In-Depth

Linux: Ready for Prime Time?

The jury is out on whether smaller shops can actually work with open source operating systems.

I've always been a Microsoft and Windows bigot, and I've suffered for it -- big time. Bosses have chastised me for always recommending a Microsoft solution when there were other companies out there whose software often did the same thing for less. I've paid dearly for being pro-SQL Server when in the camps of the Oracle faithful. I've been denounced and jeered at by Linux, Mac, Unix and even mainframe stalwarts. I've suffered the arrogant sneers of software engineers who simply couldn't accept that Microsoft can write great software.

I could easily roll with all those punches, until Microsoft came out with Vista. First of all, it's priced beyond of the reach of the average Joe's pocketbook -- anywhere from $199 to $399, depending on the edition. And is there really enough bang for the buck to be gained from Vista, aside from the fact that it's the sexy new OS on the block that lets you spin open windows on their sides or put in an administrator password at each system change (which Linux requires, as well), and many other proprietary features?

Microsoft says it's all about the end user and the "user experience," but I think Vista is going to confuse the average business-class PC user even more than they already are. On top of that, Office 2007 is equally expensive, and I believe it will be equally confusing with its ribbon interface and layered menus. Training companies everywhere must be thanking Microsoft for the "gifts" of Office 2007 and Vista.

These factors, coupled with the fact that Vista requires some heavyweight hardware, make me think Microsoft isn't considering its user base carefully enough.

Linux, Perhaps?
One of my computer technology students is a huge fan of Linux. He has experimented with so many different versions that I now have a "Linux lab" crowded with computers running a veritable Heinz 57 of varieties. I have Damn Small Linux (DSL), Linux XP, Fedora Core 4 and 6, SuSE 9.2 and 10.2, Mandriva, Ubuntu in all its iterations, and others we have yet to even try.

This Linux-crazed student also pointed out www.distrowatch.com, a Web site that tracks the popularity of various Linux versions (although I'm sure there are tons of other Linux-specific sites out there -- and let us know if you have a favorite you'd like to share).

Some of the Linux operating systems are nice; others aren't so hot. My student's enthusiasm, however, got me interested in seriously exploring the viability of Linux alternatives to Vista.

Drink Up

What if you have a favorite Windows app you need to run? This is where Wine, the freeware compatibility layer software for Linux, comes into play (find it at www.winehq.com/). With Wine, you can run all those Windows programs you can't live without on a Linux host. Not everything runs well (or at all) in Wine, so it's worth testing various apps to see how they perform. -B.H.

I began my search in earnest with a couple of magazines from the U.K. (Linux is really hot in Europe). One magazine got deep into the specifics of installing and running Linux. Another focused on Fedora Core 6, another on SuSE 10.2. Each magazine came with the installation code on disk. Those types of magazines are an easy entrŽe for people who have heard of Linux, are comfortable with operating system installs and want to broaden their horizons.

While I have a lot of experience with Microsoft server and personal operating systems and application software, in no way do I qualify as a Linux expert. So I bought both magazines and secreted them home to read from cover to cover. I was particularly attracted to the fact that most Linux distributions came with several hundred free software packages -- including OpenOffice 2.0. One of the magazines said OpenOffice has between 80 and 90 percent of Microsoft Office's capabilities. It also includes Evolution, an equivalent to Microsoft Outlook.

Open for Business
After using OpenOffice for a while, I found that those 80 to 90 percent equivalency claims were both true and false. In some cases, OpenOffice has functionality equivalent to Office 2007, like the ability to save a document as an .XML or .PDF file. Other aspects were less equivalent. For example, while Evolution is much faster than Outlook, it doesn't appear to be able to connect to more than one account like Outlook can. I wanted to connect to both my Comcast and Hotmail accounts, but couldn't do so with Evolution.

OpenOffice also lacks an Access-like database, any OneNote clones and a plethora of other Office features. In most cases, though, if there's something you really need, there's probably an open source equivalent.

Some of the other attractive software components included were:

  • GIMP, an open source photo editor that comes close to rivaling Photoshop
  • Audacity, a voice recording and editing package
  • Totem, a media player (that simply refused to play .WMV files)
  • Nautilus, the Gnome interface's file explorer

There was a host of others, as well, all with goofy names and functionality similar to what you'd find in Windows. Near as I can tell, the Linux development camp has been mighty busy, staying up late at night fueled by high-caffeine drinks and writing application code.

