I've done this for a customer of mine, and no you don't need a Windows machine, or even X running to do it.
I make calls to external programs using IPC::Open3. For a while I was using WVware which has a utility wvPDF for converting from Word to PDF. It worked okay but it has to have latex and a bunch of fonts installed. At some point latex broke and it stopped working. I never have figured out the problem so YMMV. WvWare seemed a bit slow anyway.
Next I tried Anti-Word which is much faster and goes straight to text or to Postscript. I use it for the conversion to Postscript and then use ps2pdf to create the final PDF file. The documents come out perfectly.
Antiword is pretty small so in my spare time I've kind of been looking into ways it could be accessed directly from a Perl module. Not having much spare time or being very good at C has somewhat hindered that progress though :)
Hope that helps,
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