Interview: Ubuntu and Wine Expert Scott Ritchie
As most Linux followers know, Wine allows you to run many Windows programs on Linux. But how does Wine work with Ubuntu and where is it heading? Our quest for answers led us to Ubuntu community developer and Wine expert Scott Ritchie, known by many peers as YokoZar. Here’s our interview with him.
WorksWithU: How are you involved with Ubuntu?
Ritchie: My main job is packaging Wine. If you go to Applications → Add/Remove and select Wine, it’s my package that’s getting on your system and making things work. I am also responsible for the beta packages at winehq.org about 110,000 or so users are taking advantage of these, while another million or so use the default packages.
I’m also an Ubuntu community developer (“MOTU”), which means I have my and all over the distribution. This ranges from filing bugs on things that annoy me (like how it’s 2009 and my PC speaker still insists on making harsh annoying beeps*), to helping add up new packages (the game Spring RTS will be coming to Jaunty after I polish it up a bit, and I’m also starting work on a package called mediainfo) .
I am also active in the Ubuntu community: I moderate the Ubuntu Wine forum, and generally talk about Wine and Ubuntu to whomever will listen.
WorkWithU: What have you done in Ubuntu to improve the Wine experience (ie, what
would we miss if you didn’t do it?)
Ritchie: I’m one of the few voices for Wine at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, and a powerful voice for usability at the Wine Conference — at wineconf I had a comprehensive list of nice usability features I’d like and the developers discussed how to do them (eg, to get a message about why Wine is taking a while to start up the first time when we’re creating ~/.wine, we need to send a D-Bus message that the desktop then reads. Unfortunately this is before Wine loads it’s own D-Bus driver, so a command line one is needed.)
Should I to mysteriously vanish, Wine development would slow a good amount until someone else provided up to date Ubuntu packages — a surprising amount of good bug reports and test results come from the 100,000 or so people using the beta packages.
WorksWithU: What are you planning to do?
Ritchie: For Jaunty (codename for the upcoming Ubuntu 9.04), it will become very easy to install and launch Wine applications for a first time user without any prior instruction — just double clicking the executable will guide you through it much like how codecs are installed.
When I have time (possibly in Jaunty, possibly not till Jaunty + 1), configuring Windows applications will be much much easier. Rather than having to mess around with the horrendous winecfg you’ll instead be able to just go to system -> preferences -> windows applications and be able to say “Emulate Windows 2000 by default.”
WorksWithU: What are some upcoming things in Wine in general that you are excited about?
Ritchie: I’m most excited about upstream developments in Wine. USB driver support is still a few months away (and won’t be in Jaunty), but when it arrives Wine will be much more powerful: ipods and cell phones will just work with the programs designed for them.
The DIB engine, a running joke in Wine since it’s been under development for years, might actually happen soon. That’s a tool for rendering 2d graphics in a reasonable amount of time – it’s the reason why both AutoCAD and StarCraft don’t really work well. It’s a nice example of how Wine can implement a feature that makes it more useful to both professionals and gamers alike.
WorksWithU: What else do you do?
Ritchie: I seem to find far more side projects then I have any sort of time to do. Take the mediainfo package, for instance: I wanted to make it very easy for a novice user to stream their music and movies to their xbox or playstation by just right clicking on it. But to do that I needed to setup and configure a UPNP server. And to do that I needed to modify a bunch of scripts and install mediainfo by hand. Now that last part will be much easier, but there’s still a ton of work to do on the rest of the problem.
I get a lot of emails about Wine from random users. 100% of them are asking for help, usually with basic installation or use – this makes sense, as Wine is currently rather arcane and there are, literally, millions of people using it. I don’t mind at all – I originally came to the project with the goal of producing good documentation. But no one reads that, so now I’m trying to make the software usable enough to not need documentation in the first place.
In real life, I have a part time job teaching SAT and LSAT prep courses. I make little money, and am basically mooching my living space. I’ve considered cutting back on Ubuntu to focus more on personal ambition, however I have millions of users, each receiving very real value from what I do. It would be immoral to stop and end all that, even if something relatively profitable came my way.
WorksWithU: Have any Wine-related tips for Ubuntu users?
Ritchie: My biggest piece of advice is for users to avoid using the latest Wine unless something’s broken or you want to help us beta test. People are often frustrated by Wine regressions, but you’ll never encounter them if you just use the working installation you have.
WorksWithU: How do you feel about Wine being so good, that most people preferred it to Cedega’s client for playing EVE Online?
Ritchie: This was expected really; Wine has long been developing at a faster pace than Cedega, with a specific eye towards making things work in the long term. This meant we avoided short term hacks to get a particular game working for a while, but now it’s paying off – arbitrary applications, including games, usually work much better in the completely free Wine than they do Cedega.
It does point out a deficiency in our marketing, however – other than google, no one’s really used Wine as a porting toolkit, however in principle there’s no reason Wine couldn’t be completely taking over
Cedega’s entire Mac/Linux porting business.
WorksWithU: Anything else you’d like to mention?
Ritchie: Yes, code analysis tools. Wine’s benefited quite a bit from the static tools (Coverity and Smatch), which run free scans of Wine as a form of marketing. Valgrind is the most interesting however – There’s been work to slowly clear up all the valgrind warnings that Wine itself is generating. Once those are clear, you could in principle build/run a Windows application with Winelib and Valgrind
and use it to find errors that wouldn’t be possible to find on Windows itself.
Which, once word gets out, means we very well may see Windows developers testing with Winelib relatively early in the process even if their target platform is Windows — the Winelib/Linux port just sort of happens as a nice side effect – since valgrind is Linux only.
WorksWithU: That sounds nice, but how will that benefit Wine?
Ritchie: Well, for one, in means a much greater amount of real developers using Wine specifically for some application. Think about how Google ported Picasa using Wine – in so doing they fixed about 20 small bugs that were affecting Picasa. Those bugs are now fixed for everyone.
The equivalent of Wine/Valgrind on Windows is a very expensive add-on to visual studio, which may not work as well to begin with (or find different errors).
Many developers may find it much cheaper to go the Winelib route, even if they have to fix a few of our bugs along the way.
Contributing blogger Vadim Peretokin, based in Toronto, Canada, is an IT Management student and a contributor to OSS projects. WorksWithU is updated multiple times per week. Don’t miss a single post. Sign up for our RSS and Twitter feeds (available now) and newsletter (coming in 2009).