After 15 years of development, a running battle with Microsoft and persistent doubts about its viability, the first proper version of Wine - a middleware tool to run Windows applications on Unix-like operating systems - has finally arrived.
Wine 1.0, the work of a staggering 1,076 programmers, has been released under the GNU Lesser General Public license (LGPL). In theory, it means that users of applications developed for Windows can move to Unix-based platforms such as Linux and Mac OS/X, without changing their code base.
In practice this might not be as easy as it sounds. For one thing the complete specification for Windows is not public. As a result the Wine developers have been forced to reverse engineer parts of the middleware - one of the reasons it has taken so long to reach version 1.0.
Microsoft, unsurprisingly, took a pretty dim view of attempts to offer alternative platforms to run its Windows applications. It was claimed that Microsoft introduced obstacles to prohibit updates to its applications if Wine was detected. Another problem the developers faced was the need to duplicate bugs in Windows to ensure applications that had worked around them functioned properly.
The current version also doesn't support 64-bit applications. Although this might not be a problem at the moment, if it takes the Wine team 15 years to fix, it will be.
Technical problems aside, the protracted development period has raised other, perhaps more important, questions about the viability of Wine. While the overwhelming dominance of Windows-based applications is still important it is becoming less so as more and more good-quality, open-source applications that run equally well on Windows or Linux are becoming available.
So although the backers of Wine put forward a number of reasons to justify the effort, there has to be a question mark over its future - especially as it needs technical tweaking for some applications.
It was certainly a good idea 15 years ago, but its time may well have passed.®