I have a friend that works as a real-life video game developer. He works for a company that is primarily focused on Windows games right now but he did work for a Linux game company for a short while. Whenever I bring up WINE (WINE is not an emulator), he tells me that I need to stop worrying about it since WINE is not a legitimate platform. "No real Windows developer knows about it, much less cares about it. It can't hurt the Linux gaming scene one bit," he chastises me. Generally, I have deferred to him, since he is, after all, more in touch with the game developer world than I am. But I think he's missing a crucial point, one that really is my biggest concern. I suppose I just wasn't able to vocalize it before.
WINE, as it stands right at this moment, is not anything that can be used against Linux users. Windows developers are now ignoring, and will for the next year or so continue to ignore, Linux users. I can accept that, and WINE isn't affecting the situation one way or the other. WINE is still immature, for gaming, and plays only a few select games well, like Half-Life. Today's WINE is not my concern. My concern is what happens when WINE reaches a level of compatibility that allows some new games to work, at least mostly, at the time of release for Windows.
Consider this situation. If Linux population starts to grow and can take 5% of the desktop market, then Windows developers will be in a position where it might make sense to sell some extra copies to Linux users. After all, this is about the same percentage of the desktop that Mac users have right now. But a better WINE increases the temptation for developers to allay the Linux gamer with the partial support that WINE provides. "See, we developed it on Windows. You have WINE to play Windows games. Now go away," they'll tell us like little misguided children. And when the games don't work because some feature in WINE because part of an API isn't implemented yet, or the developer's code does some weird thing that just happens to work in Windows but not WINE, we'll be right back where we started. It gives developers a reason not to put any effort into supporting Linux users. Yes, in this possible future WINE may be doing well for many games. But that is not a success. It will provide a means for developers to continue to treat us as second-class citizens, hindering development of good cross-platform software with native builds on each system.
Any tool that we develop which allows commercial developers to ignore us cannot possibly be helpful. The fact that WINE is not a fully realized tool at this time is not the point. The point is that as WINE gets better (and it will since development on it continues at a brisk pace) it marginalizes Linux more with each step forward. If it reaches 95% compatibility and Linux gains 5% of the desktop market, almost all of the advantage of the market share gains will be nullified by the advances in WINE.
Okay, I realize this must be an old post, since it talks about 5% desktop market share for Linux being a theoretical, but it does bring up something quite pertinent today.
The success of Wine may allow developers to focus on just Windows applications. However, the future of Linux is not and never has been strongly based on the proprietary software market. It is strongly affected by the software service market and the hardware market, but the open source developers simply need tools. Wine allows Windows developers to more easily port their programs to Linux, and that has more of an effect on software development in total than to simply desuade developers from even trying to reach into Linux.
The most important factor is the user. Users will be more inclined to choose the better OS if they can transition more easily, and that -requires- Wine for so many programs that are no longer being developed, that are a little bit older and aren't likely to be ported, and that are too complex to port quickly. When -users- switch to Linux, developers will have to follow.
-Benjamin Vander Jagt