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Confessions of a Linux user

by Simon Brew

Linux User columnist Simon Brew has a confession to make. He has a Windows 7 installation for two reasons, but only because Linux can’t play the same game…

This article originally appeared in issue 96 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Confessions of a Linux user Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

Can I talk about two things I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about here? You see, I do have a Windows 7 installation on one of my PCs. And I have a Windows 7 installation for two reasons.
One, that I like to play Blu-rays back, which are protected by the overlords at Sony and their magical game of “we’re not sharing our ball with you”. Two, I like to play games. Really big games. Crysis-esque games.

The first of these two confessions rightly makes me feel just a bit dirty. I’m perfectly aware of my double standard, that I’m basically playing along with a game of control that I absolutely despise. Yet what are my options? I love films, and I love watching some of them in high definition. I’ve no desire to get a letter through the door about illegal downloading activity, and even the act of ripping a Blu-ray disc involves me breaking the law. Thus, the only legal way I can watch a Blu‑ray on a computer is via a proprietary operating system and, right now, a copy of PowerDVD that shows just how far Cyberlink’s policy of nagging you to death has come.

Thus, reluctantly, I have to play the Windows games, to watch Blu-ray films. For some time, this was a cheaper option than a standalone player, remember.

On the games front, though, I think things are more interesting right now. PC gaming is in an odd place, having being pretty much dumped by retailers, save for a shelf at the back of the store. And instead, it’s working more and more on a digital distribution model, via services such as Steam and Direct2Drive. Steam, as you may know, has also just turned up on the Apple Mac, bringing with it a gaming platform that allows Apple users to enjoy a selection of major game releases. There’s a sense of progress there.

So then: can Linux play? I admire immensely the ingenuity of some of the games writers who have released their wares onto Linux. I also remember that the likes of Quake dallied with the idea over a decade ago. But while gaming isn’t the main reason I use Linux, I’d still dearly love to load up a game of Football Manager, or Crysis, or Black Ops. Yet I can’t.

The reasons are depressingly familiar. On the one hand, the PC market is tight enough outside of subscription-based titles such as World Of Warcraft, and big developers will get far greater returns by targeting the console market. Furthermore, just getting them to develop for the PC in any form is becoming increasingly difficult, and fragmenting that development time across Linux and Windows is a no-no.

Secondly, games developers will want to charge, and there’s a question mark over where that ultimately sits with the open source community. Some have no problems, others feel it goes right against the founding principles behind Linux. When you throw in too that there’s no chance of source code being released into the open to tinker with, it’s too many reasons for developers not to bother.

Call me a heathen if you like, though, but if I’m paying £30 for a copy of Black Ops, I’d far rather play it on Linux than Windows. Sadly, the final nail in the coffin for that idea is Microsoft’s DirectX box of tricks, which is so firmly ingrained not just in PC game development but also Xbox 360, meaning it’s a seismic shift that’s required to make even the idea of this happen.

Which leaves me with a very reluctant Windows 7 installation running regularly, which then further endorses to Microsoft HQ the strategy that it’s deployed. So what do I do? Do I abandon what I want to use a computer for doing sometimes, or do I play along, grumbling in columns such as these for the foreseeable future?

Surely there must be a third way? If there is, I assure you I’ll shut the heck up for a bit and talk about that instead…

The MMO model
Perhaps the one model that could work on Linux would be something akin to World Of Warcraft, where monthly subscription fees to the main game service may be a more agreeable pricing model. It’s also in the interests of Blizzard to make its game available as far and wide as possible, so as to maximise subscription revenues. After all, a World Of Warcraft player spends around £100 a year. That might just be worth the bother…

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    • jake

      Actually this should be titled “confessions of a windows user who dabbles in linux” :/

    • Bill Pickett

      I have two machines, a high-end rig running Windows 7 for games and this mid-range laptop which runs Fedora 14. I like Linux, think it is awesome and use this laptop for essentially everything but games. The games I play on my desktop.

      I think the future is open, open-source game-engines, assets, and so on. Getting there will take a paradigm shift: content creators will have to see that allowing others to remix their works is a good thing and monetize where it actually makes sense and that is the high-bandwidth servers. You pay for access to a server where everyone else is and when the bandwidth you’re looking at is say 10-20MB a second that is not going to come from a home access point.

      The bridge for all existing software as I see it is along the lines of the WINE project. An API translation layer, or a High-Level Emulation of the target operating system. Some day, I see that gaming will open up and WINE or an equivalent will handle the legacy titles.

      And if commercial vendors don’t want to play along, well, open engines and assets are progressing just fine and will only accumulate into the future. In 20 years, everything needed to make a triple A title will be available for remix.

    • If you asked me 8 or 7 years ago, I would be right there with you, and to be honest to some level, I still am. My only response is that my gaming habits are still focused in 1996 and haven’t really progressed pass 2000. When you consider that emulators (dosbox, epsxe, zsnes) and engine rewrites (scummvm, gemrb, exult) cover a large part of my tastes, and that wine has a much better success rate on those games left (fallout 1 and 2, morrowind, homewold), I find that I’m not going to windows as much. The best game I’ve played in years is 2D Boy’s World of Goo and like most indie games, it’s available on all 3 major platforms.

