What Is Wine Linux?

It's not an emulator; it's the Windows compatibility layer you need

Image of the Windows, WINE, and Linux logos.

Not all programs (especially Windows programs) are compatible to run in the Linux environment. That's where Wine comes in. Wine for Linux is a compatibility layer that makes it easier to run the applications you want.

Wine Is Not an Emulator

First off, Wine is an acronym, which stands for "Wine Is Not an Emulator." And although it may seem, at first blush, that WINE is just that, it isn't. WINE doesn't emulate Windows. What WINE does is a bit more complicated than that.

How Does WINE Work?

Both Windows and Linux have their own APIs, but because these two operating systems are vastly different, their APIs are unable to communicate with one another. This means there’s no way Windows applications can run on Linux, at least not without a compatibility layer. And that's exactly what WINE is...a compatibility layer. 

With WINE in place, a Windows application API call is converted, on the fly, to the corresponding Linux API call. 

Of course, it’s not just about APIs. To function properly, Windows applications also rely heavily on Dynamic-Link Library (DLL) files. Fortunately, WINE provides its own versions of various Windows DLL files. And if a DLL is supplied by WINE, it's capable of loading native Windows DLL files.

The one thing WINE can't do is communicate to the Windows kernel directly. When such communication is necessary, WINE passes those calls on to the Linux kernel. If the program needs to do something the Linux kernel cannot, WINE translates the call into something Linux can work with. 

It’s an incredibly complicated system that is doing very complex work.

The Big Picture

The most important thing to understand about WINE is it allows you to run Windows applications on Linux. Not every application is supported, but the list grows year by year. To find out what applications are supported, check the WINE Application Database.

To use WINE, you must first install it on your Linux computer. Once installed, you can then install Windows applications using the wine command. If the application in question is supported by WINE, you should have no problem getting it up and running.

GUI Tools?

If you don’t want to deal with the command line, the GUI tool playonlinux can be installed to make using WINE a bit easier. With this graphical application, you can install Windows applications by selecting the category, choosing the application you want, then installing it.

Of course, some applications require a purchased license and some will even need the installation CD or downloaded file. Regardless, playonlinux makes installing applications with WINE incredibly easy.

Screenshot of playonlinux.

PlayOnLinux is a good solution for a lot of things, but if you're looking to play games with WINE, there's a newer application better suited to making Linux gaming a breeze.

Launch GOG Galaxy from Lutris

Lutris is a Linux game library manager that lets you easily and automatically install Windows games on Linux using the latest WINE releases, including special ones tailored for certain games and situations. With Lutris, you'll be able to install Windows games on Linux nearly as easily as you would on Windows, without the need to configure anything. Lutris will keep your game configurations separate, allowing you to install as many games as your hard drive will hold without worrying about them conflicting with one another. For gaming with WINE, Lutris is easily the best way.