Microsoft vs. Wine: Deja Vu on the FUD Front

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-02-18

Microsoft vs. Wine: Deja Vu on the FUD Front

Who does Microsoft think its kidding?

Microsofts forthcoming Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program breaks Wine, an open-source implementation of the Windows API (applications program interface) that runs on x86 Linux and Unix OSes like Solaris and FreeBSD. In laymans terms, it means you can use Wine to run some Windows applications on Unix, rather than on a Windows machine.

Well, you can run and update them for now, anyway.

Microsoft has set WGA so that if it detects that a user is running a Microsoft application on Wine, theyll be blocked from updating their applications from Microsofts download site. And as recently announced, WGA, toward the end of the year, will become mandatory for anyone wanting to upgrade copies of Windows or Microsoft applications.

Let me spell that out for you: You can have a legal copy of Microsoft Office, and because you choose to run it on a Linux box using Wine, you wont be able to update it.

You can load critical security patches, but thats it. Improvements? Additions? Forget about it. If youre not running Windows XP or 2000, youre out of luck.

Now, WGA is meant to stop bandit retailers and resellers from ripping Microsoft off with the sale of illegal copies of Windows XP. Thats fine, thats good, but thats not the whole story.

However, here it appears that Microsoft can leverage WGA to try and stop Wine, as well as its commercial relative, CodeWeavers CrossOver Office. As it stands now, if you tried to update an application running with Wine via WGA youll either get an error message or a "validation code" that still wont let you update your application.

Now, what do most users think when something doesnt work? Thats right, they think its whoever builds the software. So in this case, the problem wont be the people behind Wine. But, its not them, its Microsoft.

Next Page: FUD Returns

FUD Returns

Some folks in the industry still remember that way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Microsoft tried to make it look like the DR-DOS operating system couldnt work.

To quote Brad Silverberg, a former Microsoft senior vice president, from a 1992 e-mail memo released to the public during the Caldera vs. Microsoft antitrust fight: "What the [user] is supposed to do is feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is DR-DOS and then go out to buy MS-DOS."

Yes, some of us from way back then are still around and writing about this business. And, we were also around when Microsoft finally paid Caldera a fistful of millions of dollars to settle the suit that developed from Microsofts attempts to crush DR-DOS.

Do you see any resemblance between what Microsoft did then and what its doing now? I do.

Over and above the principle of the thing, this attack on Wine is a big deal because there are more than 100,000 users using Wine or CrossOver Office to run Windows applications. Im one of them.

Im using Wine right now on the Linux desktop, Xandros Desktop 3, to write this article with Word 2000.

This issue goes way beyond individuals like me who are Linux fans. There are companies like Walt Disney, which went out of its way to improve Wine so that it could use it for a cost-effective way to run Adobe PhotoShop on Red Hat Linux.

Wine and CrossOver Office are used in business, and as the Linux desktop continues to catch on, youre going to see more users wanting their old, familiar applications but running on a cheaper, more-secure operating system.

Thats the back-story behind Microsofts action. This is another sign that Microsoft sees that Linux poses a real threat to its Windows desktop monopoly.

This is a big deal. Microsoft should fix WGA so that users who are running legal Microsoft software can run it on the platform of their choice. If not, well, DR-DOS may have retired to near obscurity, but Microsoft still ended up having to pay Caldera millions. When all is said and done, should Microsoft get off so lightly if it persists in going down this road again? Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Rocket Fuel