    • marh

      I left PC gaming over 10 years ago when you had to have 3 different $200 video cards to play the games you wanted AND they still crashed for random active X errors and other bs anyway…….now the hardware has caught up but I just resigned myself to owning a PS3 where I can watch blu-ray netflix & hulu.

      ALL the pc’s in my life are linux with the occasional dip into XP (via vmware player) if I absolutely need something from big bill.

      with 11 years now to fix the gaping wide swiss cheese hole of RPC and other windows vulnerabilities I MUST use linux to keep my sanity. Formatting and re-installing XP for my family every 6 months (if your lucky to last that long without a virus) is not an option.

      Its not a moral issue or anything…if you have to use win7 and your ok with the malware hell then more power to ya. I just couldnt do it anymore.

    • macias

      I use Linux (openSUSE) and Windows 7. Windows for gaming (World of Tanks, nothing else) and for main reason — programming. Visual Studio (C#) and the entire environment does not havy anything comparable in Linux world (I also have to admit, that C# is so far the best language despite its all shortcomings; only D is comparable with it, as language).

      I think it is a shame that none of the Linux companies (ex.Novell, Canonical, Red Hat) didn’t develop any language or suite dedicated for Linux, to help developers, to help themselves and Linux in return. Microsoft is determined, and it pays off — now it is more comfortable to program using Windows, not Linux.

    • jediafr

      Insteresting reading, although my personal experience is somewhat different having switched completely from windows 3 years ago.
      First some Windows games CAN be played on linux via Wine mostly.
      Not all the games but sufficiently to play : CIV 5, COD Black Ops and the best RPG ever created…even some Steam games are working great… (still not finished Half Life 2..)

      Being safe from viruses, not having to restore the system once in a while is great too !

      Just my 2 cents…but from my perspective (a father with 2 kids and few hours to spare gaming) it’s worth it, and the side benefit is that every new Distro version doesn’t kill my games installation !

    • Tom

      OnLive will save us…if they ever get a linux client. :-/ Maybe not

    • TK

      Games, games, games. It’s tempting to tell someone there are perfectly good alternatives to stuff like WoW in Linux. You may as well tell someone they should live on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean – it’s land, isn’t it?

      No, unless your friends are playing the same games, you miss out.

      Having said that, I have WoW working quite well in wine on a 3-year old machine with a low-end video card.

      As far as paying, I’ve seen second-hand quotes about RMS having no problems with games requiring pay since there’s artwork in games that should be paid for. I’ve looked around and can’t find a direct quote but it does make sense. That’s tangent to the game engine being closed or open, another discussion altogether.

    • That explains why I’m not missing Windows. I stopped playing games when I was 30 or something. Just a waste of time. I don’t play BlueRay stuff on my machine – not even DVD’s. I just rip ’em there to play on portable devices. And development is much easier here – and so rich! Using mostly C, Forth, PHP and shell scripting, I don’t miss braindead languages like C# or Java.

    • Xanderburns

      I despise Windows to a point of not liking working with it at school when I REALLY NEED to. When I bought my netbook it came with 7 starter. Since then my view of windows changed. Why does Microsoft restrict so many features from there OS? Greed is terrible and I am not buying a 400$ copy of Windows ultimate to get what MS has truly made! At least OSX does not have any versions but even apple makes me bananas when it comes to putting a cap on they’re products, Like Itunes (not as good for MS and none for Linux). So I decided Linux, I am currently running Jolicloud and I love it! I find Linux is so much more awesome. Developers have so many nifty and good ideas for the UI of netbook OSes and they make it so costomizable compared to Windows. No stripped down versions and no greedy business men making us pay for the sake of making more money. Gaming I can kinda understand but WINE was made for a reason and there is always a Open source alternative available.

    • There are so many ridiculous comments here, it’s almost laughable.

      The writer has his point made – he’s a linux user that’s still feeling the grip on the not-so-open market. While OSS operating systems can exist, he’s still feeling not so open to his options in terms of pleasing or feeding all of his desires.

      Stop all the hatin’.

      “active x errors” in games? when? when games ran in IE?

      Some games can be played in Wine…some games can be played in steam on Mac…yet they all run better in Windows on the same hardware. Direct X coddles game developers so they flock to it. Having done both direct x and open gl programming – I know.

      I use Linux every day to accomplish everything “productive” in my life – yet I use OS X or Windows in my leisure time. I know this guy’s pain. Use the best tool for the job – that’s the motto right? It’s why in every creative department, you see rampant photoshop and illustrator usage. Right now, the best tool to play Direct X games, is Windows.
      I used to be able to add to that and say – “and the easiest OS to find new software for that fits most users’ needs is a mainstream desktop OS such as OS X or Windows” – but I can’t say that anymore. Ubuntu is by far the easiest in this regard now.

      See – the times, they are a changin’.

      I can only hope that OpenGL becomes the de-facto standard again, and Direct X becomes second fiddle. I don’t do the whole blu-ray thing, so my one machine would rule them all – but then again, I like this separation; a clear separation of work and play keeps me focused.