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Linux heads to everyday use with games

Computer gaming makes inroads into the Linux realm, indicating the advances the operating system is making into mainstream use.

Computer gaming is making inroads into the Linux realm, indicating the advances the operating system is making into mainstream use.

One of the standouts in the area is Loki Entertainment Software, which last year began its push to translate existing computer games to Linux. The company has entered a partnership with game company Activision to bring several games to Linux and is organizing several efforts to make it easier to use games on Linux machines.

And today, Penguin Computing, a maker of Linux computers, said it will begin selling a game-oriented Linux machine October 18. Final pricing hasn't been set yet, but the machine will cost between $2,200 and $2,500, according to Penguin account manager Garrett Michelson.

These moves indicate Linux's gradual move from having a stronghold as a server operating system to being utilized by desktop users, generally a less technically sophisticated person than system administrators.

It's a move that has caught the attention of several companies, including Caldera Systems and Corel. But Linux still has a way to go before reaching parity with Windows, which gains easy support from companies who build video cards and other gaming-oriented hardware.

Game support for Linux is "getting better," but still has some growing to do, Michelson said. For example, commercial games don't yet support joystick use, though Michelson expects this to change soon.

A demonstration version of one of Loki's games, "Myth II: Soulblighter," will be distributed with a package of the Debian version of Linux being sold by computer maker VA Linux Systems and book publisher O'Reilly and Associates. Loki also sells versions of "Civilization: Call to Power" and "Railroad Tycoon II" and is working on "Heavy Gear II" and "Heretic II."

Simple games aren't difficult to get working on Linux. But as with any computer system, it's trickier when the games have to take advantage of the latest hardware. For example, sound and video cards aren't officially supported on Linux by their manufacturers, so Linux systems can't always take advantage of all the features.

Those issues can be sidestepped by getting supported hardware, though. The Penguin Computing gaming machine, which is based on a 500-MHz AMD Athlon chip, comes with a 3Dfx Voodoo 3000 video card and a Sound Blaster PCI128 sound card. It also has a Logitech Wingman Extreme digital joystick.

Penguin Computing's Michelson said the quality of Linux support is one of the key factors in determining which hardware to put in the machine. The company went with the Logitech Wingman Extreme, for example, because the Red Hat Linux installation program includes it as an option and the software support is well established, even though Logitech doesn't support the product itself.

Creative Labs, the manufacturer of the Sound Blaster sound card, hasn't been noted for its support of Linux hardware, but that's beginning to change now, Michelson said. Test versions of some Sound Blaster sound card drivers now can be downloaded from the company site.

Loki has been working to improve the foundations for gaming in Linux. Yesterday, Loki released an open-source game installation utility designed to make it easier to load games onto Linux machines and to uninstall them as well. The company developed the software in the course of producing the "Railroad Tycoon II" software.

Loki also has been working on open-source projects to improve how well Linux handles JPEG graphics files.