A secretive Manila-based startup is developing software that, it claims, will allow virtually any Windows application to run on the Linux operating system. While fuzzy on details, the company, called SpecOps Labs, says that it has developed a novel approach to the problem, one that uses both existing open-source software as well as proprietary code the company has written itself.
SpecOps' software has been under development since 2002, when an engineer working on an Internet dial-up program for company founder Fred Lewis' previous venture, a Philippines telecommunications company, developed a novel way for running Windows applications on Linux.
Not long after, Lewis read about a U.S. company called CodeWeavers Inc., which had developed software that would run Microsoft Office on Linux. He went back to his engineer.
"Once I saw that and asked him if this was the same thing that he was talking about. And he said, 'Yeah,' although, based on his idea, he would be able to run a lot more programs," Lewis said.
This was the beginning of SpecOps Labs, which, with its staff of 20, hopes to achieve on Linux what many consider to be the near-impossible task of running the majority of Windows applications out of the box. After two years of software development, the company now expects to release its first beta software by year end, Lewis said.
Though SpecOps is reluctant to discuss details of its product, called David, the company has been showing proof-of-concept demonstrations to potential industry partners recently, and last month it enticed Asian Linux vendor TurboLinux Inc. to sign a letter of intent with SpecOps indicating its interest in discussing a distribution deal for the product.
"From what we've learned so far, it seems to be very easy to install, and once it's installed, it seems to run in the background," said Michael Jennings, director of international business with TurboLinux, based in Tokyo. "That makes it very interesting to us," he said. "A lot of the impediment to getting to the desktop is the lack of Office support."
TurboLinux, however, has not committed to shipping David, Jennings said. His company's experience with the software has been limited to observing it running in the SpecOps labs. "We've not seen it on site at TurboLinux's labs, nor have our engineers had the chance to see it directly," he said.
David essentially combines the two most common techniques employed by Linux users to run Windows code. It includes the open- source Wine software -- also used by CodeWeavers -- which implements many of the functions used by Windows programs in Linux, but will also include proprietary implementations of the Windows APIs (application programming interfaces) and a virtualization component, similar to VMware Inc.'s software. These components would simulate parts of the Windows operating system, which would then be used by Windows applications like Internet Explorer or Microsoft Office to run on Linux.
"We're going to use the virtual machine idea, but we're going to do that on a component level," Lewis said. "That's radically different from what Wine or CodeWeavers is doing. What we're doing that with, we're not going to say at this point, but that's just one technique."