March 20, 2019

The Many Faces of Wine: Realities of Open Source and Business - page 3

Looking For Success Stories

  • May 15, 2002
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

The Wine project and its related commercial interests weave together in interesting ways. When the folks at Corel threw their energies into getting their various office suite and graphics programs to run under Linux, they created somewhat of a Wine subfork at the time. The term "subfork" is applicable because it wasn't really a fork. Corel simply would freeze Wine into a particular version and not update it as often as the main tree was updated, and then apply their own changes as they made additions. Much of the Corel alternations to Wine made it back into the main Wine source over time.

With Corel's interest in Linux having waned to non-existence these days, their involvement with the Wine project has faded as well. However, their legacy lives on, as project volunteer Marcus Meissner points out that Corel ultimately gave two major gifts to the Wine project: their assistance brought new energy to the flagging interest in Wine and corporate interest showed that the Wine project had commercial as well as hobby value.

Today's major corporate contributor to the Wine project is CodeWeavers (a unanimous agreement amongst the project members I interviewed). CodeWeavers currently employs many long-time Wine volunteers, including the project head Alexandre Julliard; a factor which many see as a key to allowing these folks to spend a good amount of time working on Wine--even if some of that time ends up being used to build proprietary add-ons for CodeWeavers products.

Here we have one of the sticking points between open source and commercial vendors. Ultimately, a seller must have something unique to offer its clients or people aren't going to bother to purchase their product. Since CodeWeavers' offerings are specifically tied to making various Windows programs work under Linux, there are times when CodeWeavers has to make awkward decisions. According to CEO and Founder Jeremy White, sometimes they're in a sticky situation where announcing a new feature for Wine before announcing it for their own software could pull the wind out of their product sales.

Another problem comes down to just how much code can a commercial company afford to release into the Wine wilds. CodeWeavers in no way claims to release all of their code back into the main Wine stream. The biggest proprietary piece of code CodeWeavers has, according to White, is, in his own words: "With CrossOver Plugin, we have a Netscape plugin program. That plugin translates between the Netscape/Linux world and the Wine/Windows world, making it possible to use Windows plugins on Linux." Notice that here, the proprietary code is not actually considered to be part of Wine. It's an intermediary bit between Wine and Netscape.

However, the core of CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office is under the LGPL and included in the main Wine code stream. This brings us to the ubiquitous question asked by many new to open source: how can CodeWeavers make money if most of their code is publicly available?

White admits that being a free software-based company involves making a lot more sacrifices than one that writes only proprietary software. CodeWeavers has to "share the limelight" with the main Wine project and risk competitors having far too much fun with their own code.

The tradeoff, according to White, is that by making those sacrifices you gain other advantages. He sites having a healthy Wine community with "a legion of great testers and developers" as being key to his company's being able to produce such a focused, highly technical product with a relatively small staff, and therefore smaller overhead than a fully proprietary company would require. White also feels that "a healthy and vibrant Wine also helps to spread the message that what we do is possible," and that as people are drawn to the Wine project, they also tend to learn about CodeWeavers and the products they offer. Most small companies just can't afford the kind of marketing campaign that would require.

Open source proponents also like to point out that the money is often in the service side of things, and White also mentions this aspect: "By being seen as 'the Wine company,' we hopefully insure that businesses that are looking for a company to back them up in their use of Wine come and find us, and pay for our products and services." He adds that of course CodeWeavers isn't trying to be the only company making use of Wine. Just the best one!

White's summary of why CodeWeavers is still around today, and still part of Wine and open source, is: "As I see it, a successful Free software company makes a straightforward bargain: it gives up proprietary control, and stays a smaller, more tightly focused, less well funded company. In exchange, it gets to use the effective power of a much large QA/development and marketing staff than it could otherwise afford."

Some of the CodeWeavers code that doesn't go into Wine is actually not held back by CodeWeavers. While Wine's project head only accepts the best code--as one would hope--sometimes ugly workarounds are required for a company to ensure that all of their customers are able to use their software. So, for example, White himself tells of a horrible bit of code he wrote that enables CrossOver to work with the X Window System 4.1.0 despite a bug that otherwise requires users to upgrade their X version before they can use Wine.

Programmers who saw the code might think it's horrible (and White says they'd be right), but he offered this as another example of how companies working in tandem with open source projects can provide added value. No matter what a CodeWeavers customer is running, the company will do what's necessary to make that software work.

CodeWeavers also provides the web and CVS space that the Wine project uses, an important contribution to any open source effort.

There are other companies that, while they haven't released their code yet for public consumption, have benefited the Wine project in other ways. Lindows.com, for example, states that they will open source their code once their product is finally released, so obviously none of their code has gone back into Wine yet--and industry observers are waiting to see which license the Lindows.com code will be released under.

However, one major contribution Lindows.com has already delivered is that they helped to put on the first Wine developer's conference in 2002, by both hosting it and paying travel expenses for many major Wine developers.

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