One of the first things I tell everyone who's considering moving to Linux is that gaming is not one of its strengths. Rightly so, the vast majority of games available are designed for Windows systems, built over Microsoft technology, definitely not meant for Linux. Having said so, things are changing very rapidly and although it is still a bit of hit and miss sometimes, Linux users can nowadays enjoy most Windows games.
Just a few days ago I found that Starcraft II, the brand new sequel of the popular Blizzard franchise, works in Linux. Some hardware configurations may need a bit of tweaking, but several users claim they could play it out of the box (using WINE, of course). Needless to say, there are still many rough edges before Linux can claim decent support for Windows games, but the mere thought of Starcraft II, a complex and bleeding edge technology game, being playable in Linux just weeks after its release already shows how much things are improving.
A BIT ABOUT WINE
WINE is an acronym which stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. This already says a lot about it, for emulation is often considered an element that heavily degrades performance. WINE adds a compatibility layer on UNIX based systems so they can run Windows applications. While the addition of such layer usually results in some performance degradation, there is no CPU emulation here, so a machine properly setup (using optimum drivers) may sometimes run Windows software faster than a native Windows machine would.
To learn more about WINE, the project and the community behind it, I recommend visiting WINE HQ. The About section is particularly relevant and the "Common Myths about WINE" piece is very interesting.
WINE 1.2 was a big step forward, bringing nice bits of new functionality and fixing old issues. More importantly, the current development version, WINE 1.3.1, brings many more interesting new features. Here's a list of highlights:
- Support for drag & drop between X11 and OLE.
- New ipconfig.exe builtin tool.
- Support for favorites in builtin Internet Explorer.
- Beginnings of a shell Explorer control.
- A number of DirectDraw code cleanups.
- Improvements to the calendar control.
- Various bug fixes.
The list of applications successfully supported is ever growing. There is a useful database that keeps track of them, with user testimonies and suggested issue resolution suggestions. Here's the LINK.
A GOOD MIGRATION AID
The constant evolution of WINE allows for more and more Windows applications to be run under Linux, which may be critical to guarantee a smooth transition from Windows based applications to their native Linux counterparts. I believe this concept of transition is an important one which many do not pay attention to, and that often results in problems in the long run.
As already mentioned, WINE is a compatibility layer, which should allow you to run Windows applications on Linux systems. Please understand, however, that if WINE is being used in a business environment to port old applications as part of a transition, it should be just that, a middle step towards a full conversion to Linux native applications.
As a simple example, let's say a company that wants to migrate their computers from Windows to Linux keeps documentation that was originally put together in MS Office, but Open Office doesn't cut it as an instant replacement. They could potentially use WINE to install MS Office on those Linux boxes, but it should only be used to optimize compatibility with that old documentation. All current and future documentation should be created on a fully compatible Linux Office suit, like OpenOffice. Such approach would simplify matters and guarantee that the amount of documentation that requires MS Office is constantly decreasing as it becomes obsolete. At some point, all relevant documentation would be fully compatible with Linux software and the transition would have been completed smoothly.
Long story short, WINE is a great tool, but I would not recommend relying on it for too long, at least not in a corporate environment. If that is the intention, I would say staying on Windows is the better answer. The best long term solution for a potential transition to Linux is to embrace its technology instead of using it to emulate another OS.
GAMES ARE DIFFERENT
The whole concept of stability and long term solutions is inherently business specific. A home user that is hooked on game playing does not really care about it, and s/he better not, for the market imposes a frantic pace of hardware upgrades to keep up with the latest games. In such environment, WINE may be the perfect solution for a Linux user who does not want to give up on her/his Windows games.
A quick glance at the Top 25 WINE Applications LIST tells us that most WINE users are interested in gaming (23 of those 25 records are games!). Not only that, but it also tells us that many of the current blockbuster games work under Linux using the WINE layer, and they work great.
FASTER EVOLUTION, BETTER INTEGRATION
WINE is taking big steps forward with each release, improving its integration in Linux systems while increasing the catalog of supported applications at the same time. On top of that, certain distros have realized how important WINE is for their user community and have made an effort to integrate it more tightly.
Ubuntu is a good example, having made changes in the last two releases to make WINE feel "right at home". Canonical wanted to help get the WINE interface feel less alien in a Linux environment. Among other things, they made an effort so that WINE applications appear on the main menu as standard ones, as opposed to keeping them all under the WINE menu.
THAT'S ALL VERY NICE, BUT HOW ABOUT STARCRAFT 2?
Back to the game that started this article, Starcraft 2 is arguably the best strategy game ever released on PC, certainly one of the most popular. In just a few weeks, this sequel has already sold over 3 million copies and has a legion of fans all over the world.
In this very interesting BLOG ARTICLE, Jeff Hoogland explains how he managed to get Starcraft 2 to work on his box by either using WINE 1.2 or Crossover 9.1.
If you have never used WINE for gaming before and want to give it a go prior to actually purchasing Starcraft 2, I would encourage trying any other old game you may keep with you. I have been playing Starcraft and Starcraft: Brood War for years and they both work perfectly.
Note that it is critical that you are using good drivers for WINE to work best.
Happy Linux gaming!