Its maker, Microsoft, managed for years to maintain a virtual monopoly on PC operating systems because of the absence of any credible alternative. But with the rise of tablet computing has come the realisation that not only Windows but the PC itself is suddenly dispensable.
The problems with Windows are twofold: it’s never been remotely as good as the MacOS systems on which Apple computers operate, and it’s expensive. What’s more, it’s become disproportionately expensive – for while the price of computer components has fallen over the years, the relative cost of Windows has not. It’s now the dearest single component in many new PC systems.
So for PC diehards, the prospect of an alternative that’s not only free but can run traditional software like Photoshop, and flawlessly so, seems too good to pass up.
That system is Wine, a software “go-between” that lets users run Windows applications without a copy of Microsoft Windows. Wine isn’t an operating system in its own right, just a layer that sits on top of free systems like Linux. It doesn’t run every Windows program but offers seamless compatibility on many of the most recent and popular applications. Used in conjunction with a free graphical operating system like Ubuntu, it’s an option that could save you up to £80 on Microsoft’s current asking price.
The developers of Wine list the compatibility of just about every known Windows program on their website, wiki.winehq.org. These are grouped in batches, from Platinum (those which install and run flawlessly out of the box), through Gold and Silver (requiring some configuration), down to what the site calls “Garbage”, whose conversion is deemed not worth the effort.
Of course, if you already have a working version of Windows on your PC there is no point in switching. But if you’re contemplating buying a new machine and you don’t mind a few hours’ tweaking time, Wine is an option you might consider.
The moral of all this is to choose your next device based on what you’re likely to be using it for. The PC is just one option among many now, and Windows but one of the products capable of operating it.