By Bill O’Brien

Wine is not an emulator. Aside from creating one of those recursive Linux acronyms, this phrase also is a truism. Wine provides a virtual Windows environment—one that exists without the actual physical presence of Windows—in which you can run Windows software. Given the last decade that Microsoft has spent gluing and stapling patches and new code into Windows, it’s an ambitious project.

Even a cursory look through the Wine Development HQ makes it obvious that Wine, ambitious as it is, is a project that’s still under development. That also describes Linux to a certain extent, but Wine, despite an abundance of enthusiasm, appears to still be at the prenatal point that many might describe as not quite ready for prime time. Although that may sound like criticism, it’s only the embodiment of the underlying theme of many of Wine’s error messages—and we saw quite a few during the course of this review.

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We actually tried three different RPM distributions of Wine and had the most success with CodeWeavers. CodeWeavers’ Wine distinguished itself from the other two at the configuration end of the package. One of the RPM packages wanted us to scurry around the hard disk, creating and populating subdirectories with reckless abandon. Another appeared to do its own configuration but then couldn’t seem to find its own files. CodeWeavers’ release included a nice graphical configurator, offered its own defaults for file locations, and, when it was done, even altered application file icons to resemble wine glasses so that the association would be obvious. (Okay, the glasses are really champagne flutes, but we won’t quibble. After all, it’s a work in progress.)

Wine does Windows
Mounting a Microsoft Office 97 CD, we dug through the directory to find Word and double-clicked its Wine-morphed icon. After a little disk activity, we were told that a critical DLL was missing, but Word loaded and ran—almost. None of the disk functions worked. The same happened with Excel. We tried Paint Shop Pro, but that wouldn’t load at all.

We remembered seeing the example command wine sol.exe during one of our forays through the volumes of documentation that are available for the Wine packages we were evaluating. Not wanting to leave Wine with a bad buzz, we put a copy of sol.exe (Windows’ solitaire program) in the /tmp directory and ran it. Success! Encouraged, we went back and also tried FreeCell and MSPaint, but Wine couldn’t loosen them up enough to convince them to show their wares.

Figure A
Wine provides a virtual Windows environment without relying on a separate Windows installation.

To be fair, we should mention that you can, as an alternative, run Wine and associate it to an existing Windows partition, the thought being that it would then have a better chance of picking up the real Windows DLLs rather than relying on the faux DLLs Wine itself provides. In some documentations, that hint was offered as help in case things didn’t work, whereas in others, it was implied that doing so was a major undertaking with a dubious expectation of success. In the end, we decided to forego the experience. If Wine is not an emulator, then it shouldn’t need Windows.

Bottom line
All of this points to one very simple conclusion: Wine is still very much a work in progress, and we’re not going to criticize it for that. The concept is intriguing, especially the part about not needing Windows, and we’re going to keep an eye on it as it moves along to completion.

The document was originally published by CNET on Feb. 28, 2001.