Houston, We Have a Problem
As marvelous as Linux sounded in those magazines, I ran into all sorts of installation problems. In an earlier life, I played around with SuSE and liked it, so I installed SuSE 10.2 first. When I tried to install it on my Windows XP box as a dual boot (which the magazine said is nicely supported), the installation procedure whacked my Windows boot partition. Apparently, this was a known SuSE problem, but was allegedly corrected before 10.2.

I tried SuSE on a couple of other machines with no installed OS and encountered GRUB (a Linux file partition) errors each time. In one case, SuSE installed without issue and detected but didn't install drivers for either of the NICs I had installed in the box. I had no desire to poke around Linux forums looking for legacy NIC drivers when XP detected and installed them just fine.

Next, I tried installing Fedora Core 6. Installation went well, but then the GUI wouldn't come up. I never got it to work -- not on any box upon which I tried the install. The command line came up, and I had no idea how to fire off the GUI after that.

Unlike Vista (which is a GUI OS with a command shell), in Linux you install a command shell, then the OS installation sets up the GUI. This is somewhat similar to the old DOS and Windows days. SuSE supports both popular interfaces -- Gnome and KDE -- out of the box. The GUIs these days are fairly sophisticated, but at the end of the day Linux is a command-line OS. Gentoo is one of the Linux operating systems you can only get in a command-shell version

Keep an Eye on ROI

Financial folks will want to know if the return on investment (ROI) is there for Linux. Until you can demonstrate to those holding the moneybags that you've got a money-saving opportunity, you won't have much support from above.

So, can you really save money with free software? The answer seems obvious: Of course you can. But consider the following:

  • There are significant costs involved in simply putting people to work changing out the old OS with the new, even if you use something like SMS.
  • Training people to use the new software entails tremendous operations and maintenance costs. They must be trained to use the new OS and applications.
  • Porting Windows apps may be a huge hassle. Ultimately, my guess is you'll wind up reinstalling Windows on some PCs in which Linux simply won't play with a needed app.
  • Help desk and PC support costs will increase sharply at initial deployment time, and will remain there for a long period before they settle back down.
  • If you really need a new application, chances are you'll find it in the Windows world long before you see it in Linux-especially if it's an oddity.
  • Just because it's open source doesn't mean it won't break as easily as a Windows app. Open source players mark their code as "stable" or "unstable," so you know what you're getting into. That doesn't mean the documentation is well-written (or even there), however, or that you'll be able to get updates later.
  • Getting support at your level may be tough, as well. If your Ubuntu server is broken, will you get the level of support you could get from a Microsoft SPSS engineer? That's uncertain, but Linux vendors require that you pay for routine support.

These are just a few of the financial questions you should consider before converting to Linux. It might be that Windows isn't that expensive after all. -B.H.

Ubuntu was next on the list. First, I installed an older version (5.2) because I had the CD available. The OS installed and came up nicely, but after going through Ubuntu's automatic download and install updates procedure (which was sweet), my screen resolution went from 1024x768 to 600x400 and wouldn't go back. There were no other choices. I had giant icons on a 19-inch monitor.

You have to download Kubuntu if you want the KDE interface. I was originally a KDE fan, but thanks to Ubuntu, I've switched allegiances to Gnome. Think Mac versus Windows, and you'll have a basic idea of the differences.

At least Ubuntu completed and connected to the Internet. So I tried another Ubuntu iteration called Ubuntu Christian, which includes superb Web-filtering software. This installed completely and ran just fine, as did Kubuntu. I did not try Xubuntu -- a small footprint rendition designed for older, slower computers -- or Edubuntu, which is designed for young school kids.

It was clear to me that if I was going to run Linux at all, it had to be Ubuntu. This is the easiest and fastest way to get up and running without a lot of hassle. It's no surprise that Ubuntu is the top dog on the distro watches.

Linux for the Masses
As a strong Windows advocate, I had one question in mind while I was tinkering with Linux: Will the typical business user be able to effectively install and use this OS? Here are my overall impressions:

1. Until all flavors of Linux install completely and fully -- detecting 99 percent of hardware like Windows does -- the average business user can't or won't use it. They simply don't have the skills to surf the forums looking for drivers or go through complicated command-line extractions and installations from a .TAR or .RPM file.

The Ubuntu Add/Remove Applications feature is a huge bonus to the Linux camp, but there needs to be a lot more work in the area of hardware-detection and driver installation.

2. The choice of more than one GUI can be confusing. KDE? Gnome? X-Windows? What's your favorite? Choice is good in toothbrushes, but not so much when it comes to OSes.

3. The GUI interfaces are different enough to cause confusion as to where the start button toolbar is located, what browser to use and other basic operations. Some Linux installations like Ubuntu have two bars -- one on the bottom and one on the top. Imagine that clueless guy in Accounting who can barely drive Microsoft Office trying to figure out which button to click in Ubuntu.

