Cold, hard cash from Google's war coffers have funded the creation of software that allows Photoshop to run on Linux. Is it a move to undermine Microsoft's Windows cash cow?
Google recently confirmed in a blog posting
that it had paid Codeweavers to help develop WINE to make Photoshop usable on the well-regarded but still somewhat unpredictable software package, which aims to replicate Windows libraries to enable popular Windows applications run in a Linux environment.
|Woot: Photoshop CS2 running on WINE, thanks to Google
"Photoshop is one of those applications that Desktop linux users are constantly clamoring for, and we're happy to say they work pretty well now," Google engineer and Wine release manager Dan Kegel wrote. "About 200 patches were committed to winehq, and as of wine-0.9.54, Photoshop CS2 is quite usable," Kegel noted in a separate post.
The sponsorship was also mentioned during a Google presentation at Linux.conf.au in Melbourne last month, focusing its Summer of Code student training program. "We have paid for a whole bunch of improvements to a whole bunch of stuff," program manager Leslie Hawthorn said. "We haven't actually talked about it, but we recently paid CodeWeavers to do some work on Wine so you can run Photoshop CS2 and 3"
As such, it's not a big stretch to imagine that prospects for the 2008 program might want to propose further enhancements to the Adobe product line. Coming up with an update process that's not a global embarrassment would be a good start. Patching Acrobat Reader is painful enough on a standard Windows machine; doing so under pseudo-emulation quite possibly violates international anti-torture laws.
Adobe certainly seems to be in Google's sights. "Perhaps not coincidentally, apps like Flash 8 are now starting to work in Wine, too," Kegel wrote. "We look forward to further improvements in this area."
There's a clear parallel between Google's pro-Linux moves (it also sponsored a similar project for its own Picasa image manipulation software in 2006) and Apple's switch to the Intel architecture in 2006. A large part of Apple's user base wasn't interested in making the switch until native versions of key applications -- particularly Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office -- were available in versions specifically recompiled to run Intel-friendly code. Sure, it was possible to run the existing code using the Rosetta virtual machine, but there was a heavy performance penalty, which is the last thing you need when you're running Photoshop.
Google's sponsored tweaks follow a similar logic, though they're necessarily going to be somewhat less effective. Fixing Wine to run particular apps is never going to be as productive as recoding the apps themselves for a particular operating environment (although the latter isn't really an option). Still, making popular applications work via Wine adds extra shine to Linux's longstanding battle for wider mainstream desktop acceptance.
Before we read too much into this, it's worth noting that Photoshop on Wine still involves compromises, unpleasantness and potentially a lot of stuffing around. The release notes point out several of the hazards, including the somewhat surprising outcome that failing to install one crucial font can create major problems: "If you don't have Times32 installed when you first run Photoshop CS2, it will refuse to run ever again, claiming there's a hardware error."
Nonetheless, getting what's still a hideously expensive application to work under Windows seems fairly far removed from Google's day-to-day business needs. (By the way, the Wine code goes out of its way not to work with cracked software, so forget any dodgy piracy plans)
While Google has always encouraged a degree of iconaclism - visible most clearly in its famous edict that engineers can spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever projects they like - actually coughing up cold hard cash makes much more sense if interpreted as a 'screw you' gesture towards Steve Ballmer and the Windows gang. Strengthening Linux doesn't necessarily have to undermine Windows (Vista did that quite well on its own), but it remains a potent side effect.
In the short term, Team MS isn't likely to be publically acknowledge any worries, perhaps reassuring itself that some users of Wine still splash out on a copy of Windows anyway for better reliability. But the company's recent attempts to buy Yahoo! underscore that there's plenty of awareness at Microsoft that the desktop monopoly can't be taken for granted.
Having that monopoly directly undermined by a major rival is not going to go down well. Is the Monkey Dance about to be replaced with tribal war chants? Or will it buy Adobe and work hard on making the code even less Wine-friendly?