Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Exploring Linux - Part 13
by Alan German

It's perhaps appropriate as we reach number thirteen (unlucky for some!) in this series of articles that we take a retrospective look at the "evil empire". Yes, our current exploration will take us back, once more, into the world of Windows and, in particular, we will consider the process of running Windows' applications in Linux.

Now, why you ask, would anyone want to run a Windows' app in Linux? Well, there can be several reasons. It may be that a suitable alternative isn't available in the operating system of our choice. I hardly ever use Microsoft Office programs any more since I find that the OpenOffice suite fills all of my needs but, as far as I know, there is no Linux equivalent for Garmin's (GPS) MapSource program that runs under Windows. This is also mostly true for avid gamers since Windows-based games are typically not available in Linux versions.

On the other hand, there may be lots of possible alternatives to a given software package, but you just want to continue running a tried and true favourite Windows' program in Linux. For example, I have tried a number of Linux-based HTML editors - such as Bluefish and Quanta Plus - but, I am so used to the inner workings of Homesite, an old Windows' program, that I would really like to be able to run this package under Windows. So, let's take a look at how we might be able to run Windows' software in Linux.

It turns out that we need to do a little Wine tasting. So, crack open a bottle of your favourite wine, pour a little into a glass, sip... No, not that kind of wine tasting (although it may well make a good accompaniment to reading, and savouring, your personal copy of Ottawa PC News!)

This "Wine" is one of those special things in Linux - a recursive acronym - standing for WIne is Not an Emulator). Well, it may not be an emulator in someone's mind but, to me, it pretty well does the same thing. Wine is a software package that runs in Linux, and has the job of translating calls, from a Windows' program, to the Windows' Application Program Interface (API), into the equivalent system calls in POSIX, which is the basis of how Linux runs programs. Now, that's a really brief description of what Wine does. However, the important thing is that its job is to run Windows' programs in Linux. And, that is just what we need!

You will find lots of information about this software at Wine HQ (
http://www.winehq.org/), including a very interesting historical perspective on its development, how to download and install the package for various Linux distros, and how to run Windows' applications with Wine.

A really useful resource provided by Wine HQ is AppDB, the Wine Application Database. You can search the database for a Windows' program and receive information on how likely it will be that the program will run using Wine. In particular, you will find ratings running from platinum, for applications which install and run flawlessly, through gold, silver and bronze for programs with various levels of "issues", to a garbage rating for apps that can't be installed, don't start, or start but have so many errors that they are nearly impossible to use.

For my favourite Ubuntu distro, the installation process for Wine couldn't be simpler. A purpose-built version of the package is available for downloading and installation directly from an Ubuntu repository. So, all that's necessary is to call up the Synaptic Package Manager (System - Administration - Synaptic Package Manager), search for Wine, check the box (which will highlight both wine and wine-gecko, to include the Gecko rendering engine for displaying web pages in Wine's fake Internet Explorer), and hit the Apply button.

The end result is an addition to Ubuntu's Applications' menu. The Wine menu gives you options to run installed programs (a special version of "Notepad" that runs in Wine is installed by default), browse the "C: drive" (actually a Linux folder), configure Wine, and uninstall Wine applications.

Note that on the Wine menu there is no option to install Wine apps, so the first thing we need to do is find out about this process. Wine HQ's FAQ provides the information that we need in the topic "I have lots of applications already installed in Windows. How do I run them in Wine?" The answer is you can't! Well, at least, you can't run an already-installed Windows' app. You need to install the same application in Wine. But, the process is (usually) very simple.

The first option is just to double click on the Windows' installation file. Unfortunately, my experience is that, since these are generally EXE files, Ubuntu thinks that they are self-extracting ZIP files that it can't unpack because they are not in ZIP format. So, onto our second option - right click on the installation file and select - Open with "Wine Windows Program Loader". Now the magic happens! Incredibly (to me at least) the program installs just like it does under Windows. The same prompts and dialogue boxes appear, including the option to install the program in C:\Program Files\ (remember our "C: drive"?), and the program is installed under Wine!

If I install Homesite in this manner, the end result is new entry in the Applications - Wine - Programs menu that opens and runs my favourite Windows-based HTML editor. Now this is not without its little problems. One thing that doesn't work is Homesite's ability to display, within the program's window, the current HTML page as if it were being shown in Internet Explorer (IE). This is no doubt because the program thinks it is running under Windows, and expects to find IE installed as part of the operating system which, of course, is not the case under Linux. Furthermore, Homesite doesn't know about the fake version of IE that comes as part of Wine, and doesn't allow a specific location for the browser to be specified.

Now this is a minor inconvenience, but not a show stopper. One workaround is to open the HTML file in both Homesite and Firefox, save any changes made in Homesite, and refresh the Firefox browser window to see how the new page is going to appear. An alternative approach is to change the browser setting in Homesite's options, selecting the browser that is built into the program to display a web page that is being edited. Either way, you get to see the result in a browser - just not in IE.

The good news is that all of the other functions that I normally use in Homesite seem to work perfectly normally when running this program in Wine with Linux. So, Wine can be a valid option for running that Windows' software that you just can't live without.

Once again, this is not always the case. One Windows' game that I tried, installed without incident, rolled the opening credits, and played normally for the first couple of minutes. Then I noticed that the rain didn't display in one of the scenes. This must have unnerved the main character who insisted that the drizzle was going to get worse, but soon afterwards became tongue-tied and kept repeating lines of dialogue in an endless loop! At the same point, the mouse cursor disappeared and I lost the ability to control any further aspect of the game. Big red switch time!

But, this negative experience gave me the opportunity to try a couple of the other items on Wine's menu. Firstly, I selected "Uninstall Wine Software" and was presented with a list of installed applications. Click on my game, click Uninstall, and - bingo - the program was more-or-less uninstalled automatically. One little glitch. The uninstaller couldn't deal with a directory of saved games that had been created.

No problem. Select "Browse C:\ Drive" on the Wine menu and find that the "C" drive is really a hidden directory (/home/toaster/.wine/dosdevices/c:) in the Linux file system. Navigate to the game program directory (under Program Files on the Linux "C" drive), right click on the folder, and "Move to Trash". Uninstallation is now complete!

Another potential glitch is that uninstalling a program may not remove the listing from Wine's Programs' menu. This is easily (but not intuitively) fixed using System - Preferences - Main Menu - Wine - Programs, right-clicking on the redundant program entry, and selecting Delete.

Our final option on the Wine menu is labeled "Configure Wine". This has multiple tabs and settings for applications, libraries, graphics, desktop integration, drives, and audio. Quite complex - but, the good news is that Wine seems to work just fine without tinkering with any of this stuff.

So, our foray into the world of Wine appreciation shows mixed results. Some Windows' programs run just fine; some do not. This parallels the experience of others as exemplified by the reviews and rankings in AppDB for a wide variety of software packages. But, take heart. Whether a specific program runs or not seems to be a function of the versions of the program, of Wine and of the Linux distro. So, as times goes on, and Wine matures (as good wine should), that favourite Windows' program may yet run perfectly in Linux!


Bottom Line:

Wine Version 1.0.1 (Open source)
http://www.winehq.org


Click here to view the full OPCUG website with frames.

Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.

Send comments or suggestions to the .