4. Most use IE -- not Mozilla or Opera -- because that's what came bundled with Windows and that's what they know. The choice of Mozilla (Gnome) or Konqueror (KDE) will be daunting.

5. OpenOffice 2.0 is quite functional, but most will be stymied when trying to perform basic tasks. However, I do actually think the OpenOffice interface is better than that of Office. It's more intuitive and in some cases easier to use with more tools at your fingertips.

6. While Linux will talk to Windows networks and connect to Windows-based printers (and vice-versa), it's no trivial task to get it to do so. Most users have little or no clue about Windows networking. Throw in Samba and they'll check out -- it's as simple as that.

Parting Shots
I started out as an advocate of SuSE and KDE. Today, I'd tell you that if you're going to convert your users, you should consider Ubuntu and Gnome. They're significantly friendlier, in my estimation. You can also extend the life of those older PCs by using Xubuntu. And the OpenOffice interface will definitely agree with 95 percent of average users.

That being the case, Linux is 50 to 60 percent of the way toward the realm of large-scale adoption. LAMP -- which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP -- servers are already making headway into the datacenter, pushing out many Windows Server installations (see "Linux Gains Windows Muscle," July 2007).

If Linux developers can match the sophistication of Windows with seamless installation, detecting nearly every hardware component and running numerous applications side by side, that would make a tough run for Windows in the future.

Until you can somehow get across to the average user that you've got something simpler, easier to use and more capable than what's currently in vogue -- plus it's free -- you won't see large-scale adoption. For example, my wife, who's the CIO for a large government department, says it doesn't matter if Linux rocks. She's simply not going to go through the pain of reinstalling all the PCs and training the users.

As Walter Cronkite used to say, that's the way it is. (And by the way, this article was written entirely in OpenOffice Writer.)

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Aug 21, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

Linux definitely has its place in the market; the Linux global communities have made amazing progress in the last year or so and is in many cases is the preferred OS when it comes to senior IT technicians (just an opinion). Yes it’s hard at first to use but practice makes things easier, the more you use it the better things get. Change is inevitable and with the fantastic people out there continuously contributing to the bigger OPEN picture the better and easier thing will become. Support from the big boys also helps tremendously IBM, HP, DELL etc.

Tue, Aug 21, 2007 william hong kong

I would not be too criticising here. I think the point of this document is made clear enough: First Bill mentioned inappropriate pricing of Vista having so limited new functionalities, then as a non-linux windows expert, he spent some effort trying to install and use Linux, spot out all problems, and concluded that Linux, same as almost all software in the world, has room of improvements. As a non-Linux Windows user myself, I thank him for writing this document. I think he speaks for most of us Windows administrators. This is nothing to blame on Linux-illiterate people.

Mon, Aug 20, 2007 Miles Baska Anonymous

Your mistake with Ubuntu was using an antique version -- the 7.04 version detects a LOT more hardware than anything previously, and it networks nicely w/ Micro$oft. I also recommend Automatix2 to get your audio/video codecs.

Tue, Aug 7, 2007 Bruce Pierce Owensboro

Linux has come a long way as far as installation. I remember having to make a boot disk and using a Linux version of fdisk to make the partitions before even beginning to install. Now it is as easy to install as the current version of Windows and costs a whole lot less. If you are using SUSE, YAST is a wonderful configuration tool that can even be used to setup APACHE. As for regular users setting up a PC or Laptop I'd like to know were you work. I'd venture to say most IT shops are still installing and configuring the Desk Top before the user even sees it. I'd say this is the best time as any to "slide" a LINUX machine to the users. With the differences between XP and Vista the average user would not notice much, as opposed to the Accounting Dept.

Sun, Aug 5, 2007 Keimoto Anonymous

WYWIWYG. (What you wrote is what you get.)
The world is always much wider than we think.

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 anonymous Anonymous

His is an illinformed idiot.

