Get Your Game On - Running Windows Games in Linux
More than 300 games are available for Linux today. However, plenty more are out there that are available only to Windows users, and if there's one thing Linux users don't like to accept, it's that we cannot do something everyone else can do. To that extent, a number of products and projects exist that make it possible to play Windows games under Linux (and to run other Windows programs as well). A quick list of these options include the WINE Project, Win4Lin, CrossOver Office, TransGaming's Cedega, VMware and the simple fact that some games, such as many of those from Id Software (creator of DOOM, Quake and so on) actually have binaries available that let you run the game natively under Linux.
Let's take a look at each of these options, see how it fits into the big picture and how likely it is to run the types of games you like, keeping in mind that sometimes the games you'll be able to use are older games rather than newer ones.
The WINE Project's software (see the on-line Resources) allows people to run MS-DOS and 32-bit Windows applications under Linux and the free BSDs. Whether WINE will run your particular game is heavily dependent on a number of factors. Because this is free software, your best bet is simply to give it a try and see if it works. Depending on which Linux distribution you're using, WINE may be difficult or simple to install. You may find that WINE is bundled in your distribution's core or external package repositories.
Those who don't have this option can go to the WINE site and click the Download button. You may find a prebuilt package for your distribution there. If there isn't a package available, follow one of the WINE Source Downloads links and then follow the instructions in the README file for how to build this program.
Once you have WINE installed, attempting to run a Windows program using this tool is actually not that difficult. First you need to get the program onto your system, whether by mounting the CD-ROM or DVD-ROM containing it, or by downloading or copying the software onto your machine. Then, if this is software you need to install, you need to determine which program launches the installation—this is typically INSTALL.EXE or SETUP.EXE. From inside the directory where the program lives, type wine program. For example, wine INSTALL.EXE.
More often than not, the installation program will launch properly. You might even be able to install the software fully using WINE. If that's the case, don't get too excited yet. The real test is whether the software will run. Programs installed inside of WINE are placed in ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/. You also may have launcher icons on your desktop. If you're starting the program by hand, navigate to the directory containing the program, and then type wine program just as you did before. So, if you were trying to see if you could get the game Bejeweled running, you might change to ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/PopCap Games/Bejeweled, and type wine WinBej.exe. This is the moment of truth. It either will run or it won't. If it does, rejoice! If not, you can search the Web for tips on how to get the particular game running under WINE, or you can try another tool.
Unfortunately, I've had very poor luck getting games to run under WINE, personally—much of that is due to a refusal to spend four days hunting down every possible configuration tweak. I'm sure someone will take away my official Geek card for that. Frankly, I have better things to do. The closest I got this time was pulling out my Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces CD with old Infocom games. The installer worked, and the games would launch, but then they died. Ah well, it was a bit of nostalgia anyway.
Win4Lin is a commercial product (see Resources), and this section focuses on Win4Lin Pro, which allows you to install Windows 2000 or XP inside a Win4Lin framework, which is installed on a Linux system. Essentially, it lets you run a Windows machine inside a Linux machine. Although this product is meant primarily as a business tool, if you have it for “practical” purposes, then why not try using it to run games that you can't get to run in another way? Because this is a commercial tool with plenty of documentation, installation instructions and starting Win4Lin are left to the manuals.
Now, first off, on an older machine like an Athlon 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM, don't even bother. The virtual Windows XP box functions at a snail's pace for just about any operation, even opening folders. Playing any games except for untimed casual ones (for example, Bejeweled, which did work for me) is essentially impossible due to the performance hit—though you get this hit only inside the Win4Lin session, the rest of the machine functions normally. Mind you, one of the older games I always test under emulators, because I kind of miss it, is SimTower, and this is the first time I've gotten it to run. However, World of Warcraft couldn't start its install, because the installation program gave an error claiming it couldn't find a data file.
Note that to get Bejeweled to work, I had to copy the files off of the CD-ROM and install straight from my hard drive. The CD is both a data and music CD, and both Linux and Windows seem to get fussy with it from time to time.