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|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Desktop Linux: Ready for Prime Time?
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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Desktop Linux: Ready for Prime Time?
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2005 15:27:54 +0100
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)
Here's an interesting article by Redmond Magazine (Yes, Its the MS Folks!)on
the Linux Desktop. Overall not slanted as much as I would have imagined and
quite informative. Definitely worth a read...
Desktop Linux: Ready for Prime Time?
Several popular Linux distributions are poised to take on Windows on the
by Emmet Dulaney
Talking about Linux is like talking about fine wines. You soon realize there
are many different types and purposes for which each variety is best suited.
Therefore, you need to be specific when discussing and choosing a particular
vintage of Linux.
When someone says Windows, you know they mean Microsoft. When someone says
Linux, he could be talking about Red Hat, SuSE or a handful of others. This
has always been one of the most confusing issues for those new to Linux.
Linux is an open source operating system built around the same kernel and a
core set of utilities. When it was first introduced in 1991, it thrived in
the enthusiast and server markets. Now there are versions designed for kiosk
machines, desktops, workstations, servers and everything in between. You can
download many other versions-usually free of charge-but they aren't
regularly updated or may be tailored for specific applications.
While it's been around for some time, only within the last few years have
businesses started considering Linux for the corporate desktop-often in
place of Windows XP or other versions of Windows. Any vendor may package and
market the operating system, as long they adhere to a set of common
guidelines (the General Public License or GPL). Vendors are free to
differentiate themselves by making certain utilities available only in their
version, adding support and so on, but beneath all that, the core operating
system remains the same.
All versions of Linux reviewed here include office software (mostly from
OpenOffice.org) and typically come with Adobe Acrobat Reader, a graphics
program, at least one Internet browser (Firefox, Mozilla, Konqueror or
something similar), mail applications, instant messaging and the ability to
communicate with existing Windows networks.
Linux Versus Windows XP
Comparing Linux to Windows XP can be tantamount to heresy in many circles,
but it's safe to say the two are increasingly in competition for the
One of XP's greatest strengths is the availability of a huge number of
programs. As Linux becomes more popular, the pendulum could swing in the
other direction, but at this point the balance is still heavily in favor of
XP once you step outside the core office productivity and communication
applications. If you're looking for a reason to justify not switching to
Linux, look no further than the number of applications available for both
On the other hand, if you are considering an open source solution, then you
recognize the fact that you probably don't need your corporate users running
3-D games. What you really want them running are those core office
productivity and communication applications. If you can get by with just
those programs, then there's nothing holding you back from making the
With the Linux desktop running a Server Message Block client, file sharing
is seamless in a Windows network. Most of the time, you can choose various
security levels. The choices traditionally include local (where passwords
and user data are stored on the workstation), NIS (where they're kept on a
network server) or LDAP. Local works well with traditional workgroup file
sharing, while you should use the other levels in larger networks.
Novell Linux Desktop
A couple of years ago, Novell went on a buying binge, snapping up several
Linux companies. Though Novell-best known for its NetWare network operating
system-is gung-ho on Linux, Novell Linux Desktop 9 (NLD) has to be one of
the most under-publicized products on the market. Just trying to find basic
product information can be daunting. Some of this stealth could be because
Novell also markets SuSE Linux Professional, and that product is fairly well
promoted. Another aspect is that Novell prefers to market NLD directly to
its existing customers through licensing agreements.
Built on top of SuSE, both NLD and SuSE have much in common. In fact, the
feature sets pretty much mirror each other with NLD acting as a subset of
SuSE. During installation, you can choose between the KDE or GNOME desktops.
Neither is established as the default. Despite this, Novell strongly
encourages using GNOME because it's related to one of the companies they've
acquired and all new tools coming from Novell will be created in GNOME.
Given this, I'd expect GNOME to become the default desktop for NLD sometime
Installation is remarkably easy, and the system is configured to recognize
Server Message Block (SMB) entries on the network by default. This
automatically configures the system to interact with any existing Windows
networks that you have and saves you quite a bit of configuration. A series
of dialogue boxes gives you easy access to the network and to Windows 2000
Server (see Figure 1). Configuring a printer and other elements is equally
simple and straightforward and I did not encounter any problems during
At the most recent BrainShare conference, NLD factored heavily into Novell's
future plans. It should be no surprise then that NLD's biggest strength is
its ability to blend into an existing Novell network and take advantage of
features like ZENworks (management through policies) and iFolder (file
synchronization). In fact, the biggest disadvantage that I could find with
NLD is its lack of decent documentation, although there have recently been
some PDFs posted on the Novell Web site.
Red Hat Professional Workstation
Red Hat has long been one of the most popular Linux variants in the United
States, and with good reason. While most Linux variants include a firewall,
it's both installed and enabled by default in Red Hat Professional
Workstation. The others that include firewalls may not have them installed
by default. This is a huge security concern, and one of the reasons the
firewall was enabled by default in the Windows XP SP2. The default
installation also includes GNOME for the desktop, OpenOffice, Mozilla for
the Web browser, Evolution for e-mail, instant messaging, sound and video
applications, games, software development tools and administration tools.
Installation was painless and fairly quick. After rebooting from the default
desktop, you have to go through a number of other screens, one of which
encourages you to activate Red Hat Network services. You do this by entering
an ID number, which gives you access to security patches, bug fixes and
Strangely enough, the ability to share files between Linux and Windows
systems wasn't installed by default. This makes it slightly more difficult
to plug-and-play into an existing Windows network than other Linux
offerings. However, adding it to the workstation later is easy enough by
simply opening Package Management and choosing to add the Windows File
Server. This installs the Samba client-the open source/free software SMB
client that has become the industry standard. In all other Linux variants
that I've tried, this feature was always installed by default, and the fact
that it is not here is more annoying than anything else.
