After 15 years in development and beta testing, Wine 1.0, an open source implementation of the Windows API, was released this week by WineHQ.
For those not familiar with the Wine project, Wine is not an emulator (such as Parallels), and is not part of a dual boot system (such as Apple’s Boot Camp). Wine’s developers describe Wine as “a compatibility layer for running Windows programs”.
The differences between Wine’s “compatibility layer” status versus an emulator or dual boot are significant. Most notably, Wine can run Windows programs on Unix based operating systems without installing (and without needing to purchase) Windows. Also, since it’s not an emulator, every command sent to the processor does not have to pass through an interpretation layer, enabling Wine to operate faster than emulators. And, since it’s not a dual boot, Windows programs can operate with the underlying Unix based operating system still available without rebooting.
Of course, even though Wine is now stable, it’s not perfect. There are some Windows applications that it runs quite well, some that it runs with acceptable issues, and some that it does not run well enough for the programs to be usable. To help guide users in knowing what to expect, and let developers know where issues still exist, the Wine project maintains the Wine Applications Database. For business applications, Wine can also be a great path for OS transitions. Many IT managers who are thinking of making the switch to a Linux setup, can benefit from Wine’s cross platform support.
Wine has official builds available for multiple Linux operating systems. There’s no official Mac build yet, but options for installing Wine on Mac OS X are available in the Apple section of the Wine Wiki FAQ. Another option is Codeweaver’s CrossOver line of products, which are commercial versions of Wine, available for both Mac and Linux. The CrossOver products include enhanced support for many Windows programs, and technical support (something that you obviously don’t get with the open source freeware version of Wine). You can read more about CrossOver Mac in our Macworld 2008 coverage.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to the Wine 1.0 release in the coming days and weeks. In our opinion, Microsoft’s best reaction would be no reaction at all. As an open source project, Wine has no advertising budget.
If Microsoft goes on the attack, the Wine project will end up with some much needed free publicity. Further, there’s the political issue. Regardless of which party wins the Presidential election, January will likely bring a new Attorney General and new goals for the Justice Department. If Microsoft comes across as restricting where its applications can run, it might once again raise the monopoly issue. It would be a poorly thought out decision to awaken an essentially dead issue, particularly when Microsoft has no real idea as to the name of the Attorney General or the goals of the Justice Department that would end up prosecuting a new case.