Linux is a great operating system, but its software catalog can be lacking. If there’s a Windows game or other app you just can’t do without, you can use Wine to run it right on your Ubuntu desktop.

Wine is a work in progress, so it won’t run every application perfectly — in fact, some applications may not run at all — but it’s improving all the time. This beginner’s guide will get you up and running with Wine.

Wine Application Database

The process of finding out whether an application will work with Wine and tweaking it to work can be tedious, so the Wine project hosts an application database known as the Wine AppDB. Search the database for an application to see ratings, comments, tips, guides and tweaks left by other users.

Platinum-rated applications run perfectly, with no tweaks required, while garbage-rated applications don’t run at all.

For many apps, particularly popular ones, you’ll find a full guide to installing your application in Wine, as well as tweaks to fix any annoying issues.

Installing Wine

You’ll find Wine available in the Ubuntu Software Center. Both stable and beta versions are available — here, version 1.2 is stable and version 1.3 is beta. The stable version is more tested — sometimes, a regression in the beta version can cause an application to stop working, but some applications will only work with the newer, beta version. An application’s entry in the Wine application database sometimes contains information about the necessary version of Wine you’ll need.

Running an Application

Once you’ve got Wine installed, you can download an application’s EXE or MSI (Microsoft Installer) file and double-click it — just like you would if you were using Windows — to run it with Wine.

This isn’t always the best way to run an application. If you’re encountering a problem, you can run the application from the terminal to see detailed error messages that can help you troubleshoot the problem. Just use the following command:

wine /path/to/application.exe

If you have an MSI file instead, use the following command to install it:

wine msiexec /i /path/to/installer.msi

Bear in mind that many of the error messages don’t matter. For example, the fixme message here indicates that Wine doesn’t contain support for a specific function yet, but the application runs fine without this function.

If the application requires installation, install it as if you were using Windows.

Once it’s installed, you’ll find its shortcuts in your applications menu, and possibly on your desktop.

Wine’s Utilities

The Wine package comes with a few utilities, which you can access from the applications menu. Just type Wine in the application menu to search for them.

Wine’s configuration dialog contains a variety of options, some of which you may need to get applications working. You can set the Windows version Wine behaves as, or set specific Windows versions for each individual applicaiton. Other options include graphics, audio and theming settings.

The Uninstall Wine Software utility lists your installed software and allows you to remove programs.

The package also includes Winetricks, a helper script that automates some tasks. Winetracks can guide you through installing certain popular applications and games — you won’t find every supported application here, though.

The Registry & File System

Many applications require registry tweaks to work properly. You’ll often find information about which registry entries to modify on the application database. Execute the regedit command from a terminal to access Wine’s registry editor.

Wine uses a virtual Windows file system, which is stored in the hidden .wine folder in your home folder. Use the View -> Show Hidden Files option in the file manager to reveal it. Once you have, you’ll find a folder named drive_c in the .wine folder — this folder contains the contents of Wine’s C: drive.

Fun, geeky fact: Wine stands for “Wine is not a Windows emulator.” It doesn’t emulate Windows; it’s an implementation of the Windows API for Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris and the BSD family of operating systems.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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