Brad Choate was kind enough to reply (via email) to my reply to his piece pondering the potential malign effects of Wine on future Linux development. His note sent me off to read some, and I’m going to address his points, starting with the last:

Finally, I should point out (with regard to your closing statement) that WINE is not an emulator.

This is something I did not know. Wine is actually a lot more interesting than an emulator — it’s a transparent compatability layer that will enable Windows programs to run under Linux without installing Windows at all. That’s kind of tangential to the main point in his email, which is:

I’d say within another year or two (unless MS pulls the rug out from under them), it will be second nature to run Windows software on Linux. And to what end? To run Windows solutions as opposed to Linux solutions. If it runs under WINE, why port it? If it runs under WINE, why target Linux at all? And certainly, the Linux faithful will always develop for Linux no matter what. But I’m talking less about existing Linux developers and more about companies that are looking at Linux today and considering it as a viable target for software development. To me, WINE is shooting the Linux community in the foot.

I better understand the point Brad was making now, but I still don’t agree with it. The danger here is that we might potentially lose native Linux development from companies who decide that a Windows version of their software running under Wine is good enough, so they don’t need to go to the lengths to port their software directly to Linux. That may happen, but it seems to me that Wine doesn’t change the value proposition much for these companies. What percentage of software is ported to Linux from Windows anyway? My guess is that the percentage is very low. Furthermore, enterprise software companies aren’t going to rely on Wine, because doing so just won’t be as reliable as running directly on the Linux kernel. So we’re talking about some amount of end user software that will run via Wine rather than natively. (Brad went on to mention games, but my feeling on this is that either Wine will run games so well that the emulation won’t matter, or it will run them poorly and everyone who would consider porting will still create a port for Linux.)

When you look at the huge mass of software that was never going to be ported to Linux, it’s exciting to think that you may be able to run it via Wine instead of just swearing it off altogether. To me, if the value of the Linux kernel and programming interface is so low that Wine may kill them, we probably all ought to be using Windows anyway. Fortunately, I don’t believe that’s the case.