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Catching up with WINE

Joe Barr examines the problems, triumphs and controversy surrounding the WINE project

(LinuxWorld) — With all the chatter accompanying two WINE-related announcements over the past week or so, I thought it might be a good time to take a long look at the WINE project to see what all the fuss has been about. TransGaming's announcement of the availability of WineX 3.0 got a lot of pixel dust, but that wasn't the only recent news about WINE. The cold, dead hand of the Microsoft monopoly also reached out to touch the project when Whil Hentzen, a leading proponent of Visual FoxPro (VFP) development on Linux, was contacted by a Microsoft manager and told it was a violation of the VFP EULA to run it on Linux.

Reminiscing over WINE

The WINE project has a long and stable history. Bob Amstadt was the original project coordinator. According to Amstadt's posts in comp.os.linux and comp.os.linux.misc newsgroups in the summer of 1993, the project began life in June of that year. By August it had taken the name WINE, an acronym that stands for "WINE Is Not an Emulator." Traditional Unix-naming aside, Amstadt and others referred to the project as an emulator all along. Within a year or two, project leadership passed to Alexandre Julliard, the current coordinator. Ten years and two leaders is remarkably stable history in the wilds of free/open-source software-project land.

Controversy has also been a part of the WINE project, almost from day zero. One of the first flame-wars over WINE involved a Windows user belittling both WINE and Linux users. Consider this post from August of 1993:

From: Brian Leary ([email protected])
Subject: Re: NT versus Linux
Newsgroups: comp.os.linux.misc, comp.os.ms-windows.advocacy
Date: 1993-08-20 21:30:02 PST

WABI is the BIGGEST LIE PERPETRATED ON LINUX USERS! mostly as a gimmick to push the declining sales of SLS, which were hurt by clones. Of course someone said WABI! and all the sheep started repeating WABI! WABI!! WAAABI!!, and soon they believed it. First of all, WABI is a Sun *binary* interface. It runs (supposedly) ordinary commercial Windows apps that were compiled under DOS/Windows. Linux has no hope in a million years to have something like this.

We'll return to the Windows-vs.-WINE/Linux chasm later, but that has never been the primary fault-line dividing opinions on the project.

The real war has been completely internal to the Linux community. It is and has been fought by those debating — in a binary/either-or fashion — whether it is better for Linux to:

  1. have the capability of running Windows apps on Linux today
  2. wait for needed tools/games/whatever to be created/ported to Linux as native applications

Among those in favor of WINE are distribution vendors hoping to sell more goods by providing instant gratification for Linux users wanting to use Windows apps. They haven't done well. The list includes Caldera, Corel, Xandros and, most recently, Lindows. In my opinion, the pinnacle of Lindows' success has been to bring together the worst of both worlds.

TransGaming and CodeWeavers

Currently, the two biggest commercial boosters are not distributions, but rather firms focused on specific segments within the Linux market: TransGaming for games, and CodeWeavers for Microsoft Office and Web-surfing. They seem to be doing a much better job of things than the distributions did.

In 1999, CodeWeavers hired WINE project-leader Alexandre Julliard and made spearheading a drive to complete WINE 1.0 his primary responsibility. That act has helped CodeWeavers as well as the WINE project. They are understandably proud of the advances to the WINE project that have resulted from their efforts.

After a brief and aborted relationship with Lindows, CodeWeavers today offers three commercial WINE-based applications: CrossOver Office (client version), CrossOver Office (server) and CrossOver Plugin. The first two let you run Microsoft Windows office products on Linux. The last one provides QuickTime, Windows Media Player and Shockwave plugins for your Web-surfing pleasure on Linux.

Part of the recent chatter about WINE has been about TransGaming's release of WineX 3.0. WineX is a non-free proprietary package built atop the WINE project. Included in WineX 3.0 are things like Point2Play, a graphical tool allowing you to easily maintain and use multiple configurations of WineX, support for newer versions of Install Shield, and new titles to be added to the supported list. Those include BF1942, SimCity 4, EverQuest and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault.

