Updated: October 15, 2016
Roughly five years ago, I tested PlayOnLinux. My first reaction was, blimey, was it five years ago? Damn. It feels like only a few months back. Anyhow, this program is a very nice wrapper for WINE, allowing you to install Windows software with more ease and a higher chance of success than just manually. In Linux. Need I say that?
Back in 2011, PlayOnLinux did an okay job, but as I aptly titled the article, there are no miracles. Some of the stuff simply did not work. Fast forward a lot, WINE seems to have stagnated, at least in my experience. Winetricks looks outdated. Which leaves us with PlayOnLinux, and recently it did an excellent job of getting Sketchup 3D to run on Ubuntu. So, we are giving it a second chance. Five years is a long time in the binary world. Let us see if and how PlayOnLinux has changed. Perhaps there will be a miracle this time. To wit.
Well, we know Sketchup runs, but what about other software? PlayOnLinux has a rich listing of stuff. I am going to ignore cross-platform software, because there's really no reason to install Firefox or LibreOffice using this program, when they run natively in Linux. The extras of this kind do feel like artificially inflating the catalogue listing without adding any real value to the framework. After all, we want to be able to run Windows programs.
Catch 22. If you really need Windows programs, your biggest obstacles will possibly be the browser, the office suite, and maybe some image manipulation or video editing software, the likes of Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and Adobe (R) programs.
To boldly WINE where no one has ...
I started with Microsoft Office 2013, which is available for download as a trial, complete with a temporary serial key. Scratch that. I started with an older, outdated Office 2010 version first, as I thought it would be easier, then reconsidered. Even so, I got an error. PlayOnLinux was telling me it could not proceed without winbind, which you need to install in Ubuntu, in this case, using the package manager. Why not auto-satisfy dependencies please?
Then, I realized I must as well test supported software, so Office 2013 it is. The wizard immediately prompted a warning, telling me this was experimental software, which made me feel skeptical regarding the outcome of this attempt. Anyhow, I let things be.
The setup started with PlayOnLinux downloading all sorts of dependencies, including Mono and such, and then, briefly after, it failed. It wasn't able to even start the Office setup. I didn't get to the stage where you're asked for your serial key. This is rather bad, because it could have made for a lovely and powerful experience.
I decided to try Kindle, iTunes and Internet Explorer 8 next. These little programs are not exactly the bread and butter of daily use, but they do represent software that Linux users may need. In particular, Apple software could be of use if you have an iPhone, and you are not too happy with how it interfaces with Linux, as I've thoroughly explained in no less than three different articles. Maybe even five. Clicky clicky for education.
Kindle worked fine. The iTunes setup started with a disclaimer - it can't sync. So what's the point really? Why would I install this if it can't do the most important thing, which is to load music and videos onto Apple's phone? Still, I let it install, and install it did, but then it was as useful as a wooden log is for sewing sweaters.
There's more. PlayOnLinux is all about 32-bit, so it won't work with 64-bit software. Which means it won't be able to auto-download iTunes, and you will need to do it yourself, manually. Why? What's so difficult in getting the right version automatically?
The wizard also complained about iTunes not being installed correctly, but then it did run as expected, save for the sync functionality, which was already disclaimed earlier.
Internet Explorer 8 installed fine, but then it would repeatedly and constantly crash when trying to open a new tab. It would appear the last time WINE was able to actually support this browser was in the age of IE6, and this puts it deep in the era of the somewhat dead Windows XP. That's also probably an indicator of how relevant, sadly, truthfully, brutally, realistically, WINE and all its sibling frameworks really are for mainstream use.
I didn't fiddle with games, and I did not try LFS, which turned out to be a total flop in the last version of WINE, even though in the past, it used to run majestically. Here's another regression added to the list. That's Linux for you. Plus, in the games menu, there are so many disclaimers and bugs and things that don't quite work, I'm really wondering if this is worth the bother. Yes, PlayOnLinux does magic compared to raw WINE, but it offers a pretty shoddy support for Windows programs. Yes, it's best effort and luck, but that's not something I would ever bet my livelihood on. No, I would never use this kind of approach to run production software, or my games.
Once again, PlayOnLinux is a nice, laudable effort, and it does make WINE that much better, smoother and easier to use, and it helps people in dire need of Windows software on top of Linux get some results. But that's not enough. The results are far from perfect, and often you will encounter bugs, crashes, and weird, inconsistent behavior.
So yes, PlayOnLinux sometimes delivers great surprises, like Sketchup. Most of the time, Windows software just won't run the way you expect, and there's really no reason to go this path. If you can afford native installations, please do. From a quality and stability perspective, the compatibility layer is totally broken, and you will only get a partial success, far and few in between. Five years later, a lot has changed, but then none. The dream of being able to use Windows software in Linux is still that. A sweet illusion. And PlayOnLinux is your warm milk before sleep. Okay, worth testing, do it, but hold not thy breath. And we're done.