Corel's Linux/Wine plans meet mixed response

Last week's announcement that Corel is working on an invisible layer which allows all Windows applications to run on Linux has met with a mixed response from the industry.

The layer, Wine, behaves like an emulator and has been under development in the Open Source community for some time. Corel has adopted the project and is working to bring the layer onto desktop PCs. According to Derek Burney executive vice president of engineering at Corel, Wine paves the way for something of a revolution that could see Linux offered by the likes of Gateway and Dell as an alternative to the Windows on the desktop.

But even as Corel prepares to present its work on Wine at tomorrow's LinuxWorld in San Jose, California, established Microsoft partners are reticent about Corel bringing the techie operating system to consumers and believe it will take more than sheer passion to achieve widespread adoption.

"To get acceptance for a new operating system takes time. It will be a couple of years at the earliest," said Dell's desktop product manager James Griffiths, who is sceptical about Linux becoming a real alternative to Windows in the near future. "If customers ask for it, we would consider it," he said.

Michael Hughes, product manager for Gateway offers a similar view. "At the moment Windows is what people want, but if we had customers demanding Linux we would certainly consider it," he said. Hughes denied customers are in the dark about alternatives to Windows and claimed no one has, to his knowledge, contacted Gateway with enquiries about Linux. "We give customers the option of customising PCs and I have never heard Linux mentioned in that context. At the moment the only people asking about it are journalists," he said.

Corel will be praying that situation changes and customer demand forces the hardware firms to bundle Linux. As Burney put it: "The Dells and Compaqs and IBMs of this world are going to hear about this (Wine project) too because they're paying Microsoft now to put Windows on their machines. So once they realise that they can put Wine and Linux on their machines for $100 less they're going to be all over it."

IDC analyst Lars Rasmussen wasn't quite as unequivocal, but does see the potential for Linux to muscle in on Microsoft's home turf. "People are getting tired of Windows dominating everything," he said. "There is a lack of freedom and no opportunity for customising applications. With Linux taking off in the server market it is just a matter of time before it comes to the client market."

Rasmussen believes vendors like Compaq and HP will soon follow IBM's lead and offer Linux on its high-end machines and such endorsement will carry over into the desktop arena. "There will be similar trends in client market," he said.

Rasmussen did however cite the "techie" tag Linux has attracted as a possible barrier to its widespread adoption, "Windows is more client-friendly, but Linux will catch up," he said. "It is all down to standardisation, something already well under way on the server side."

Microsoft was asked to comment on the implications of Corel's announcement but refused to do so.

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