Exclusive: Corel pushes desktop Linux

ZDNet's exclusive interview with Corel's executive vice president of engineering Derek Burney who reveals Corel's plans to drive the Linux phenomenon onto the desktop.
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

This interview is in three parts.

ZDNet UK News: What are you doing with Wine? Can you explain, for those not familiar with Wine, what it is?

Derek Burney:

The confusion begins with the Wine acronym. What it stands for, because although it behaves like an emulator, in the sense that it will allow Windows applications to run on Linux, it isn't technically an emulator. That's where the confusion comes from. And what we're doing is simply furthering the development efforts because our main plan is simply to get all of our applications ported over to Linux.

One of the ways we can do that is to take the source code for each application and rewrite it for Linux, but obviously that would be extremely time-consuming and something we would have to do year after year after year.

ZDNet UK News: So writing a platform that it can work on, on top of Linux is quicker?

Derek Burney:

Exactly, if we write what we call a portability layer, which allows us to write non platform-specific code on the one platform it minimises the amount of platform-specific code on the other and makes our job much easier to move from platform to platform. And we've already done quite a bit of that because we've done several applications and ported to the Mac, for example. So we have a lot of experience in writing so-called portable code.

ZDNet UK News: And the emulator on the Mac allows you to do this?

Well in this case it's not an emulator because it's strictly in the code, it simply makes it easier for us when we're writing the code. Let's take Corel Draw for example, when we write Corel Draw for Windows and Corel Draw for the Mac, about 80% of the code is the same and that's because we have a portability layer. So instead of writing directly to an operating system like most people would do, we write for the portability layer which is platform-agnostic.

ZDNet UK News: The platform hooks into the operating system which is invisible to the user?

Derek Burney:

Exactly. And we know how to do that and we were going to do the same thing for Linux. And that's when we stumbled on Wine, which is an Open Source project much like Linux.

So rather than do something proprietary which would help us out, we felt that we could further the cause of Linux and get the same job done by adding what we felt were our own strengths to the Wine project. That will make it easier for other vendors, like Adobe, to get their applications ported to Linux as well.

It eliminates our competitive advantage by having our applications on Linux because they will easily be able to do it as well but counterpoint to that is that it will help Linux gain popularity and we view that as being a much more strategic move for us. That's why we're putting a considerable amount of people onto this.

ZDNet UK News: This layer, does it exist at the moment?

Derek Burney:

Yes it exists in the sense that some Windows applications will work, mainly for games.

The message here is that although Wine is seen as a good platform to write to, at the moment it's not stable enough for Corel to chuck out applications at this point, we need to do some work on it first.

ZDNet UK News: Is that just to make it more robust?

No. It's to make it more complete. For example, things like clipboard support and drag-and-drop behaviour which you're accustomed to on Windows is completely different in Wine.

Wine is an international project so there are maybe 100 developers working at any one time on it including the Open Source community.

It's really interesting from that perspective and it's important to note that Wine lets you write your applications for Windows and it will take care of everything else. That means that if we were to take an applications like, say, Quicken from Intuit, and run it on Wine, we may find that it works just fine because it may not have drag-and-drop functionality in it to begin with. But an application like WordPerfect, which has not only OLE and drag-and-drop and so on but also scripting capabilities, when they're run in Wine at the moment those sophisticated areas of the application will not work.

Until Wine has 100% complete Windows coverage it will never be able to run all the Windows applications properly.

ZDNet UK News: So this is a step in bringing Linux to the desktop?

Derek Burney:

Absolutely. That's 100% the reason why we're doing this, because it's one thing for us to say we have WordPerfect 8 for Linux and go to a corporation ask them to buy it, but if that's the only application they can run on Linux on the desktop we're not giving people a reason to switch. But if we can say, hey you can run all your Windows applications as well and by the way they run faster than they do in Windows, it gives them a compelling reason to switch. Beyond the obvious reason they don't have to pay any royalties or any licence fees for Linux. So we're definitely moving towards making Linux a very mainstream desktop environment. And Wine is one of the two things that we're working on in order to make that happen.

  • Part 2
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