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 WJM Erie Colorado

Oh, come on, now. Are you REALLY trying to tell me that you can't learn enough to run Linux? To be honest, this whole thing sounds like an MS funded excuse to bad mouth an OS. Ever try installing 2000, XP or Vista? Ever sat through the 6 or 7 reboots that the system requires just to install itself? Or had to locate and stuff in 4 or 5 additional driver discs when all the system tells you is "I've found new hardware, want to install it?" wihout telling you WHICH piece of hardware it is even talking about? I've been using linux since 1999, and back then you had to know every spec about things like your monitor and chipsets on cards. Now, things like Suse, Mandriva and Unbuntu find your hardware and install drivers without rebooting once. As to OO, how long did it take you to learn how to use Office in the first place? Personally, I'm sick of software that I can't tell to TURN OFF various aspects of, like the CONSTANT "I know what YOU want and it's THIS" type of crap that MS does. Drives me absolutely bonkers! I KNOW what I want to do, and it's NOT the MS approach. That applies to the OS itself, which has some of the most stupid, silly, vapid ways of doing things, as well as their applications packages. I hated them back when I used 95, 98, and 2000. XP didn't make any of that better, it just compounded them. And what the hell is with that stupid little "Find files" Doggy? What BUSINESS needs THAT? Real cute, and does NOTHING but steal computing time. Here is what I see as the two main points here: 1) If you aren't willing to learn something new, you won't like Linux. It actually has the gall to require that you have a brain and be able to use it. Reading would be a good plus, too. And since you didn't learn MS 'ware immediately, either, it seems like a small thing to ask. 2) You can either pay for the OS, then pay for the Office suite, and then Pay for Photoshop, and PAY for the virus checkers, and PAY for every other piece of software you need, and take the required 6 or 7 HOURS it will take to install all of that, or you can get ANY linux distro for FREE, and not have to PAY AND PAY for any of it. And I've installed Linux on mahines in less than an hour, ALL software included. And it's ALL included. And if you are so inclined, you can even help contribute to it, something that MS not only doesn't allow, but will laugh in your face if you propose it. ---------- Sorry, but this is just more of the same crap I've heard for almost a decade, now. It MAY have been true when I started using Linux, but it no longer is. Those of you who keep saying that Linux isn't ready for actual use do a rudimentary install, complain that it doesn't find EVERYTHING for you, and then complain because it's NOT MS. Of course it's NOT. But try and install your precious Vista and THEN tell us how easy and intuitive it is. I've spent LOTS of time installing BOTH MS and Linux, and I will take Linux EVERY time. I don't spend time yelling at the OS for choosing such stupid ways of doing things, and trying to figure out how to turn OFF their improvements when I use or install Linux. With MS I've been told I'm going to have a coronary while trying to use it. It's just not worth the trouble, anymore, and MS products are getting more and more cutsie and annoying all the time. You're a professor, why not teach HOW people learn, instead of looking at Linux, and saying "It's NOT MS, so the heck with it". Hardly doing your students a favor, are you? Get out of your comfort shell for a change, and LEARN something. Try doing the same things, like INSTALLING MS and see how "easy" THAT is. THEN compare the two. Then compare what it COST you to get a working system up with all the software you need, and THEN come back to me and tell me you're getting yor money's worth. Figure for a pro version of everything you will be spending close to a grand for everything you want with MS, and with Linux you can do it ALL for free. Value"? You tell me.

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 Stomfi Brisbane, Australia

Being from the Graphical Workstation camp. I have always found Windows on Intel to be hard to use, not friendly and extremely counterproductive.

It demanded too much repetitive user input, had no "cron" daemon for automating tasks, was incredibly slow, the standard database was difficult to setup, and one couldn't add any user extras without learning a formal programming language.

Yet the application programs were all clones of those found on high end workstations of the '80s.

The GUI interface was not zoomable, no virtual viewport and only one desktop. Application windows were designed for the small screen Apple MAC with drop down menus, a long way to move the mouse with
today's 19"+ screens.

Add to all that the long term lack of multi-tasking, and multi-user ability and you've got a system only a system seller and a time wasting user would love.

Luckily Linux came along to save the day on Intel, PPC and M68K. A virtual clone of a professional workstation on cheap hardware, yet fully customizable and optimizable to the CPU.

These days one can get the latency down to under 3ms, perfect for real time music and video mixing, and one can choose a low memory window manager for maximising application performance.

Compared with Linux, Vista sounds like a real donkey. I'm glad that my work demands I be very productive so I'll never have to use it.

I'm looking forward to even more speed next year with Linux on a cheaper version of the new Sony Cell workstation with 326+GFlops. Maybe I'll mortgage my house and get one of those Big RED Movie cameras to go with it. I wonder if it will speak to me.

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 Hywel Wales

Hey ease up on this guy! at least he's given it a shot, this is something we all want for people to do.

JUST GIVE IT A TRY.

Correct he would have done himself and his readers a great favour by using something more up-to-date before writing this article, perhaps he will read everones comments and try again, with more of an informed choice.

So come on try again and update your article.

