October 21, 2005

Wine will go beta next week

Author: Stephen Feller

After roughly 12 years of work, the Wine Project is about to take its widely used Windows translation layer to a place it has not been in all that time: beta.

Wine Project leader Alexandre Julliard, who has worked on the software nearly since its beginning in 1993 and maintained it since 1994, said interview yesterday that the beta release is "a matter of days away." He has since updated that forecast and said it would be released on Tuesday, October 25th.

"We are currently in code freeze for the release," Julliard said. "It should happen sometime next week."

Wine allows Windows software to run on Linux and other x86-based Unix operating systems by running the Windows application program interface (API) and other Windows dynamic link libraries (DLL).

The beta release of Wine comes a few weeks before the expected release of Crossover Office 5.0, the Wine-based proprietary software from Codeweavers that is marketed to run Windows office suite software but also handles some games and other programs.

Jeremy White, Codeweavers founder and a "big booster" of Wine, said the beta release of the software is a watershed event because in addition to user apprehensiveness toward an alpha release, a lack of consistency in the software's function also turned people off. And while Wine, or some form of it, has become common across the Linux universe, 11 years as an alpha is a long time.

"Wine has historically had a very frustrating history because it has been alpha software," White said. "This is really hard work. We're replicating the work of a billion-dollar company. The reason we're saying it's alpha is because we believe we still have fundamental changes to make on the way the internals work."

Noting that it has not always been easy to install software with Wine's alpha releases over the last decade, White said that once you got something working it has never meant it would continue to do so, or do so properly. There may have been display glitches or things not functioning properly, if a program even worked with Wine at all.

Days after the release of Wine version 0.9, White said the release signaled that the developers were reaching a point where the software was where it needs to be and that users could have a "reasonably decent experience.

"It's not going to be perfect," White said. "But it will only get better from here -- which it hasn't consistently done."

After discovering Wine in 1998, White rebuilt Codeweavers to work on Wine and build its proprietary software off of it. All of the work they do is poured directly back into the Wine project, including that of Julliard, who works for Codeweavers.

Although White said there are facilities for multi-user deployment and enterprise setup that are unique to Crossover, Julliard said the difference between Wine itself and its proprietary offshoots are in what they can do.

Julliard said Crossover is basically the same thing as Wine, but with a proprietary installer on top, with the main difference being that Crossover targets only a few specific applications, which makes it possible to take shortcuts that wouldn't be appropriate in Wine itself.

Like White, Julliard expects much of Codeweavers progress developing Wine to come back to the more versatile, open source Wine. "There is a lot of code flowing back and forth," Julliard said. "And I expect both products will become even more similar in the future as Wine acquires more ease-of-use features."

According to Julliard, the only other major proprietary use of Wine comes in the form of Cedega, a similar translation layer designed specifically for Windows-based game software developed by Transgaming Technologies.

Transgaming is set to release Cedega 5.0 on November 7. Gavriel State, Transgaming founder and chief technology officer, said the release would continue the company's line of programs focusing heavily on the APIs required for games, in addition to other translation technology they have developed outside of Wine.

Transgaming stopped wide-scale use of code from Wine in Cedega in March 2002 after a change to the Wine GNU Lesser General Public License. Although the company has continued to incorporate parts of Wine's code under X11-style license terms under the ReWind project, State said he was unsure what sort of future involvement the company would have with Wine.

"We pay close attention to the progress of Wine since it's so close to Cedega's roots," State said. "We're thinking carefully about ways in which we might be able to cooperate more closely in the future."

One of the reasons Transgaming will continue paying attention in the future is that alternatives to Wine, such as VMware and Win4Lin, require Windows licenses and don't integrate with Linux, diminishing their effectiveness is some people's eyes.

"It's a pretty staggeringly hard job" to do what Wine is working on, White said. "And I don't think anyone's come close, not in the last five years."

Julliard said it is important for such work to continue because it gives people the freedom to switch to Linux and bring with them the Windows applications they depend on. "The main argument [against Wine] is that this will discourage people from porting their applications to Linux," Julliard said. "I think the only real way to make people port their applications is to grow the Linux user base. Once there is enough demand, applications will be ported. But of course without applications the user base won't become large enough. It's a chicken-and-egg problem, and that is what Wine is addressing."

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