SuSE pops cork off Wine Rack

While some companies want to switch to Linux on the desktop, these same firms are often not willing to live without their Microsoft Corp. Windows-based applications. With that in mind, SuSE AG on Thursday launched Wine Rack – a bundle of products that will allow users of SuSE Linux 9.0 Personal or Professional to run some Windows applications right on Linux.

According to the company, the applications included in the bundle can be purchased separately, however Wine Rack would work out to be less expensive than purchasing each app individually.

Included in Wine Rack, which retails at US$39.95, are CrossOver Office 2.1 and CrossOver Plugin 2.1 from Codeweavers Inc., WineX from Transgaming Technologies Inc., and MarbleBlast, a 3-D game from GarageGames Corp.

Individually, CrossOver Office is US$69.95, CrossOver Plugin costs US$39.95, WineX is US$60 per year and MarbleBlast retails for US$20.

Codeweavers’ products will let users run applications including, but not limited to, Microsoft Office; Excel; PowerPoint from Office 97, 2000, and XP; Access 2000; Outlook 2000; Internet Explorer 5.0 and 5.5; Adobe’s Acrobat 5 and Photoshop 7.0; Apple Inc.’s QuickTime; and IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes.

The applications included in Wine Rack are derived from the Wine Project – an open source implementation of the Windows application program interface (API) enabling Windows applications to run on x86-based Unix OSes including Linux, FreeBSD and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris.

However, by deploying Wine Rack, users will be giving up a bit in the way of performance.

“As soon as you start to put layers of software on top of each other, you have to go through each successive layer of software resulting in some performance issues,” explained Al Gillen, research director, system software at IDC in Framingham, Mass. “Generally speaking you won’t see it when you’re typing – no matter how fast you type you’re probably not going to be able to type so fast that you outrun the system.”

On the other hand, if a user was running a complicated spreadsheet on Access involving a lot of recalculations, the performance overhead would be noticeable, he said.

Both Gillen and Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said this isn’t much of a problem for users with relatively modern computers.

“Your basic 1.5GHz to 2GHz PC has so much more horsepower than MS Office needs it’s not funny,” Haff explained.

He also said that for those who want independence from Microsoft and want to radically reduce licensing costs, Wine Rack would not be an ideal solution. Since most users who deploy Linux on the desktop rarely need more than an office productivity suite, Haff said an option to avoid Microsoft would be to use open-standards based applications, such as OpenOffice or Sun’s StarOffice instead of running progams that allow integration with Microsoft Office.

SuSE still offers OpenOffice with SuSE Linux 9.0, and Sun also supports the open source desktop with its StarOffice.

“Star Office 7 doesn’t have every capability and bell and whistle that Office XP does, but it’s a very solid office productivity suite,” Haff said.

Yet Haff said there are drawbacks to using these products because businesses might need certain Windows-based applications that are not supported by OpenOffice or StarOffice, which might cause these firms to stay away from Linux altogether. Also, OpenOffice and StarOffice might not be able to support formatting of some Windows documents.

Holger Dyroff, general manager, Americas for SuSE, said compatibility with Windows is something users had been asking for. But there is still a barrier to deploying Wine Rack in the large enterprise as there is no central method for a network administrator to deploy it simultaneously to client PCs. Dyroff explained that this is because the bundle is currently geared towards small businesses and home office users.

CodeWeavers does offer CrossOver Office Server Edition, which allows hundreds of simultaneous users to run Windows applications in a distributed thin-client environment. The Server Edition is not compatible with Wine Rack and Dyroff said there are no plans right now to include it in a future release.

There are other options for users wanting to run Windows applications on their PCs, including Win4Lin and VMWare. However, running these would require having both Windows and Linux running on the same machine, said IDC’s Gillen.

“That kind of defeats the purpose of having Linux, when you have Windows and Linux on the same machine,” he added.

In effect, it is really too early to say where the Linux desktop will end up, Illuminata’s Haff said. So far there are only two companies supporting the Linux desktop – Sun and SuSE – and both have taken radically different approaches.

While Sun is working on building an office productivity suite and add-ons derived from OpenOffice and open source software, SuSE is attempting to make integration with Microsoft easier.

Sun recently signed a deal with China whereby it will provide the desktop for about one million seats per year in the country’s government. SuSE is also having success with its model, Haff said, reiterating that it’s just too soon to tell which technology will win out. [Please see Sun mulls plan to offer open source app server.]