Linux Gaming: Your mileage may vary

Game Cheats aims to be a reliable source of information for it’s readers. In order to do that, GC provides it’s users with a balanced view of the Ubuntu (and Linux in General) experience. All to often on Linux blogs, the writers seem to be completely out of touch with the end user experience. They will tell you that you can do anything in Linux that you can do on Windows or Mac – in theory this is true but in reality it doesn’t always hold up.

Gaming in Linux can sometimes be VERY frustrating as there is a lack of support on many commercial games. This is not an issue with Linux but by the fact that developers are not providing Linux versions. For those developers who actually do port their games to Linux they face an extremely difficult supporting Linux users simply because their are so many variations of Linux (Ubuntu, Redhat, Arch, Debian, etc, etc, Ad Nauseam) and so many different combinations of hardware — a positive of point Linux, the fact that it can be run on all types of hardware, is a disadvantage on this point.

This is further complicated by the fact that many of the video drivers, though often working well out of box, are not always supporting the full capabilities of the hardware (my ATI HD 5650 is a perfect example). This is because many of the drivers were written by the Linux community who don’t have the full hardware documentation needed in order to take full advantage of the video cards. Again, this is not an issue with Linux itself (or the developers for that matter).

Just remember, until recently, even Apple didn’t have a lot of gaming support. We Linux users need to increase in numbers — which is why I fully support Canonicals goal of on-boarding 200 million new users.

If you are a heavy gamer on Windows and thinking about moving to Linux, you should take all I’ve just said into consideration before making the leap.

Having said that, I would like to talk a little bit about gaming on Linux.

There are many games available in Ubuntu. Many of these games have been developed for free by the Linux community as well as some commercial games (the Quake series comes to mind first).

The first place you will want to look for games (once you have installed Ubuntu of course) is Ubuntu Software Center which can be found in the main menu (or in the Unity side bar if you are using the latest version of Ubuntu). Simply click on the games link (see image below) to get the listings.

At the time of writing this there are 516 free games in the Ubuntu Software Center. The games range from the simple to 3D First person shooters.

You can also find a few commercial games in the Ubuntu Software Center by going into the “For Purchase” section located to the left navigation pane. World of Goo is there for example.

Online Games
Another option for Linux gamers is the increasingly complex gaming experience one can get through the web browser. As “the cloud” slowly takes over every aspect of our lives, more nad more games are moving to the cloud. Two good examples of this are:
  • Quake Live – This is pretty amazing considering you are running it through a browser. It currently only supports Firefox 3.6 on Linux but you can download the modified version of the plugin here (which just version bumps the extension) to make it work flawlessly on firefox 4. UPDATE: Tested and works on Firefox 8
  • Angry Birds – I don’t need to bother telling you what this is. You know. It requires the chrome (or Chromium) browser.

There *are* other options for gaming in Linux (using Wine, crossover or emulators for example) but I intentionally did not cover them as I do not think they are suitable for end users.

Since I wrote this, Desura (an Alternative to Steam) now offers a Linux client and provides many Linux games

You may also want to try humble bundle – they offer many games which you decide how much you will pay for. All of their games run ob Linux (as well as Windows and Mac)

Cross Platform apps for dual boot users

If you are like me you may have to use windows for work (or perhaps just for gaming). I’ve found that one issue with dual booting is that you occasionally need to run an app that is unfortunately located on the other OS.

After getting frustrated with this scenario I started looking for applications which are available on multiple platforms (esp., Windows & Linux).

The first place to look is a website called “Alternative to“…. here they provide a list of apps which have the same if not similar functionality as the one you select. Furthermore they also show which platforms they will run.

My Choices

The first app I install on any OS is dropbox. Dropbox is an online app which provies you with online storage. The free accounts give you 2GB of space but you can get more by prostituting yourself for them (I’m up to 5gb now).

Besides storage there’s another reason that I use dropbox. The output from all of the cross-platforms apps goes into my dropbox. This way I have the same data no matter which platform (even on my Android mobile).

Nevernote is a Linux (and Windows) alternative to the Evernoteclient. For Linux users the main advantage is that you do not have to run the official client through WINE (an application which allows you to run some windows programs under Linux). Though this is cross platform, since the data can be synced online I would recommend that in Windows to use the official windows client. I’m currently investigating a way to sync the nevernote configuration files (including the offline content) with dropbox.

If you use mind mapping  programs you probably already know about XMind.  I have set the program to always open the last diagram which is placed in my dropbox. Any new files are also added to dropbox so that no matter what machine I am on, I have access to the files.

Keepass is a password safe which is available on many platforms. For Linux (and MAC I believe) you can use keepassX. On Android, you can use KeepassDroid.
Again, dropbox comes into play as I sync the keepass database with it. That way, I never have to worry about my passwords.

This is just a *small* sampling of the cross-platform applications available. In my opinion, especially as the desktop OS becomes less relevant, cross-platform applications will be a necessity. People will be need to be able to access the same data with the same apps across all types of devices. We have been promised that the ‘cloud’ is the solution but I have to disagree with this – it still has a lot of issues (esp., privacy and licensing issues).

I’ll continue adding cross-platform app reviews in future posts.

Lessons Learned – Don’t use Ubuntu in business if the system is not 100% supported

Over the past month, since I received my new laptop (Acer Timelinex 3820tg) I’ve been on a mission to (almost) completely use Ubuntu for my business needs.  I have:

  • Installed Office 2007 (sans Outlook) through PlayOnLinux (a WINE configuration tool)
  • Installed Windows XP in a virtual for when I need to VPN into the office network (sadly, the Linux CISCO client doesn’t work on the company network) and also for Outlook (seamless mode works nice).
  • Set-up all of the network printers from the domain.
  • All of my documents are stored in Ubuntu with the VM having access through shared folders.
  • All critical documents added to Dropbox
Everything had been working well, until today. So imagine, there I was with a client, I was sitting in their office with a number of their colleagues connected via webex (enter dark sinister music). Since I had to VPN into my network I had to use the virtual machine for the demo I was going to provide. I opened up my browser, connected to Webex and then the fun started.
After connecting (in the XP VM), I tried going to the start menu to select an app, it came up with a shortcut dialog -no app, just a damn shortcut dialog telling me where the shortcut lead to. OK. No issue. Just don’t touch the start menu. Improvise I kept thinking. So I switched to the PowerPoint I had open and then the webex connection died. Then my whole network went down! I switched back to Ubuntu, same issue – network dead. I could not connect to anything. I was panicking (internally at this point – with a nice cool exterior). I made a few jokes about technology and how it’s causing my hair to turn grey. A few chuckles from the crowd.  Then I realized that the whole webex meeting had cancelled itself.
So to cut it short , I could go on trust me, I made a few frantic calls to the PA and had a new webex session set-up. I then grudgingly (without the customer noticing) rebooted into Windows 7 (which hadn’t been set-up with anything other than dropbox and VPN).
In the end we lost about 30 minutes because of my blunder. Luckily the demo was a success though :)
The lesson learned? Over the past month I have been experiencing multiple tolerable issues with my laptop. I failed to think that those issues could be problematic in a work environment. It was quite stupid of me really. Up until now I had happily been using Ubuntu at home but I never put it through the stress of a corporate environment… and when I decided to do it, I did it on a system I knew wasn’t working right. I was being STUPID.
Somehow Webex is a culprit. How, I do not know. But for now, I will NOT be doing any webex demos from Virtualbox.