Version 7 of the WINE compatibility tool for running Windows programs on various *nix operating systems is here, bringing notably improved 64-bit support.

WINE has come a long way. It took 18 years to get to version 1.0 and another nine years to get to version 2, but since version 3 in 2018, it’s averaged roughly one major release per year. The project is now mature, stable, and quite functional. A lot of Windows programs work fine that formerly didn’t. It’s not limited to Linux – it also supports macOS and FreeBSD, and Linux relatives ChromeOS and Android.

This may in part be due to its corporate backing. The project has had several business sponsors over the decades, including Corel, which invested substantial effort to help port WordPerfect Office, and later Google, which did the same so that the now-cancelled Picasa would work better on Linux.

These days, its primary sponsor is Codeweavers, which sells a commercial version called CrossOver Office for Linux, macOS and ChromeOS, as well as tools and services to help with porting Windows apps.

Those lists of platforms are significant. Back in the 20th century, when the WINE project started, GUIs were quite harmonious things, bringing – nay, enforcing – peace and harmony to the chaotic world of DOS apps. All Windows apps (and Mac ones too) tended to look and work quite similarly; this was a selling point of the platforms.

Not any more. These days, loads of apps do their own thing, especially games, and UI standardisation has gone out the window. Bad for the users, but good for software vendors – because as long as you can make sure it runs stably, users can no longer spot a non-native app. So you can port a Windows game, for example, to macOS or to Linux without rewriting it, and so long as it works well enough, the users won’t be any the wiser.

So nowadays you can get Steam on both macOS and Linux, full of premium games – many of which were brought across from Windows. Valve’s Proton will help those not officially available to run, as will the freeware PlayOnLinux… And it’s all thanks to WINE.

Reflecting such usage, WINE 7 sports a number of enhancements relevant to the gamers among us. It has built-in support for several graphics cards, improved multi-monitor and Direct3D support, and better 64-bit support. It can run both 64-bit and 32-bit Windows apps side-by-side, and support 32-bit Windows apps on 64-bit Linux without installing all the 32-bit compatibility libraries. This may facilitate Linux vendors’ efforts to drop 32-bit support from their distros.

Although the hardcore beardies may look down upon it, WINE is a very useful and helpful tool. Ubuntu may have closed its Bug #1, but Windows is still a formidable corporate presence, and whatever Microsoft may say about loving Linux, Windows remains Competitor #1 for Linux. Some people, and companies, would be quite happy to switch over, but they can’t because of that one pain-in-the-neck Windows-only app.

So, as a test, your correspondent wrote this article in Microsoft Word, natively installed on the Unity remix of 64-bit Ubuntu 21.10. An acid test is whether all the Office updates will install, and this is running Word 2003 SP3 without a hitch. Just a few years ago, Office 2003 needed CrossOver Office to work, but now the improvements have filtered down to the FOSS version. ®

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