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Cedega 5.2 review

By Jem Matzan

It's been said many times in many forums, blog posts, mailing lists, and comment sections: GNU/Linux won't really go far as a desktop operating system unless it can play the same games that Microsoft Windows can. For years, TransGaming has tried to make the dream of running Windows games in GNU/Linux into reality, and to a small extent it has succeeded with its Cedega product (formerly known as WineX). Since development moves so quickly, it doesn't make sense to review each individual point release, so this review will take a look at the state of Cedega circa version 5.2.7.

Cedega overview

This section is for people new to Cedega. If you're already familiar with what this product is and what its basic features are and just want to find out about the latest enhancements, you may want to skip down to the next section.

Cedega (formerly known as WineX) is a WINE-based Windows application programming interface (API) emulation framework. Basically it uses many of the same files that a Windows program needs to run to essentially fool a computer game into thinking that it's in Windows. Think of Cedega as CrossOver Office for games; instead of concentrating on business and desktop applications, Cedega focuses on entertainment.

So what's the catch? Well, Cedega doesn't work with every Windows game -- in fact it's safe to say that it doesn't work all that well with most games when you consider just how many there are, but the development team tries to work hardest on compatibility with current titles that are most popular with its customer base. The company is extremely responsive, posting game and technology polls and a monthly technology update so that subscribers can see how their money's being spent.

Speaking of subscribers, TransGaming doesn't charge for releases; instead, it charges a monthly subscription fee of U.S. $5, with a 3-month minimum initial subscription. So you pay $15 upfront and get to vote on game and technology support and receive any new Cedega releases for three months. Thereafter you must pay $5 per month to maintain your subscription. If you cancel, you can still use the software you downloaded, but if you want an updated version, you'll have to renew your subscription. You can also pay for an entire year at once and get a month free -- that's $55 upfront, but you miss out on a few of the community benefits that you'd get if you had a monthly subscription for a term of 18 months or longer. Lastly, you can buy extra votes for $5 each. So if you really really want your favorite Windows game to be decently supported, you can buy up a stockpile of extra votes, use them all in the next monthly game poll, and hope that there isn't much effort that has to go into getting it to work with Cedega.

Recent new features

Since there's a new bugfix release of Cedega out almost every month, it's hard to pin down one certain version and explain its new features. Cedega evolves slowly, with each major release offering improved compatibility with a number of popular Windows-based games and technologies, and fixing bugs that crop up after game patches and updates.

In addition to the usual host of bugfixes and improvements for specific games, the Cedega 5.2 release brought with it some changes that make it easier to provide game-specific configuration options, and a Games Disc Database (GDDB), which automatically detects and installs supported games with the best known settings. Both are invaluable features, and I can't imagine having used Cedega without them. There have been 7 point releases since then, each fixing some major bug in a popular game.

Putting it to the test

The first challenge was installing Cedega, and that requires proprietary video card drivers for your video card. If you've already done that, there shouldn't be any trouble. Cedega is even easier to use on Mandriva Linux 2007 PowerPack edition because a free copy is included and installed by default. The version installed with Mandriva is 5.2.6-oem, and the current released version as of this writing is 5.2.7 -- so Mandriva is a little out of date, and will become more out of date as the release gets older. The standard download edition installed perfectly on Ubuntu 6.06 (with proprietary video drivers added) as well.

Cedega 5.2
The Cedega 5.2.7 shell (click to enlarge)

Cedega goes through a series of graphics and sound tests to make sure that your operating system is properly configured. Most commercial desktop GNU/Linux users should pass this test without any trouble at all, and as previously mentioned, the video card is the biggest hurdle. Once you pass the tests, you'll go to the Cedega shell, where you can install new games.

For this review I tried a demolition derby racing game called FlatOut, which comes installed on Cedega in Mandriva 2007. It ran perfectly -- no glitches or problems whatsoever on a Sun Java Workstation w2100z (and I put in several grueling hours of testing to confirm that). Once the game is running, there's no way to tell what operating system is behind it.

I dug up my old Windows 98-based copy of Final Fantasy 8 and actually managed to install it in Cedega, but it wasn't playable. I saw on the Cedega forum that some people have managed to get it working to a certain degree, but it was far from perfect. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much user support for older games like FF8 and FF7 and the early Windows titles by Sierra On-Line. That's a shame, but it's not totally unexpected -- those games don't even run very well (or at all) on Windows XP.

