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Ports vs. Wine
At a critical time in its evolution, GameSpy talks to a number of Linux developers and distributors discussing the ideal solution for bringing games to the platform.
By - James Hills

It has been a while since there has been a real debate going in the Linux gaming community, but recently a debate has raged over which was the better solution for bringing games to Linux.

In the past, these debates often became shouting matches between gangs of geeks trying to create or affirm Linux dogma, but now that the OS is maturing beyond just the interests of the creators, other elements have entered the debate such as quantity, usability, and economics of applications. The best philosophical decision is no longer necessarily the right decision for the future of the operating system, and this is the center of the current debate.

On one side of the argument is Transgaming, which sees the reality that the process of creating native Linux ports is an extremely expensive procedure with very little monetary reward. Their solution is to refine and extend Wine, their "development toolkit for porting Windows source code to UNIX systems (Winelib), and´┐Żprogram loader which allows Windows .EXE files to run directly on Intel-based UNIX flavors," so that Windows games will work well under Linux.

On the other side of the issue are the porting houses such as Loki, Tribsoft, and Hyperion Entertainment. They have shown that Windows games can be ported successfully to Linux. Additionally, Loki proved that there is a demand for Linux games with their recent decision to discount several of their titles to $9.99. As of last week, Quake3: Arena for Linux was one of the top five selling games on EBGames and the Website now shows the title as being "backordered." While this move by Loki and Electronics Boutique proved that people would buy games for Linux, it certainly isn't economical to sell all their titles that cheaply.

In order for the porting companies to survive, they need to have a constant stream of games to port, and they also need to have Linux users buy those titles for Linux instead of for Windows. This is where the interests of the porting companies may potentially conflict with the interests of the users. For the most part I would venture to say that users would prefer to have a solution that allows them to play their games well under both Linux and Windows for the least cost. Additionally, since gaming is a very time sensitive industry, if users have to wait even a few weeks for the Linux version when they have the capability to play a Windows version now, that delay will significantly hurt the potential sales of the title.

The emulation route is a great solution to solve the short-term lack of titles and in the long term it will help to level the field by allowing gamers to play less popular titles on Linux, but I doubt that it will ever offer the complete experience that a native port will. It's greatest impact is that it will help to grow the market. As more gamers begin staying in Linux to play games instead of leaving it for Windows, the market for Linux only versions will grow because gamers in Linux will want a better solution. Eventually, when the Linux only market becomes big enough to support, the current worries of Linux being dependent on the whims of Microsoft's APIs will be resolved.

Unfortunately, it is becoming clear that if this process of improving the emulation layer continues, the porting houses may not survive in the short term, which may leave Linux gamers completely dependent on emulation.

So what is the solution? I don't think anyone knows, but if Linux will succeed as a gaming OS, it needs to examine who the users are, from which groups they want to draw new members, and what direction to move in and cater to those needs. After all, lets face it. If you are arguing which is better, "porting" vs. "emulating," that is just plain silly. You are still leaving Linux as a secondary OS to Windows. If you want to break out of the cycle then you need to make Linux BETTER not the same.

Next: Gavriel State, CEO of Transgaming shares his views...

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