Once you have Red Hat Professional Workstation fully installed, you use the
Kickstart Configurator to configure system variables (see Figure 2). While
not as graphical as some similar Linux variants, it's very straightforward
and easy to use. The operating system is easy to manage and I encountered no
compatibility problems with any Windows network.
SuSE Linux Professional 9.2
Just as Red Hat is one of the most well-known Linux vendors in the United
States, SuSE was the leader in Europe prior to being acquired by Novell.
With Novell behind it, SuSE Linux Professional (SLP) is now making
significant inroads in the United States and increasing its market share.
>From a purely aesthetic view, SLP is the most substantial of any of the
Linux variants considered here. With 1,000 pages of manuals, installation
DVDs and CDs, the box alone weighs about five pounds.
SLP also took the longest to install among this group of five reviewed here.
When I was finished, however, the product was ready to use, without any
other configuration. You can make configuration changes once you're underway
with the YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) interface. You can also make
additional configuration changes in the Control Center by selecting Password
& User Account Settings
SLP includes a slew of applications, like the OpenOffice.org suite. It is
one of the most complete and easy-to-use implementations of Linux I
reviewed. Not only does it include the most documentation, it also has the
newest kernel, most up-to-date desktops and excellent configuration tools.
I'd highly recommend it for use in a business environment.
Mandriva Linux (formerly Mandrakelinux)
If you've ever had a relative who tells you over and over that they're your
favorite uncle, chances are they're not. While Mandriva Linux may not claim
to be the "favorite," they do proclaim themselves as the most user-friendly
Linux distribution on the market today.
My skepticism about this claim first arose when I encountered the popup
installation screen (see Figure 4). The options to install did nothing when
I clicked on them. On the other hand, the options to go to its Web site
worked fine. Undaunted, I configured the system to boot from the floppy and
restarted the machine. All went well until I chose to use empty space on the
disk to install the OS, instead of erasing what was already there.
After formatting, it turns out there wasn't enough empty space to install
Mandriva Linux. This should never be a problem. I would have simply chosen
another location; but I couldn't, because there was no way to go to previous
screens during the installation routine. I was stuck at a screen telling me
there was insufficient disk space, with no way to go back or exit (it's
considered customary to put an Exit button on such screens). I ran into
similar issues a handful of times, each time having to disconnect the power
cord and remove the installation CD.
After finally completing the installation (the "user-friendly" CD prompts
all ended with exclamation marks), neither of the graphic interfaces-KDE
(Mandriva Linux's default) or GNOME-would come up. I re-installed again and
it worked better the second time.
Then the Firstboot utility kicked in and an invitation to join the Mandriva
Linux club popped up along with a configuration screen for Mandriva Linux
online. After canceling out of that, KDE 3.2 started up, (even though the
box states that it includes version 3.3). The popup screen told me about the
Mandriva Linux store, Mandriva Linux soft and so on. I just wanted to get to
the operating system.
The Mandriva Linux Control Center provides an interface for configuring the
various operating system components. As with most similar Linux variations,
you can get to all the configuration tools here from outside of the Control
Center as well. There are several versions of Mandriva Linux available. The
PowerPack version includes applications that make it comparable to the other
Overall, I didn't find Mandriva Linux to be that friendly or different from
anything else out there. The commercials for Mandriva-this and
Mandriva-that, while possibly a diversion for a home user, are annoying to
Turbolinux, a no-frills version of Linux, comes in with the cheapest price.
It doesn't include stickers like SuSE. It doesn't come with books or manuals
like all the others. You just get Turbolinux on five CDs (inexplicably
numbered 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6-there's no No. 4 disc).
Installation is straightforward. You only have two choices: Standard Install
(in which you pick and choose what you want to install) and Turbo Install
(which installs everything but the kitchen sink). After choosing Standard
Install, you can choose between three sub-types: Standard Workstation
(1.8GB), Development Workstation (2.5GB) or Everything (2.9GB). KDE is the
Turbolinux has some additional configuration tools in its Control Center.
The only applications included on the Companion CD (disc 3) are Acrobat
Reader and OpenOffice.org. Though there is mention of GNOME 2.4, the desktop
is neither installed nor included.
Overall, I was impressed by Turbolinux as a bare-bones Linux variant. The
installation was smooth and the simplest of any of this group. It would work
well on a kiosk-type machine, but would be limited for use as a business
Run for the Money
Three of the products reviewed here impressed me as suitable for use on a
desktop within a business setting: Novell Linux Desktop 9, Red Hat
Professional Workstation, and SuSE Linux Professional 9.2. All three offered
the ease of use, administrative tools, and the robustness necessary in a
Novell is strongly pushing Linux, and essentially betting the company on its
success. The company has been very successful with creating a strong server
product and is now trying to carry that success down to the workstation.
Because two of the three best offerings (SuSE Linux and Novell Linux
Desktop) are from Novell, I believe that Linux will make inroads into
corporate desktops this year and give Windows XP an honest run for the
Emmett Dulaney, MCSE, MCP+Internet, is the creator of several shareware test
engines, available at www.ds-technical.com. He's the author of MCSE Fast
Track: Networking Essentials (New Riders, ISBN 1-56205-939-4) and other
books. You can contact Emmet about "Desktop Linux: Ready for Prime Time?" at
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