Transgaming WineX 2.0 Review
Several weeks ago I signed up as a subscriber to TransGaming's Wine implementation called WineX. Their goal is to produce wine libraries capable of running Microsoft Windows games within Linux without a Windows library.
The ultimate goal of Transgaming, Codeweaver's Wine, and the Wine Development Team are similar - to create a migration path for Windows users to the Linux platform. What disturbs many in the Linux community is the approach taken by TransGaming. They have opted for a license model (Aladdin-style) that allows them to keep certain portions of their codebase proprietary.
After paying my subscription fee, I downloaded a copy of the WineX binary. I'm running RedHat 7.2 on my machine, so I downloaded it in an rpm format. Debian users will find deb binaries for all the major releases. The installation was smooth, but I found that I needed to have an existing wine installation on my machine. The binary included copy protection software and DirectX libraries that are not included in a standard wine distribution.
There was one game in particular that I was interested in running on Linux; Diablo II happens to be my son's favorite hack-and-slay game, so that was first. There is a support area on TransGaming's webpage that provides both FAQs and gamer's comments on how to proceed with an installation or work around a problem. I went to the support area for clues on how to perform an install from the CD. As with the binary installation, the install for the game was flawless. I did, however, have to reduce the screen resolution and pixel depth to make the game run properly. After the install, it was game time.
I ran the Diablo executable from the fake windows drive that had been installed for me by the binary. I ran the game in an 800x600x16bpp window using the "-w" option. Within a couple of seconds, I had the Diablo II screen up and was able to start playing the game. The machine I ran on is a dual-233 MHz Pentium with 256MB of RAM. Comparing it to my son's 266MHz Pentium II with 98MB of RAM is not easy, but I was definitely running the game at about the same speed. I haven't done much to optimize my Linux box for gaming (I run the same NVidia card as my son's machine), but I was happy to have a game that has not been ported for Linux running without hangs or crashes.
Was it Worth the Investment?
I have tried for several years to get good performance out of a Wine-driven game on my Linux box without much success. TransGaming's work has definitely moved the ball further down the field in this regard and has given my old machine a new life as something more than a file server. My experiments with the Sim's, Baldur's Gate 2, and Starcraft were all positive. Although I had been able to run Starcraft through Wine before, the other two games were difficult to get running reliably, if at all.
I am impressed with the work that TransGaming has done on the Wine libraries. While it is true that they have not contributed everything that they have developed to the Wine community, their efforts have paid off for me and other gamers who have tried in vain to get Windows-centric software running without a dual-boot machine. I personally have no problem contributing to TransGaming's effort because it suits me personally. Does this model work with the philosophy of free software development? Probably not, but nether did the shareware movement that developed around the IBM DOS systems of the mid-1980's. That movement allowed game developers to write games that pushed the limits of the available hardware, created an industry that continues to increase the performance of gaming hardware, and benefited those who wrote the games by giving them a source of income.
The issue of contributing back to the community always shadows every open-source project. Transgaming does contribute back, but there are restrictions. You can see them in the statement from Transgaming's webpage:
"The source code to TransGaming WineX (minus copy protection related code, for now) is available through VA Linux's SourceForge website. You can examine and modify it to your heart's content, you can watch the changes we make as we go, and you can participate in detailed development discussions on our mailing list. The only thing you can't do is redistribute WineX code for any commercial purpose. The WineX code is licensed under the Aladdin Free Public License, which prohibits commercial use of our work. If you wish to use WineX commercially, please contact our sales team to arrange for alternative licensing arrangements.
Once we have reached our subscription goals, we plan to release all of the WineX source code under the Wine license, which will allow it to be directly integrated with the core Wine project code hosted at www.winehq.com. Until then, we will periodically submit selected portions of our code for integration with the Wine project."
Whether their restrictions are so onerous as to kill development of Linux-related software forever, I don't think that case can be made. One more step on the slippery slope to proprietary lock in? Not even close. While the software Transgaming provides is not as free as the GPL, the fact that they have made tremendous progress in getting Windows games running on Linux is worth my support.
- Runs several Windows-centric games
- Crashes some games quite badly
- Several - This is still Wine
I feel this effort deserves support