Another Look at Wine for Running Windows Apps

Given enough ISV support, Wine needn't be be a poor cross-platform solution for running Windows apps on Linux.

In our last issue, I wrapped up a trio of columns on the topic of running Windows applications on alternative platforms with a dismissal of Wine-the open source project aimed at building a home for Windows applications on Unix-like hosts such as Linux and OS X-as a viable solution for this cross-platform quandary.

I was prepared this week to move on to other terrain when Wine reared its head again--this time not in the form of a message from an impassioned reader, but in the course of a Saturday afternoon search for a slicker alternative to the default MySQL Query Browser application that I've been using a lot lately for a fantasy basketball project I've been working on.

In my dressing down of Wine, I noted that users are unlikely to find Wine mentioned in their ISV's support matrices, but, as I learned, two of the most frequently-recommended MySQL query tools I encountered, PremiumSoft's Navicat Lite and the open source HeidiSQL, owe their Linux support to none other than the Wine project.

Navicat comes along with its own implementation of Wine, which accounts for 63MB of the overall 91MB Navicat for Linux package-not a bad corkage fee, considering that by bringing its own Wine, PremiumSoft can ensure that things like font anti-aliasing will work without any registry tweaks required. HeidiSQL doesn't come with its own copy of Wine. Instead, it relies on the copy you get from your Linux distributor or from the Wine project itself.

I downloaded both of these applications, and both ran well on my Ubuntu desktop.

To be sure, the experience wasn't perfect--on HeidiSQL, for instance, launching the application's built-in MySQL help browser made the query editing pane inaccessible, thereby seriously limiting the usefulness of that documentation. Also, neither application fit in comfortably with the look and feel of my desktop, and neither used my system's native GNOME file access dialogs.

Of course, one of my main qualms about the default MySQL query tool is that it uses an old version of the GNOME dialogs which, like the Wine dialogs, lack support for setting up and visiting file location shortcuts-such as to the directory where I keep my SQL query files.

All told, my experiences trying out both of these Windows-native applications through Wine were positive, with the key difference between running these particular Windows applications vs. any arbitrary applications under Wine being the ISV support.

If more Windows ISVs set out to reach non-Windows platforms via Wine, the project would have a brighter future than the one I laid out in my previous column. And who knows? Perhaps even Microsoft could come to take a leadership role in the viticulture of the Windows software ecosystem. After all, Microsoft surprised many this far when it announced plans to produce, in association with Intel a Linux-native version of Silverlight to run on Intel's Moblin operating system.

As for my own query browser search, I've settled for now on an open source application, called CrunchyFrog, built out of Python and the GNOME-native (but still Windows compatible) GTK framework. Still, my search has given me a new respect for Wine--if you depend on Wine for running particular Windows applications outside of Windows, I'd love to hear about them.