Wine: Can’t Live With It, Can’t Live Without It

Wine may maketh glad the heart of man, as the saying goes, but when that man is a Linux geek, all bets are off.

That’s at least one conclusion that could be drawn from a contentious two weeks or so on the Linux blogs following comments Mark Shuttleworth made at the Ubuntu Open Week workshop series over IRC late last month.

The topic, indeed, was Wine; specifically, during a Q&A, Shuttleworth was asked which he thought was more important to Ubuntu’s success: native Linux ports, or Wine and Windows compatibility in general.

His answer? “They both play an important role, but fundamentally, the free software ecosystem needs to thrive on its own rules,” he said.

“It is *different* to the proprietary software universe. We need to make a success of our own platform on our own terms. If Linux is just another way to run Windows apps, we can’t win; OS/2 tried that.”

‘A Strange Approach’

Shuttleworth’s comments were shocking to some; others agreed wholeheartedly. Either way, geeks around the globe didn’t hesitate to express where they stood. Specifically, bloggers on the Lynx Blog, OStatic, Slashdot, Hydrasystems,WorkswithU and LXer, among others, have weighed in with opinions on both ends of the spectrum — and everywhere in between.

For example: “The all or nothing style to migration is quite a strange approach, which shuts out a proportion of users that might otherwise migrate to Ubuntu (or other Linux distro),” wrote F. Fellini on WorkswithU. “Having virtualization layers helps in transitions.”

Similarly: “I think that WINE has helped many people switch to Linux,” added travist120. “Sure it may not be perfect, but Linux software isn’t perfect. And until we get the usability of video editing software on par with commercial applications, until games for Linux don’t suck the big one, until Adobe releases native Photoshop or Gimp becomes an international standard, Wine is sill going to exist.”

‘Exactly Right’

On the other hand: “Sure Wine has its place on the Linux desktop, and a couple of times I have had to rely on it to get a Windows-only application to work,” shot back bigbrovar. “But I think Linux distros should get over their obsession with Windows (and in some cases Mac) and try to do things their own way.”

It’s been a lively few weeks since Shuttleworth made his comments, in other words, so we here at LinuxInsider felt duty-bound to examine the topic in finer detail.

“I think Shuttleworth was exactly right,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider by email. “Assuming it’s ever finished (it’s been ‘almost done’ for over a decade), we will find ourselves constantly catching up with Microsoft.”

‘A Whole Lot of FUD’

It would be “unrealistic” to expect Wine apps to integrate with the rest of the system, Mack noted. “Windows apps have different expectations for even things such as where files should go and a completely different security model.”

Depending on Wine “would also leave us open to a whole lot of FUD from the closed-source world,” Mack added. “They will rightly ask, ‘will Wine still support the next-generation software with new APIs, and if so, how long will it take?'”

A slightly different view: “Mister Shuttleworth is entirely correct when he says of Windows programs and native Linux-based applications that ‘they both play an important role,'” Slashdot blogger drinkypoo told LinuxInsider via email. “There is literally often a single program which a user (or even an organization) feels they cannot live without that is ‘keeping’ them on Windows. If they later discover a native equivalent, that is a win for Linux; if such a thing does not already exist, a larger body of potential users may lead to its creation.”

In short, “Ubuntu clearly hasn’t *rejected* Wine,” drinkypoo concluded.

‘Showing His Arrogance’

The debate is actually just another reflection of the divide that exists between “the usability camp and the geek-and-admin camp,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet countered. “Shuttleworth is showing his arrogance and is obviously in the latter.”

A hypothetical illustration reveals the core problem, hairyfeet told LinuxInsider by email.

“I am a customer. I want to buy a PC. I have at least one, probably two or three ‘mission-critical’ apps that HAVE to work,” he began. “I use Photoshop, for which there is no replacement — Gimp is frankly pathetic by comparison — or I use Quicken or Quickbooks to run my business, or I have several ‘apps’ that require Excel to function. Without these I simply cannot survive.”

What should such a user do?

“Well, if you listen to guys like Shuttleworth, you stay on Windows and make sure Linux isn’t allowed anywhere near your shop,” he charged.

‘He Simply Can’t Be More Wrong’

“Fact: Windows has a 90-plus percent share of the desktop, both home and SMB and enterprise,” hairyfeet explained. “Fact: These users have applications they depend on, many of which are Windows-only. Fact: Most FLOSS ‘replacements’ for said apps offer limited functionality compared to the app they are copying and often will not convert the existing Windows apps files over correctly. Fact: Without these apps, most users will not be able to perform their jobs, and will thus lose money.”

In short, “while I agree with Shuttleworth that there needs to be value for running Linux, he simply can’t be more wrong about Wine,” hairyfeet concluded. “There needs to be a seamless migration path if Linux ever hopes to get above the piddling amount of market share it has now. Linux NEEDS Wine, because trying to sell ‘freedom’ and ‘security’ frankly is never gonna work.”

Not everyone agreed, however — particularly for the long run.

‘The Apps Will Come’

“Wine has its uses, but I would not want any distro to spend a lot of effort helping port stuff designed for the API of that other OS to GNU/Linux,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider in an email message. “That API was designed not for performance but to give applications by others lower performance on that other OS than M$’s stuff.”

That is why Microsoft has “so many complex APIs,” Pogson asserted. “Just look at the OOXML fiasco if you want to see M$ waste the world’s time. Every year of delay of adoption of free software is money in M$’s pocket which they use freely to keep folks locked in.”

The idea that GNU/Linux has too small a market share to encourage programmers to write for it is “absurd,” Pogson added. “GNU/Linux on the desktop is steadily growing. The apps will come. We do not need to depend on Wine. GNU/Linux has several times the market share of MacOS, and you do not hear people whining about the lack of applications for MacOS.”

As the release of Windows 7 gets closer, at least one recent survey indicates that some 14 percent of businesses have already switched to non-Microsoft operating systems, and half are considering doing the same, Pogson noted.

In other words, he concluded, “the market share to trigger production of native applications will come this year or next.”

1 Comment

  • IMO, Wine is still an important part of Linux. But, with today’s virtual machines, Wine’s importance is diminished. I type this right now from a Windows machine, hosted by VirtualBox on a Ubuntu machine. I flip seamlessly between applications running on the two machines. I’ll agree that native ports of applications are probably more important than anything else – but we just don’t see those ports happening. Like it or not, Windows apps are going to be important to consumers and to businesses for a long time to come, and VM’s are the best, and the easiest, solution.

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