Sat, Aug 4, 2007 Isaac Anonymous

I've been using Linux since 1995, and as my only operating system (yes, desktop!) since 1996. So I have fought many more uphill battles than you have, and I fully understand what it feels. I can succeed only because of my education background (I had been doing computer engineering in university back then). On the other hand, things changed, and it is easy to get along with Linux nowadays. A single advice will probably do it all, rather than trying to repeat other people about their arguments. Simply try Linux together with somebody else who are knowledgeable about Linux, rather than trying it yourselves. You will find that most problem is actually simply because it is not Windows, so it do things slightly differently than what you expect, and somehow you don't get it. With somebody to explain to you the difference when you encounter them, you will be surprised that indeed there are only so many differences, and that indeed it is very (too?) similar as Windows.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Elliot Panama City, Panama

I have been using MS products for about 15 years, and I'm currently manage a Windows network of about 150 users, but since 2003 I'm using Linux at my place and Windows when required (specific software like Illustrator). You didn't make your home work (a deep study of what you were trying to find). You are misleading some facts: "OpenOffice also lacks an Access-like database". Indeed Open Office has "Base", not so powerful like Access, but you can create forms, reports, queries, etc. Point 1. do you forget that every PC hardware (not Mac) on earth is made to be "Designed for MS Windows"? and those manufacturers are in business to do money no good friends? that they provides only Windows drivers and no Linux drivers? and those manufacturers has closed every bit of its drivers code, so FOSS programmers are forced to "invent" their drivers from scratch? Point 2. The main GUI's are KDE and Gnome, if you don't like the first one, then you can go with the other one, easy. Others like, XFce and FVWM are "choices" too. Do you like choices? Microsoft says that choices are good, ODF or OOXML?. Point 3, "The GUI interfaces are different enough to cause confusion...." jjmmm, are you using Vista? how many of you are using Office 2007, are you seen something different from Office XP, 2003? feel confusing? Point 4. oooh yeah! thanks to Microsoft bundling IE with the OS. With many of today distros you can go to the menu and find "Internet Browser" or something like that, this is not so brainier. Point 5, I partially agree. Point 6, tell Microsoft that share its network specifications with others, and you will see!

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Alex Anonymous

Are you sure about all of this? This article seems flawed in so many ways... Examples:

- The maintenance cost can be bigger for the first time, but once systems are set it stays that way for a long, long time. It is probably equal or less to buying new Windows for every computer.

- Ubuntu didn't have version 5.2, but 5.04 and 5.10. Software expert should be aware of the versions :).

- True that IE is the most used browser. But, how many of them are expert users in IE. Most people just start it up, type an addres and press "Go". How exactly that differs from Firefox or Konqueror?

P.S. Seamless installation? Let's think of Ubuntu, not Windows... shall we ;)?

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

"OpenOffice also lacks an Access-like database"


You're wrong. Not only does it have the ability to create txt, xml and dbf type databases, it has excellent connectivity to other kinds of databases. I use to to connect to our Oracle db. In addition, OpenOffice has the ability to create data-aware forms with parent-child tables.

Oh, I forgot. You can create tables, views, queries, etc. using a GUI form that looks and behaves almost exactly like Access.


Your six points and closing shots are weak, to say the least, and reflect the ignorance you demonstrated about OO database capability.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 richard easton

give me a break; i'm almost linux illiterate, but i've easily loaded pclos, ubuntu, kubuntu, suse and mepis on my spare computer (hp sempron 64 bit slimline). Everything works flawlessly except: the wireless (yes i need to figure out ndiswrapper); the acpi compatability for suse (won't shut off no matter what i do with the bios acpi); there are peculiarities in package management in k ubuntu (i can't get flash either through the command line shell or adept synaptic). but two distros, pclos and mepis are almost flawless. the faults are all mine with regard to them. i'm running mepis (i prefer debian packages). it looks great and runs like a sprinter on only 512 of memory.
Mepis is easily as good as xp or vista; whoops, it's essentially free or almost free, i have sent money to Warren because i like his product.
i'm just tired of the obvious ponzi scheme that is M$. i mean, now we need 2048 of memory just to run a computer that doesn't do much more that my pentium III did with 128 of memory.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Paul Atlanta, GA

I appreciate your honesty. even though I might argue with your overall findings.

Yes, I believe Ubuntu is probably the best (coming from a long time SuSE user), I think you should be using the latest Linux versions to make a comparison. Although you stated at first you were using 5.3 and downloaded another version, you never stated what the other version was. I can agree earlier versions than Fiesty had some hardware detection problems, Fiesty on three personal notebooks and five desktop machines, has installed flawlessly. Let me compare this with my Windows experience.

I tried to install Windows 2000 on one of these machines to dual boot and it took me no less than 6 hours to install. Not only would my Video (ATI video card) not work, I had to update to at least SP4 before I could get one to work. With Ubuntu, it just worked. True, for 3D to work, I needed to install the ATI drivers for Linux, but this was a one click operation away.

