March 13, 2008

Play Windows games on Linux with PlayOnLinux

By Mayank Sharma

At the core of PlayOnLinux is Wine, a compatibility layer that lets you run many Windows programs over Linux. But Wine isn't always easy to use. It's a command-line program, and using it for tasks like tweaking the Windows environment or individual programs remains a complex task that you can accomplish only via command-line options. This is where PlayOnLinux comes into play. PlayOnLinux provides a front end for most Wine options to help you install, manage, and uninstall Windows-based games and applications.

I installed PlayOnLinux on a Fedora 8 system that I created with the installable Fedora Live games spin. The minimal installation instructions are in the 491KB tar package. There's also a 497KB precompiled PlayOnLinux binary for Debian-based systems like Ubuntu.

Using PlayOnLinux you can install full games, expansion packs, and patches. Since PlayOnLinux uses Wine, it'll run everything that runs with Wine, which includes several productivity, office, and graphics apps as well. PlayOnLinux installs each program within its own individual environment, called a wineprefix, similar to CrossOver's bottles implementation. To uninstall a program, just select it from the list of installed applications, and from under the File menu choose the Remove option.

But PlayOnLinux is much more than a front end. The program also includes bash scripts that will create the correct environment for a particular game and guide you through its installation. In addition to the 10 official scripts, you can enable a community repository from within PlayOnLinux, which will add another 50+ scripts. From the two repositories you can install games such as Call of Duty 2, Max Payne 2, Soldier of Fortune, and World of Warcraft.

Along with the game scripts, PlayOnLinux packs another subset of scripts called WorkOnLinux that will create an installation environment for freely available Windows applications including Blender, Google SketchUp, Safari, and Winrar.

Don't despair if you can't find a script for your favorite Windows-based game or application. Using PlayOnLinux's LiveInstall script, you can install any game or app and use it with all the various PlayOnLinux tools (such as WineBooster, WineMaster, and WineConfig) as if it had been installed with an official script. Once you've installed PlayOnLinux, these tools are available from PlayOnLinux's Tools menu.

Using the tools, you can configure Wine from the Wine configuration window, where you can tweak audio, video, and other settings. You can also tweak the various Wine options to improve performance, like DirectDrawRenderer mode and VideoMemorySize, with WineBooster. You also have the option to install DirectX and Wine versions for a particular game and use WineGit to compile and install Wine from its Git repository. The tools menu also lets you install and change the Wine theme, and edit the Windows Registry Editor. Most of these changes are followed by a quick simulated Windows reboot.

PlayOnLinux can also run a battery of graphic tests, such as Glxgears, Glxmulx, and GlxTinou. This is done from under the Settings menu, from where you can also enable or disable the community repositories.

Even with all its nice options, PlayOnLinux has some drawbacks as well. The biggest is language; most of the developers are from non-English-speaking regions. While there is an option to switch the interface to English, some error messages and other bits of information haven't yet been translated. Also, many of the WorkonLinux scripts (such as the Safari script) take you to the non-English download page of the application.

Also, most of the scripts keep looping endlessly. For example, if you've just installed a game using one of the PlayOnLinux scripts, it should end when you've decided to create a desktop shortcut for the game you just installed. But, irritatingly, the script loops the icon creation section and exits only when you ask it not to create an icon. In some scripts, like the WineGit script, the Cancel button doesn't exit the process, but merely skips to the next step.

Yet PlayOnLinux, despite its minor peculiarities, is a good mechanism to manage and play Windows-based games on Linux.

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