Saturday, February 28, 2009

[IF and Linux] Introduction


I'm planning to start a series of posts on interactive fiction and Linux. The idea is to find out how easy it is to play and make interactive fiction on a modern Linux distribution. This should be a help both to Linux users who wonder what software to use, and to writers of IF-software who can see where the lacunae are.

Linux is an interesting platform for the IF community. It is by now a desktop OS that rivals Windows and OS X for features and ease of use. Though its market share (on the desktop, the server is another story) is still far below those two*, we can assume that its market share among people (potentially) interested in playing or writing IF is significantly higher: the average Linux user has more interest in programming and more willingness to use text interfaces than the average Windows user.


When I'm looking at certain software, or a certain task, I will be asking three things:
  1. Can this be made to work?
  2. If so, does it work well?
  3. How easily can it be made to work?
Ideally, things work well without the user having to do anything complicated (like building something from source code). The user I will have in mind is someone who is comfortable using a package manager and familiar with Wine, but not comfortable with compiling programs from source code.

Package manager?

There a several ways in which you can get an executable program on your Linux computer. From easy to hard, these are:
  • Download and install it with the package manager for your distribution. This is incredibly easy; easier than running a Windows installer, for instance. It is like going into a menu and clicking a button that says "download and install program X for me!", and then it just works.
  • Manually download the package from some website, and then install it using the package manager. (Installing Gnome-inform7 currently works this way.) This is about as easy as running a Windows installer. Anyone who can play IF can do it.
  • Manually downloading an executable file ("binary") and putting it in /home/USER/bin, or some other directory meant for binaries. You can then run it from the command line or make a launcher. This is still OK, though you need a little familiarity with your OS.
  • Running a Windows executable using WINE. If it just works it's pretty easy, though you need to install WINE first. If it doesn't just work, getting it to work can range from the somewhat hard to the outright impossible.
  • Compiling from source. Theoretically, this is as easy as typing "./configure", "make" and "make install". In practice, it is often harder, and it is something that many general users will not be able to pull off. (I hate having to do this myself, since I can rarely get it to work.)
There are a couple of other ways, such as running a virtual OS, but let's not go into that.

* Or so I gather from statistics on the internet. I personally know a lot of people who use Linux, and only two people who use OS X. I guess all those physics and philosophy nerds just aren't a representative sample. ;)

1 comment:

  1. I made "The Endling Archive" under Ubuntu. The only blorb tool I was comfortable with using to package the Glulx story file with multimedia was Gblorb, a blorb tool for Glulx that doesn't seem to handle iFiction records. Also, I couldn't get the JIF IDE to work correctly. Inform 7 may have been a better choice for the project, but I was in the habit of using Inform 6.

    - Kazuki Mishima