The making of Wine (how to make Windows apps merrier with Linux)

Jeremy White, co-founder and CEO of CodeWeavers, talked to Microsoft Subnet today about how Wine might

make IT professionals a lot merrier. For those wanting to save money on desktops by using Linux, but feel trapped into Windows because of the need to run Windows apps, Wine can help. Ten days ago, the folks at CodeWeavers released the almost official version of this open source project that allows Windows programs to run on Linux and Mac desktops. Wine is on course for official release, its 1.0 version, in the next 60 days.

It's been a long road for Wine and White. He's been working on the project since 1999 when he hired Wine's primary developer, Alexandre Julliard. White then put CodeWeavers, the startup he founded three years earlier, to work bringing Wine to fruition. And Wine had been aging prior to that. The 1.0 version is slated to ship on June 6, which is actually the 15-year anniversary of the project's inception. To be sure, it didn't take that long for CodeWeavers to ship a commercial product, CrossOver. The first was available in 2002. CrossOver, which uses the Wine code at its core, now features three versions, CrossOver Linux, CrossOver Mac and CrossOver Games.

But the goal has always been to send out a fully open source version of Wine, White says. When you think about it, in 1999, such a goal was way ahead of its time. 1999 was the year of hype and IPOs for the industry. True, server Linux had captured Wall Street's attention, but it certainly had not captured a whole lot of market share in the enterprise yet. Still, that year, the young OS starred in two of the most frenzied pre-bubble IPOs to date, Red Hat and VA Linux. (Just for fun - check out this timeline of Linux.) While industry pundits were mouthing off about how Linux would take down Microsoft, hardly anyone was seriously considering desktop Linux.

Flash forward to today. It's been the better part of a decade and Microsoft has not been toppled by anyone's reckoning. However it did release Vista - perhaps the most hated Windows operating system of all time (though it's hard to beat Windows ME on that count). Enterprises badly want alternatives to Windows. Desktop Linux has come a long way since 1999, too. and (who knew?) the Mac has become the ultra chic, must-have PC. The enterprise has its alternatives - if it can only get those mission critical Windows apps to work flawlessly. Wine, in its commercial form, has been doing so for years.

So, in 2008, the 1.0 version will hit the streets and the timing could not be more perfect. White admits that not every Windows application will work flawlessly on Wine, but many a critical one for the enterprise has been specifically optimized. These include Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Project and Visio, graphics applications like Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Flash MX, and Adobe Photoshop. Several Linux distros ship with Wine, too, White says.

Another upside of the long development cycle is that the Wine community has had a chance to grow exponentially since the first CrossOver edition. White says less than ½ of the major contributors work for CodeWeavers and counting all contributors, some 800 people have been involved.

Besides letting you run actual Windows versions of software on your Linux or Mac PC, Wine is cool because of the enormity of what Julliard and White accomplished. The witty and irreverent White is unabashedly proud as he suggests that Wine be considered "an amazing technological marvel."

"We are completely rewriting the Windows operating system from the ground up," he says. "Basically we took Microsoft's crown jewel, that they've had billions of dollars to develop using tens of thousands of developers, and we, the open source community, have essentially re-implemented that. We are the scrappy underdogs. Here's where the Hollywood music comes up."

Agreed. Click below for the musical accompaniment (the theme song to the Underdog cartoon) and please reread the paragraph above.

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