TransGaming seems to be doing well at what it does. TransGaming touts its choice as one of the "Top 25 Up and Coming" IT firms in Canada. TransGaming will exhibit at the RealWorldLinux Conference & Expo in Toronto next week, so if you're in the area you can check them out face-to-face. Unfortunately, I've had to cancel my plans to attend the conference or I would be visiting its booth myself.

Part of the Linux-gaming community is rabidly against TransGaming's approach to bringing games to Linux. They see it as hurtful rather than helpful, claiming it does nothing to encourage the development or porting of games to Linux. Worse, when Linux gamers buy Windows titles, they remain an invisible demographic. That means that as far as game publishers are concerned, Linux gamers don't exist.

Visual FoxPro under Microsoft's skin

Now back to the Windows-vs.-Linux theme: WINE recently became a focal point in that battle, as well. In fact, the WINE project may play a leading role in an upcoming soap-opera-cum-reality-TV-show entitled "Visual FoxPro in the Chicken House: Protecting the Monopoly."

Whil Hentzen, longtime FoxPro developer and author, was planning to present a seminar about running Visual FoxPro (VFP) on Linux at a VFP-developers meeting in San Francisco earlier this month. His presentation included a demo of VFP running on Linux. Then he got a phone call from Microsoft. The caller informed him that doing the demo would be a violation of the VFP EULA.

For the unintimidated who are curious about running Visual FoxPro on Linux, you can still visit the OpenFox.org Web site and view a HowTo on installing VFP with WINE (see "HOWTO: Install Visual FoxPro on Linux/WINE" in Resources below).

I had the opportunity to speak briefly to Hentzen as he walked through an airport, cell-phone in hand. He explained the root cause of Microsoft's unhappiness. "Microsoft hates FoxPro," Hentzen said. He went on to explain that Visual FoxPro has a free runtime. If you install a VFP application on a network with 97 users and they all use the application, Microsoft doesn't reap licensing fees for those 97 clients. Microsoft would much rather see customers use Visual Basic and Microsoft SQL because their use would require those same 97 users to purchase client licenses.

When Microsoft bought FoxPro in 1992, its goal was simply to hurt market-leader Borland. The history of FoxPro since then is a perfect case study of how monopoly machinations in the software industry have absolutely nothing to do with developing good software and everything to do with control of the market.

Hertzen, by the way, has conducted seminars on FoxPro-on-Linux for a while now, and says he finds fertile ground for his books and talks on the subject among Windows developers. One of the things he tells them is that developing custom-applications for Linux is a great thing to do these days.

I asked Hentzen if FoxPro could be run on Linux using the stock version of WINE. "Yes, but..." he replied. All the basics can be done using the latest download of WINE, but the WINE team is still making patches for bugs and nits as they are uncovered. Hentzen informed me by e-mail he documented the entire Microsoft saga on his Web site (see "Linux Transfer: Transfer your Windows knowledge and skill set to Linux" in Resources below).

The waiting game

Here we are almost 10 years along the path, and the WINE project is still not to a 1.0 release. I think that is more a function of the complexity caused by the constant flux of the Windows API than anything else Let's give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt and say that the changes are due to Microsoft improving each generation of Windows. However, Microsoft shoots itself in the foot in the credibility department (to coin a phrase) by providing third-party developers incomplete API documentation, which gives Microsoft application developers (who are privy to the API's secrets) an edge.

The WINE project's Web site provides a database of more than 1,600 Windows applications and their status under WINE. The current top-voted application in the database? That would be Visual FoxPro. No wonder the alleged licensing violation claimed by Microsoft struck such a nerve in the VFP-developer community.

What are your feelings about WINE and the commercial offerings based on WINE? Is it a binary topic, or are there shades of grey? Tell me in Talkback.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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