The Little Engine That Could
I'm a big fan of Linux. Even though now and again I criticize it, I really like the operating system and want it to succeed. I think that all the releases of Mandrake since version 7.0 have been good, and the 8.x releases are particularly worthy of praise. Linux has so much going for it. It is free in almost all basic distributions, is not reliant on the Microsoft juggernaut and is heralded as being faster and more stable than any version of Windows except for Windows 2000. It is far more secure than Windows XP and is much less oppressive too. It does not try to shove a specific media player or instant messaging client down your throat. It does not try to force you to sign up for Passport or .Net services and no distribution I'm aware of spies on your activities and reports it back to the home base. On top of all that, there is no such thing as Product Activation and Forced Registration.
So with all of these things going for it, what is holding Linux back, particularly in the consumer market? It has a lot of applications, like Gimp, Star Office, Koffice, Mozilla, My-SQL and a whole lot more. It is getting much improved in the area of peripheral support as the kernel adds functions dealing with USB, for instance. It also has impressive video driver support thanks to the Xfree86 movement and improving support from companies like ATI , Nvidia and Matrox. Even printer support is getting substantially better. Now, if they can just get those fonts figured out...
Back on topic. So, what do I think may be the biggest area of opportunity for the consumer market? Why, gaming of course.
It's Time To Play The Game...
Why do I put up with Windows, even though I am totally angered at Microsoft corporate policies? Games. That is the primary reason. I think Windows XP is bloated spyware that shoves all things "Microsoft" down your gullet. I think that Windows 2000 Professional is pretty close to awesome, but it still does not have all the peripheral and gaming performance I would like. I stick with Windows 98 SE for simplicity and compatibility, not to mention raw speed. Almost all of my games play great on 98 SE, and I'm not about to upgrade if I have to leave my games behind.
I've talked before about DirectX and how nice it finally is to have a functional, all encompassing API for interfacing with gaming hardware. OpenGL is great for a lot of things, but DirectX is a broad, well-supported umbrella that helps fend off a lot of the annoying raindrops when a downpour hits you on the development front. It is not perfect, but it is there, and it is being widely used.
So what does Linux have? Well, as a follow up to my previous Linux Gaming article, I want to explore one of these alternatives called the Simple DirectMedia Layer, or SDL. This library is to Linux what DirectX is to Windows, and what started as a grass-roots movement from a dedicated group of programmers is expanding into an incredibly useful tool for creating games for, and porting games to, the Linux platform.
I was able to get in touch with Sam Lantinga, the originator of the SDL initiative, and he was kind enough to agree to an interview. I had some nice back-and-forth discussions via Email and later created a list of long-winded questions that he was gracious enough to answer. He is an extremely patient man, it would seem...
The following pages contain the unedited questions and answers from one of the pioneers in Linux gaming. Hopefully you will find them as helpful and informative as I have.