Not convinced by LINA

Set for public release next month, LINA is a new approach to cross-platform development. Write your app once, for Linux, then deploy using a lightweight virtual machine, implemented for Windows, Mac and Linux. Why even Linux on Linux? Well, on Linux compatibility is a problem, with a multitude of different distributions out there. A VM provides a secure, reliable and predictable environment for your app. LINA’s creators claim to have solved the obvious problems: access to resources in the host operating system, and matching the look and feel which the user is expecting.

I’ll look it with interest when it appears next month, but I’m sceptical. It strikes me as a heavyweight approach, and I’d like to see the extent to which LINA blends with the host O/S before believing all the claims. Some of the publicity annoys me too. Here’s a quote from the white paper:

All computer users – individuals and organizations alike – make the most fundamental software decision when they choose an operating system. Historically, this choice locks the user into a single, clearly-demarcated realm of available software. As a result, Windows and Mac users have virtually no  access to the vast world of Open Source software.

I do most of my work on Windows Vista, so apparently I have “virtually no access” to open source software. Yet happily installed on the Vista box in front of me is:

  • Open Office
  • FireFox
  • Filezilla
  • Apache web server (installed with Delphi for PHP)
  • Tortoise SVN (Subversion client)
  • 7-Zip file archiver
  • Audacity sound editor
  • Ethereal Network Protocol Analyzer
  • NetBeans Java IDE
  • Eclipse Java IDE

and I’m sure there is more if I spend time looking. All open source, mostly cross-platform. Some of this is on the techie side; but the first two above are true mainstream apps.

Writing cross-platform apps is still a challenge, but easier than was the case a few years back, with numerous viable approaches available. So do we really need LINA?


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5 comments to Not convinced by LINA

  • Yeah, LINA is too little too late. Crossplatform development has gotten good enough and we have plenty of VMs to go around if needed (java, .net, parrot).

    Although I do get a feeling of deja-vu. If you ever fought a DLL problem on Windows you’ll know that feeling… More than once I thought: hm, wouldn’t an ISO with a VM make wonders here ! And consumer PCs are starting to get strong enough that this is feasable.

  • Clyde Davies

    Erm…isn’t this issue what Java was supposed to address?

  • Clyde: yes, but the look and feel is still a problem, although admittedly less and less.
    Also, you have to use the Java language (ok, nowadays you can also consider Ruby, Python, Groovy, Javascript and some others), you can’t e.g. use C or C++, which are still major languages. If I understand correctly, with LINA you can use C/C++/whatever. Haven’t looked into it much yet, though, so I could be wrong.

    Emilian: Parrot is still a long way from being there, and so is .NET.
    Also, “cross-platform development has gotten good enough”? Most applications still aren’t cross-platform, so I’d very much disagree with that. IMHO, cross-platform will be “good enough” once it’s so easy to do that most people won’t even consider not building for both Windows and Unices.

    Tim: sure, you can list examples like Apache, etc. But most of it isn’t available on Windows. Right now, my distribution (Debian) has around 20,000 FLOSS packages available, IIRC. Obviously, there are many more which aren’t shipped by Debian. You can’t run most of them on Windows.
    I agree that “virtually no access” is an exaggeration, though :) But still, only a fraction of all the FLOSS is available for Windows.

    I’m not saying LINA’s going to make everything perfectly cross-platform, I’m kinda skeptic as well. But I’m more than willing to give it a chance. Even if only a few companies start coding for GNU/Linux, it’s worth it IMHO. Beats using Wine to run Windows apps on GNU/Linux.

  • Tim

    Thanks for the comments Ludo.

    Right now, my distribution (Debian) has around 20,000 FLOSS packages available, IIRC. Obviously, there are many more which aren’t shipped by Debian. You can’t run most of them on Windows.

    True, but this is a numbers game that isn’t all that meaningful. I run Mandriva Linux and there aren’t a lot of packages where I think “I wish this were available on Windows”, but find that it is not available.


  • Clyde Davies

    If you’re that concerned about look and feel, then you can always junk the platform independence and develop on WPF, which allows a very high degree of control over it. As for the C++/C argument, the only real benefit I can see emerging from this is in the degree of control you get. It would need to have a major advantage over using a high-level language as devloping in C++ is an almighty pain in comparison.

    This seems to me to be yet another highly questionable OS project into which a lot of effort is being sunk for no significant concrete advantage. People who want their software to get to the widest customer base develop on Windows. Those who choose to develop in Linux do so because they intend to service a niche market or, more frequently, because they really don’t like Microsoft. My business brain would like to see the benefits/USP’s spelled out.