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CodeWeavers pours Wine for the masses

Windows spoofing not just for geeks anymore

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Macworld CodeWeavers has released a new version of its CrossOver Wine-enabling utility that allows you to run Windows apps on Macs or Linux boxes without needing to install Windows. Well, not all Windows apps, but a respectable chunk of them.

CrossOver was first released for Linux in 2002, then for the Mac in 2007. The latest version – named Impersonator, though it's effectively CrossOver version 10 – takes a major leap beyond past versions in that it's designed specifically to be used by normal humans, and not the Linux and Mac geeks who were fans of earlier versions.

"It is not as much for geeks as it used to be," CodeWeavers COO Jon Parshall told The Reg at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. "Obviously, in the Linux crowd, we still have plenty of geeks out there, but we do have to recognize that certainly in the Mac marketplace there are a lot of people that need that ease of use."

Impersonator still uses the basic CrossOver-managed Wine technology. "From a technical standpoint," Parshall told us, "we've got the Windows application up here, it's talking to the API – which is us – and we're turning around and interpreting those commands, and we're spoofing that Windows application, we're faking it out. It thinks it's running on top of Windows, when it ain't. So the whole Impersonator metaphor really is fairly apt."

What makes Impersonator easier to use is a Windows-app installation scheme that CodeWeavers calls CrossTie. "Grandma needs it to be just as drop-dead simple as possible," Parshall said. "And that's really what CrossTie speaks to – that's the big new innovation in the product for this release."

CrossTie, Parshall explained, "is a one-click installer. What we've been able to do is encapsulate a recipe, if you will, that tells Crossovers' installer how to do this particular application. ... That's the basic deal behind CrossTie: it's a way to encapsulate all the goodness behind that installer, and make it basically run itself."

For Impersonator, CodeWeavers has built what it calls VIAs – very important application "landing pages", as Parshall calls them – for a variety of applications. These pages provide one-click installations of Windows apps into the Wine system running on a Mac or Linux box by downloading a CodeWeavers-created CrossTie file that manages both the download of the app and its installation, including management of any required runtimes, DLLs, and the like.

"With the way we're taking the product, we're making it easier and easier for people to put on those Windows 'costumes', if you will," Parshall said — and their Macworld Expo booth riffed on the costumes metaphor, offering show-goers the opportunity to pose for photos with impersonators of Elvis, Lady Gaga, Marilyn Monroe, and others. The Reg demurred.

Explaining both CodeWeavers raison d'être and why it's expanding to a larger universe of Windows apps, Parshall said: "Our bread and butter was always supporting Microsoft Office and a small number of the big-hitter applications – Outlook, Office, that kind of stuff. We're still going to do that, but those applications take a tremendous amount of engineering work to make work. We just beat our heads against the wall. It's a drag."

But there are a lot of Windows apps that don't need that level of, well, head-banging. "What's happened is that Wine has gotten better as a technology and that the water line is continuingly being raised, so all of a sudden there are lots and lots and lots of apps out there that we may not have even touched ... but they work. And so the thought is: 'Why don't we go find some of the low-hanging fruit out there that have rabid user-bases behind them, and market to those people."

Not being a company with unlimited resources, though, CodeWeavers needs to be picky about what Windows apps into which it pours its engineering time. "Our officially supported list still includes the big hitters like Microsoft Office and some of the others," Parshall said, "but we're taking some of them off, like Lotus Notes. I hate to say it, but who cares about Lotus Notes anymore?" ®

Bootnote

One advantage of working in a company that's smaller than, say, Microsoft, is the ability for a COO to speak without larding on the company image-polish. For example, when we asked Parshall why the company chose the name Impersonator rather than merely CrossOver version 10, he said: "It is marketing, frankly."

He explained: "Our CEO came to us and he said: 'I don't want to put out a release that's called 10. It's just dull, y'know? C'mon, marketing people, think of something better for me to do.' So we sat down and roamed through some things, and asked ourselves 'What's our code word going to be?' And so Impersonator is sort of the analog to [names like] Snow Leopard or Leopard, if you will. It could be Dirty Donkey for all I know."

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