Truth is Linux, especially Ubuntu is easier to install than Windows or at least equal. Plus I do not need to purchase Virus scanning software, Firewalls, etc. Linux doesn't require purchasing any third party software and nearly every commercial software application equivalent can be installed for free.

That isn't to say that Linux is perfect and there are not areas for improvement. There are definitely areas that can be improved and there are some areas that need more polish. But for an everyday OS that is secure and stable, Windows is not as well designed as Linux. If your add Vista to the mix, no comparison as to which is easier and more intuitive as well.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Chemicalscum Canada

I believe this article was a very honest a valuable attempt to consider Linux, but I feel it does betray a lot of ignorance about both Linux and for that matter computing in general.

"LAMP -- which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP -- servers are already making headway into the datacenter, pushing out many Windows Server installations " While true (though MS is making a temporary comeback) it implies that internet and intranet servers are part of the datacenter rather than as currently viewed as being at the edge or periphery of the datacenter. What is at the heart of the datacenter are mission critical database applications like ERP and CRM. Since Linux has become the preferred OS for Oracle, it has proliferated deep into the corporate datacenter over the past five years. The midsize multinational corporation I work for is basically a Windows shop but we have a number of mission critical databases running on RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) indeed they don't trust Windows to do any heavy lifting in the datacenter, our ERP runs on IBM AIX 5L. Furthermore even though we have adopted AD there seem to be local Samba servers running SLES (Suse Linux Enterprise Server) installed by IT.

A few factual points OpenOffice 2.2 has a built in database program which will connect as a client to most databases including MS Access.

With Firefox at about 15% penetration of US and over 20% in Europe many Windows users will find that they are already using the default browser of most Linux distributions.

We have ways of making Totem play wmv files (ffmpeg) and Mplayer will play anything you through at it.

I am a great believer in GUI choice and have a number installed on my Ubuntu home system but I always tend to return to GNOME. As you said "Some Linux installations like Ubuntu have two bars -- one on the bottom and one on the top. Imagine that clueless guy in Accounting who can barely drive Microsoft Office trying to figure out which button to click in Ubuntu." I have seen a highly intelligent Ph.D. scientist have the same problem. However Linux desktop environments very configurable and can be made to behave much more like a Windows user would expect. For example SLED (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop). A preconfigured image can be used for any corporate rollout to make things easy for "that clueless guy in Accounting". I use to have my Ubuntu desktop configured with the menu button on the left of a single panel but know I just use the default Ubuntu layout.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Michael Hillsboro, OR

I too have been a Windows user for a long time, beginning with v3.0. I've tried Linux off and on a number of times, but turned away because of setup issues, particularly with my networked printer. About two months ago an IT guy at work mentioned that I should give the new version of Ubuntu 7.04, Feisty Fawn, a try. I downloaded it, installed it and it ran great right from the start. It found and setup all my hardware correctly, it found my networked laser printer without a problem, it even did something that Windows XP couldn't, and still can't, do...it found my networked HP Photosmart 8450 WITHOUT the HP setup disc. When setting up the printer, I searched for network printers and there it was along with my Laser. I selected it, half expecting it not to work. Chose a picture for a test and hit print...printed a perfect picture. The printer didn't show up in the Windows printer setup at all. I had to use the HP Setup Disc to install it and of course it installed all the HP services (5) that run in the background to tell me that I'm out of ink or a new update is available. I connected with my NAS without a problem and I didn't have to fool with Samba at all.

OpenOffice works just fine for the work I do at home, whether it's for personal or business use. I've yet to do anything that didn't convert to Word or Excel. Even though Evolution isn't Outlook...it is sufficient for my work at home. Gimp for photographs and graphics isn't intuitive to use but Photoshop isn't either. You need to read the instructions to use either one. One major difference...Gimp comes FREE with Ubuntu. Playing mp3's works after installing the codecs. Playing movies was a bit of a challenge but hey I have a DVD player, a Plasma widescreen and a great surround sound system for that. I've yet to run into a personal finance program I feel comfortable with so I'll continue using Quicken for now.

Updating Ubuntu is as easy as updating Windows. Ubuntu let's you know when updates are available and installs them with ease. A major plus...after installing new software or updating the system, I've only had to REBOOT Ubuntu once. Seems like Windows has to reboot after most system updates and after any major software installation/uninstallation. This past week I did run into one problem with Ubuntu. I installed a new monitor on my Linux machine and updating the available monitor resolutions was a pain, but I got through it. I've come to the following conclusion.

