January 21, 2019
Archives  Features  Crossing Over: Wineskin Review & Discussion  

Crossing Over: Wineskin Review & Discussion
August 13, 2013 | Justin Ancheta

Click to enlarge

Advanced - Configuration: Wineskin's Configuration tab, in the Advanced panel.
Within these options lies the second main strength of WINE: modularity. CrossOver uses a singular, stable version of its implementation of WINE across all of its installed Windows apps. In contrast, Wineskin allows a user to use multiple versions of WINE (or the open source CrossOver versions of WINE) with Windows apps. You can even change the version of WINE being used with a given application. For troubleshooting and compatibility testing purposes, this is a powerful feature. Among end-users, this represents an excellent method for maintaining compatibility with apps that may have been left broken with revisions and upgrades with CrossOver or WINE itself. In fact, what is perhaps the primary (and potentially strongest) advantage of Wineskin's design is that unlike CrossOver, each Windows application resides in its own self-contained compatibility "wrapper". The wrapper is effectively a .app file with it's own self-sufficient installation of WINE (whose version you specified upon the wrapper's creation) and your game installed therein. To a casual outside observer who wouldn't know any better, a Wineskin-wrapped Windows game would (for the most part) look, act, and smell just like a native Mac game. The only potential giveaways would be potentially slower performance compared to an equivalent native Mac port, and longer load times, as WINE's API translation magic kicks into gear, in addition to any Windows-specific in-game UI conventions. This is somewhat analagous to the Bottle functionality of CrossOver (and other similar WINE implementations like PlayOnMac); Windows applications are, upon the user's request, installed in separate self-contained environments to allow for app-specific tweaks to the WINE environment to maximize performance and compatibility. Bottles however, need CrossOver itself to be installed in order to function, and they usually have to reside in a specific location, namely "~/Library/Application Support/CrossOver/bottles". In contrast, Wineskin-wrapped Windows games can be placed wherever the user desires, just like an ordinary Mac application.

This may bring back some memories for Mac gamers who were around at the start of the great Intel Switch across the Mac web, gamers debated back and forth about the virtues and pitfalls of commercially developed and sold "ports" of Windows games, which were really little more than Windows games sold to Mac users within a commercially-forked version of WINE (Transgaming's Cider). To this day, an ardent community has continued that practice, making a cottage industry out of the creation of pre-made .app wrappers for games, often made using Wineskin. Of course, all this being said, the power and versatility of Wineskin does come at a cost; as with many things in the computing world, good things seldom come for free.

"The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair."

The first main disadvantage lay in Wineskin's two main strengths: access to configuration options and modular WINE installation. To new users, particularly those who are either uninclined or unable to handle a peek behind the WINE compatibility curtain, the sheer number of options available to a Wineskin user may be daunting. If a given game doesn't work, what sort of options should you start out with first to tweak and change? Which WINE engine type should you pick? For that matter, how would you even know *what* to fix? Like the notoriously cryptic Mac OS 9 or even earlier System 7 error messages of old, looking at a trace file or a crash log for a Windows app running in WINE can be a seemingly almost impossible task for a typical end user. A startup crash could mean any number of things, with any number of fixes, stemming from any number of factors arising from the complex interactions being made between your Windows app, any Windows DLLs present, WINE, Wineskin itself, and your Mac. If you're lucky, the game's programmers coded their game well, according to Microsoft's guidelines for use of the Windows APIs, and your game will "Just Work" (tm). If not, your game's programmers may have specially tweaked their code for a specific version of Windows, a specific set of Windows-compatible hardware, or coded their game sub-optimally, or just called on the Windows APIs in ways which would have left the boys at Redmond shaking their heads disapprovingly. Regardless of the cause, the end effect is the same hours and hours of work leading to nothing but frustration. Heaven help you if you bought a game with the intention to run it in Wineskin, only to realize that it will never work or never be playable due to bugs in the core code of the game that were never brought to light within a "native" Windows installation.

The second main disadvantage of Wineskin is its clunky handling of what I'll call accessory applications for Windows games. On older (and even some newer) Windows and DOS games, it was routine for games to commonly come in two parts; the game itself, and an associated "setup.exe" program that would be launched outside of the game to configure its various options. In many cases, these .exe files configured advanced graphical options, rebound key commands, or additional game-related esoterica intended for debugging purposes. (For Mac gamers, this is a somewhat alien concept after all, doesn't it make sense from a UI standpoint to have all of the game's configuration options directly accessible from within the game itself?) CrossOver handles this by thoughtfully and neatly grouping games and their associated "setup.exe/config.exe"-type applications together in its Applications Menu. If you need to access a game's configuration app, it's there, within quick and easy reach. Wineskin on the other hand makes you do this completely manually; you have to use Wineskin's Custom EXE Creator to hunt out a game's setup app, and then make another .app file for that application. The end result is a .app launcher for the game's setup app, that's dumped into the same place in the application wrapper's bundle as the Wineskin app itself. To access it without having to use the Finder's "Show Package Contents" option, you have to create an alias to place that app within reasonable reach.


Archives  Features  Crossing Over: Wineskin Review & Discussion