The big disappointment wasn't the older Final Fantasy games, but the newer one -- Final Fantasy 11, an online role-playing game. I have a friend who's been after me to get into FF11 for many months now, but I don't have Windows on my workstation, so it'd be a big hassle for me unless Cedega would work with it. Though there are a number of interested Cedega users, FF11 consistently fails to get enough votes to get the TransGaming team's attention, and FF11 does not work at all in Cedega 5.2.7.

It's been 11 years since I last played an online RPG (The Shadows of Yserbius and The Fates of Twinion on the old Sierra Network), and since Final Fantasy was not an option for me, I figured I'd try its chief competitor: World of Warcraft. This game seems to get much of TransGaming's developer focus, and it shows -- WoW worked almost as well for me as FlatOut did. The only real problem I found was a bug that caused unplayably low framerates near bodies of water. The Cedega forum offered a solution that ended up working very well for me, though there was a functionally similar hack listed in the WoW-specific wiki. Unfortunately, I'm now hooked on WoW and am finding it difficult to do any real work.

Cedega 5.2
World of Warcraft under Cedega (click to enlarge)

The last thing I'll mention is something that GNU/Linux users have been grumbling about for years: Nvidia video cards work much better with Cedega than ATI cards. In addition to generally lower framerates, there are also a number of ATI-specific problems with games running on Cedega -- even World of Warcraft. ATI has recently become more serious about improving it's Linux drivers, so perhaps ATI-specific problems will slowly recede with time. For now, though, Nvidia is the way to go if you plan on using Cedega much.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

It was hard to write this review because once I got some games installed in Cedega, I didn't want to stop playing them. I was pretty disappointed by Cedega at first because the games I really wanted to play -- the old Final Fantasy PC games and the FF11 MMORPG -- wouldn't work, and even with my feeble votes going toward them, there's no hope of playing them on GNU/Linux in the near future.

I find myself wondering just how much more work it would take to completely emulate the Windows 9X environment. Will that work continue in the face of a Windows Vista release next month, with new games focusing their development on newer editions of DirectX and the Windows API? I hope so, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting to find out.

The bottom line is that Cedega will work with enough Windows games that it's worth paying $5 a month for, particularly if you like playing games like World of Warcraft, FlatOut, and a host of others (check out the compatibility list to see if your favorite games are supported), but can't stand Windows. At this point in my computing life, I consider GNU/Linux a necessity for desktop computing, so products like Cedega and CrossOver Office are also a necessity if I absolutely need some program that doesn't have a GNU/Linux port. I like Cedega so much that I bought my own user account beyond the month I was given for the review. I don't at all mind supporting TransGaming's work to bring Windows games to GNU/Linux.

Though it's kind of obvious, here's what I'd like to see in future releases:

  • Older game support. There are a ton of older Windows 95 and 98 games that are virtually impossible to play today unless you have an older Pentium 2 or 3 computer with Windows 98 on it. If Cedega could adapt to support even some of these legacy games, it would make GNU/Linux the only modern platform that can play them.
  • Final Fantasy 11. There are enough people interested in this game to get it into the monthly polls, but fans of other games consistently sabotage it from getting to the top of the list. I guess it's more of a personal issue for me, but I'd really like to be able to play this game in GNU/Linux.
  • Set price goals for game voting. Just how many votes does a game need before it gets developer attention? Alternatively, how much money would it cost to get a game working with Cedega? I'd like to see a pricetag or a voting goal assigned to games involved in the monthly poll. If I knew that FF11 needed, for instance, $50 worth of votes to get it working, I might just pay that -- and perhaps others would as well.
Purpose Windows API emulation framework
Manufacturer TransGaming Inc.
Architectures x86
License Mostly the GNU General Public License and other free software licenses, but some parts are proprietary, and the product as a whole is under a proprietary, restrictive license.
Market Computer gamers
Price (retail) Cedega is sold by subscription, but your subscription does not have to be current in order to use the software. New customers are required to buy a 3-month subscription, after which they can choose to let it lapse and pay for updates when they choose. The cost is U.S. $5 per month.
Previous version 5.1
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