I've decided that...
1) I will not upgrade to Vista.
2) I will keep one old computer with Windows XP on it and run it into the ground like a lot of people have with Windows 2000 (to run financial software).
3) I will switch the remaining computers to Ubuntu Linux.

To the author of the article, if you haven't tried the newest version of Ubuntu, or Kubuntu if you like KDE, do so now I think you'll like it.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 DrakeJustice Anonymous

Linux users are not worried about competing with microsoft... i devote my spare time to developing the os, because i want to... everyone who develops for linux develops because they want to... we don't get paid... maybe some donations if your program helped someone... but im not going to stop programming, fixing, correcting, and helping whoever i can with linux. It is simply unpolluted: things like 'malware' can't happen... things like 'identity theft' can't happen... think about being able to read EVERY single thing the computer does... period... that's why I use linux...

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Tom Ausin, TX

Drivers for Linux has long been a sore point among users and developers, and a whip constantly picked up by detractors. When an open driver exists, it is almost always picked up by either kernel developers and integrated, or it is distributed with most distributions as a module that is automatically inserted when that particular hardware is recognized - no fuss, no muss. It is when hardware has no Linux drivers that a big effort must be undertaken by each user (the linmodem project and NDISWRAPPER for examples). Having said all of that, most every installation I've done with Windows (from 3.x up to XP and 2003) have required more driver upgrades than Linux has out of the box. It comes down to those rare occassions where no Linux driver exists... -insert reason why here-

There must be a comment made here concerning a business user not being able to use Linux because of drivers: in the environments I've worked in (especially a recent government position), the hardware is purchased by some group that has researched what can and cannot be used. This means a group will have looked for hardware that is supported in Linux, including peripherals, and rolled out the desktops, servers, and peripherals accordingly. Except in extreme circumstances ("I'm a PhD and I insist on using..."), there would be no driver issue.

I do commend you on trying a few different distributions and hope this encourage more MS developers to try Linux and even contribute to a few projects. If you don't want to get away from the languages you've used in MS, see if you can use Mono. Also, take a look at your favorite job search engine for "Linux software developer"; I'm pretty sure it'll be eye-opening if you previously thought you could only find opportunities developing for MS.

Concerning KDE versus Gnome versus whatever else, this is the paradox of choice and takes a person trying out several distros before a personal decision can be made. For a business, going with a commercial distro is probably the best bet, and the window manager question is pretty moot once you pick which company to go with. Once the basic image is decided, there are plenty of ways to lock down the desktop in Linux so that normal users can't muss things up yet still give them whatever freedom they need to work. This ranges anywhere from configuring sudo to entire enterprise management systems that rival the control MS admins have in using group policies and Active Directory.

There is much to be said about familiarity. I have used Linux for around 6 years now, and I am extremely comfortable in a Linux environment. There have been endless discussions comparing the learning curve for users upgrading to another Windows version versus users moving from Windows to Linux, and how closely the two curves actually match. I must say there are some radical differences between each platform's foundation that must be learned, but after that a user has the same chance of success to bring up their productivity.

One suggestion: dig much deeper. Have a consultant set up a test environment with as many pieces of an enterprise that can be set up, and then see what differences you see. There are decent Linux alternatives to AD, Exchange, Certificate Services, remote services, VPN, and so on. Go into the ordeal remembering that you are most familiar with the MS environment so there is going to be a significant amount of difference to learn about.

Good stuff!

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 John J. Macey Phoenix, AZ

Hi All,

I really get a kick out of all this!

In this present day and age, the thinking IT Manager has got to say -- Why M$?

Having fun in Phoenix, Arizona

JJMacey aka Adler
www.jjmacey.net

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Abe US

Bill,
You are not BG in disguise are you? Of course not.
I can tell you like what Linux has to offer, on the other hand, you are either afraid to admit it yet or don't want to.
I have some simple questions and few comments. Some of them were brought up already.
1. Linux is a lightning speed evolving OS, why did you use Ubuntu 5.02 (actually 5.04), which is over two years old, if 7.04 has been out already for many months?

2. You talk about problems of Suse & old Ubuntu, what about Mandriva? Have looked at Distrowatch to find out which is the second most popular Linux distro? It is PCLinuxOS, why you didn't you try that to tell us how good it is? Why didn't you use OpenSuse instead of Suse?
I am getting suspicious that this whole article is orchestrated for a purpose.

3. I am sure you are aware of LiveCDs of many Linux Distros, why haven't you tested using a LiveCD before (you) destroyed your Windows install? I sort of understand if a novice user did that, on the other hand, you are an instructor for goodness sake, you should have known better.

