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The Path to Wine 1.0

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Wine developer John R. Sheets talks about the current status of the Wine project, where it's been, and where it might go in the future.

Wine developer John R. Sheets talks about the current status of the Wine project, where it's been, and where it might go in the future.

The Path to Wine 1.0

Wine, an open source development effort to reimplement the win32 application programming interface (API) as a native UNIX library, has been around for over seven years, almost as long as the Linux kernel. Throughout this time, Wine has been released as alpha-quality software, not stable or reliable enough for consumption by end users. The main audience has been UNIX developers capable of dealing with Wine's idiosyncrasies.

Seven years is a long time for a piece of software to be stuck in alpha release mode. The problem is by no means a lack of quality developers: The volunteers who work on Wine are some of the most talented software engineers in the business. The holdup is more of a technical battle than a manpower issue.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle Wine faces is the sheer size of the win32 API. Literally hundreds and hundreds of function calls exist, which pass around dozens and dozens of data structures. Often the behavior of these function calls is poorly documented, and sometimes not at all. In fact, a number of the core internal functions called by Windows applications aren't mentioned anywhere in the documentation. Wine must implement these unnamed functions; otherwise applications that use them will not run. The Wine developers must investigate the manner in which applications seem to use them, and refine the implementation as new applications reveal bugs.

To make matters worse, Microsoft continually adds new APIs and changes the behavior of the existing APIs in subtle ways for each major release of the Windows operating system. For example, Windows 95 introduced a different look and feel for applications, as well as a handful of new controls. Wine developers had to implement these new controls in order to support all the Win95 applications that used them, and enhance the internal drawing code to match the new appearances.

A lot of Wine's growth has been fueled by the desire to play Windows games on Linux machines. As a result, Wine boasts a healthy implementation of the win32 multimedia API, including sound playback, animation, and even OpenGL. Many popular modern games work well under Wine, including Starcraft and Ultima Online. Wine optionally supports the Direct Graphics Architecture (DGA) X11 extension to make full-screen games behave more like native Linux applications.

The lion's share of Wine's functionality is the product of individual developers fixing bugs and implementing missing APIs in their spare time, for free. It has only been recently that commercial companies have begun to contribute openly to Wine. One of the largest corporations to do this is Corel, who threw their weight behind Wine for their office and drawing suites. While this eventually lead to a benign forking (i.e., divergence) of the Wine source code, Corel kept their version of Wine public, and a good portion of their fixes have been merged back into the main Wine tree.

Another major player in the Wine space is CodeWeavers (my employer). CodeWeavers has done quite a bit over the past year to flesh out the missing parts of Wine and debug the existing parts, trying to move Wine toward a rock solid 1.0 release. Outside of straight C coding, CodeWeavers has also spent time improving the infrastructure in and around Wine, to make it more accessible to users and developers. This includes organizing and converting the text-file documentation into DocBook/SGML, writing a new GUI configuration tool, helping to cement Wine's integration with the X11 desktop, and improving the compile environment. An offshoot of this last effort is the winemaker tool, a new script capable of converting an existing Windows project (including MS Visual C++/MFC projects) into a Wine/UNIX project.

It's hard to predict what the future of Wine might hold, beyond the 1.0 target. Perhaps someday Wine will acquire a fully native GNOME front end. As Wine support is cautiously integrated into the Linux kernel and the surrounding operating system, we might see the day when Wine becomes a transparent loader, allowing us to run Windows executables on equal footings with other UNIX executable formats. In that sense, Wine may fade from the limelight, into the background, to become a fundamental feature of the GNU/Linux operating system, alongside the linkers, the compilers, and the daemons.

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About the Author

John R. Sheets has been following the GNOME project on a day-to-day basis for more than two years, since GNOME was only six months old. He is a software developer for CodeWeavers, Inc., where he works on Wine and GNOME. In his free time, he is helping the WorldForge Project to create a free online multiplayer gaming environment. John is the author of Writing GNOME Applications (Addison-Wesley, 2001), and the maintainer of the OpenBooks Web site.

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