenient graphical interface to install the various sofware linux packages that have been ported to the environment, it isn't the most seamless installation, especially if you want to install an X server, which has not been included in the base package.

Many Unix programs have been ported to Cygwin, including desktop environments such as KDE and GNOME, web servers, typesetting systems and more. The software also enables servers and daemons to be run as standard Windows services, allowing XP and Vista machines to emulate Linux servers.

The above screenshot shows Vi IMproved (a famous text editor) running under the standard console window.

When the X server is started successfully, the X logo is displayed in the task bar of your Windows desktop, and graphical applications are therefore able to run.

The above screenshots show LyX (a document processor) and Xpdf (a viewer for Portable Document Format (PDF) files) running under Cygwin/X.

There is a lot to like about Cygwin. It is very lightweight, takes up very little memory, and is quite stable. Performance too is pretty respectable. However, its biggest obstacle is that the vast majority of Linux applications have not been ported over, and the ones that have are not the latest versions.

 cygwin 1.5.25-15

Free to download

Dependent on packages installed


Cygnus Solutions, RedHat and other contributors


Support Sites:
Documentation, FAQ, User's Guide, Mailing List, Cygwin/X, Cygwin/X Documentation, Forums, Cygwin GNOME, KDE on Cygwin

Selected Reviews:
Linux Journal

Features include:

  • Supports native application building using mingw
  • Supports remote logins using rsh, ssh, and telnet
  • Embedded cross platforms support, used for many platforms including PSP and PS2
  • X Window and OpenGL support
  • Windows Vista support
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Last Updated Sunday, April 19 2009 @ 04:10 PM EDT

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