A few days back, Google did something which took everyone by surprise. It released Picasa - a very popular and advanced image archiving tool that also includes a lot of photo manipulation features - for Linux, which till now only worked in Windows . But what was cleverly shielded from the average user was that Picasa released for Linux is the very same Picasa for windows but running on top of Wine - an Open Source implementation of the Windows API on top of X and Unix. In fact any body who uses Picasa will not be aware that he/she is running a windows software in Linux unless it is pointed out.
Wine has been around for a long time now and there are even companies which operate for profit such as Codeweavers who sell a fine tuned version of wine to allow people to run Windows software on Linux. But what amazed me when trying out Picasa was the degree of integration of the software with the native OS. For the first time, a company has proved that it is possible to successfully package the windows software to work efficiently in Linux with minimal or no configuration needed at the user's end. Of course, Google has worked closely with the Wine developers to make this a reality. And a lot of code written by Google developers - 200 patches to be exact - have been contributed back to the Wine community.
Now here is the interesting fact. There are countless Windows software out there which is used on a daily basis by different sets of people but which does not command as much popularity as to get the free software community sufficiently excited to start working on a similar project. I myself was really fond of a free software called KeyNote which I was using on a regular basis on Windows. And I was a bit disappointed when I couldn't find a similar software in Linux. Wine project will give incentive to such people who are tied down to using their proprietary/free Windows only software to switch to Linux.
So the question is how is what Google has done different from say, what Codeweavers has been doing for so long? Well, Google has integrated wine with one particular software to make it seamlessly work in Linux where as Codeweavers is essentially a fine-tuned version of Wine which can be installed on Linux and it is up to the user to install and configure the necessary Windows software on top of it.
The need of the hour is for more and more companies to take a leaf out of Google's book and integrate Wine libraries with their Windows only software to make it work seamlessly in Linux. So tomorrow for example, if an Adobe releases a version of Wine lib integrated Photoshop for Linux platform the same way that Google has done for Picasa, then we would see more people embracing Linux. And as more and more companies come forward and ship their products with a self contained version of Wine to make them seamlessly run in Linux, then I would say it will snap the last thread which is holding back a large section of the users from ditching their proprietary OS for Linux. And Linux would achieve mass appeal.
At this stage some might have questions as to how it will affect the GNU movement. If something like this happens, then there will be both positive as well as negative effects for GNU community. The positive one being that a major section of the people would be exposed to GPL-ed software, start liking it and even cultivate a taste for the GNU philosophy. And the negative one being the free software community will still not be able to ween away people from using the proprietary software to which they are tied to.
And finally, will wide scale adoption of Linux bode the death of Microsoft ? Not really. Nobody can wish away a multi-billion dollar company. Microsoft will evolve itself like all great businesses do and move on to greener pastures. And along the way (hopefully) discard their unfair business practices and stop trying to monopolize the market.