Cider offers another way to Windows

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This week Macworld has featured a multi-part series on running Windows on your Intel-based Mac entitled Four ways to Windows, covering Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, VMWare Fusion, and CrossOver for Mac. There’s another Mac-to-Windows technology that merits a mention— TransGaming’s Cider technology.

In all fairness, a direct comparison to these other technologies isn’t appropriate as Cider isn’t something you can go out to a store and buy or download from a Web site. But it is serving to bring Windows software to Mac OS X—specifically, games—and it does so only because Macs made the switch to Intel processors, just like these other tools.

TransGaming’s Cider is essentially a translation layer technology that sits in between the Windows game and the Mac OS X. When the Windows game makes a request of the computer to draw a circle on the screen, for example, Cider makes sure it’s code that Mac OS X understands. It’s not a one-size-fits-all technology; TransGaming and the game developer need to do some work to make sure that Cider works well in the Mac OS X environment—but it’s a fundamentally different process than the way Mac game conversions have been (and are still) made, which requires a source code level conversion — a lot of very labor-intensive work that can take a lot of time.

The Cider process works a lot faster than emulation does, and it’s not just theoretical. It’s already been used to bring a few games to the Mac. Freeverse introduced the technology earlier this year with its release of Heroes of Might and Magic V, and more recently GameTap released its very first Mac offering, Myst Online: Uru Live. CCP games is using Cider to create a Macintosh version of EVE Online, a massively multiplayer role playing game set in outer space (think of a giant, 3-D multiplayer version of Escape Velocity).

What’s more, TransGaming is making inroads to present more graphically intensive PC games on the Mac using Cider. The company struck a deal with Nvidia to enable Cider to use high-level shaders developed using Nvidia’s CgFX framework. CgFX provides in-roads to graphically intensive games that might not otherwise run at all in Mac OS X.

Cider’s related to Cedega, a similar standalone translation layer technology TransGaming has made for Linux. And Cedega is a distant relative of WINE, the same open-source technology used by CodeWeavers in its CrossOver software. The difference is that TransGaming is wholly focused on making games run well.

Cider’s future on the Mac largely depends on how effective TransGaming is at marketing the technology to game publishers who don’t have their hooks into the Mac market already. Although the early efforts TransGaming has made have been with companies that are releasing Mac conversions after the Windows game ships, TransGaming’s hope is to see same-day, same-box releases.

If that can be managed effectively, it could really change the face of Mac gaming. No longer would Mac gamers have to wait months—sometimes a year or longer—for conversions of their favorite games. They could expect Mac games to ship at or about the same time as their PC counterparts.

The folks at TransGaming tell me there will be a bunch of other announcements surround Cider this year, as well, so we’re only warming up with it.

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