4. You say that users need lots of training on Linux and applications, don't you think users need about the same, if not more, training to use Vista and applications? Don't you think users had to learn how use Windows, or do you think they were born with knowledge on how to use Windows? Users who already use Windows don't have a problem to pick up the skills to use Linux because it is so much similar to Windows and easier to use. All they need is spent a little time to get familiar with Linux, that is all. There was a study in Germany that showed that, users who never used computers before picked up on Linux much faster that learning Windows. Does that tell you something or what?

5. You claim that GNOME is more like Windows than like KDE. Don't you think you are a little confused about which is which?

6. MS doesn't create drivers for devices, manufacturers do that. Why you consider it Linux's responsibility to develop drivers not the manufacturer? It is well know that Vista doesn't have good driver support like XP does, why do take on Linux? Included old and new devices, my experience showed me that Linux supports more hardware than Windows especially Vista.

7. Question if Linux is ready for prime time, and you cite lack of commercial application. Don't you thing it should the vendors responsibility to make their application for Linux. Linux developers go the extra mile to develop standard application because it is ready for prime time. It is just the vendors that are not ready for Linux and they are coming around as Linux proliferate more in the market.

8. ......

Ohhh, I give up. Like some poster before me said, "Rubbish, Rubbish, Rubbish".

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 PDBL Anonymous

I see the point of this Microsoft advertissement:

We, in Redmond, do everything we can to be not interoperable with "communist" OSes like Linux or FreeBSD and we do it well. See all the think that are illegal or the difficulties of reverse engeneering this is our advantage on linux

So it is illegal to use Microsoft codec to visualize wmv and it is linux fault to not including illegal codecs

We bundle our apps with our OS and you virtually can't buy a PC without windows so users can't use something else. Despite that Firefox is used by 25% of windows users, incredible no?

We do everything we can to not allow open source apps to interact with our servers (no docs or incomplete etc...) that is one of the reason of the fine from the EU but it's Linux fault if samba is not 100% perfect.

When reading the man you can install linux on a windows box but try to install XP on a Linux box and the devil communist OS will be unavailable God bless Redmond

etc etc.....

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Owen Australia

And just a quick comment on the "choice of more than one GUI" and "choice of Mozilla (Gnome) or Konqueror (KDE) will be daunting" - I don't think it can be.
Just going with Ubuntu - as that is what I use, and what everyone seems to have the best luck with - if they don't install it they won't know it exists. I didn't even realise I had a choice of KDE until I installed Kubuntu from a seperate disc.

The comments on OpenOffice, Samba (although I have issues with connecting two windows machines about the same) and possibly the drivers if it was made about a recent version seem justified to me.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Bucky Palm Springs

I'm a day-to-day Linux user, and I find that although I still perfer Linux I do also agree with many of your criticisms. The preference of "Evolution" as the default mail client shared by both RedHat and SuSE I find absolutely astonishing, because I've never had anything but negative experiences with it--despite it's glossy UI promises.

It can act as a client for multiple email accounts, but no more than 1 Exchange mailbox -- though this is the same for Outlook as well. I cannot recommend Evolutions because I find it terribly unstable--and also much slower than its competition--though I lust after the fact that it -- alone among its competition -- can write to LDAP addressbooks.

I'm also very receptive to your user's point of view of Samba configuration. To this day, I approach the occasional necessity of setting up Samba with an emotion approaching horror.

I find the installation exceptions a little bit of a red herring, though, since most end-users don't install Windows from scratch -- though of course I'll grant that pre-built consumer computers always have Windows drivers available SOMEWHERE -- I have nevertheless always needed to download many Windows drivers individually during a true clean install.

The GUI/Browser exceptions are valid given a user who didn't want to switch OS platforms in the first place (as in a platform shift imposed by a company, for example), but probably something that a voluntary OS experimenter would expect, and possibly welcome, depending on their reasons for changing -- as in someone who changed from Windows to Mac, or vice versa.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Troy Baer Anonymous

The claim that Evolution can't handle more than one email account is absolutely false and has been for as long as I've used it. Go to Edit->Preferences, click on "Mail Account", and then click on "Add".

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Cliffystones Colorado

I've been using PC Linux 2007 on both my laptop and desktop since February '07. The problem I encountered was when I tried to convert my car PC to PCLOS. No drivers were available for my 7" touch screen (that would work). There were several individuals who had accomplished writing their own drivers for their particular situation and installing them. After a month of reading online documentation, forums, FAQ's, etc. and fiddling around, I had to to settle for a stripped down version of XP corp. (Tiny XP). I would have preferred Linux, but I need to eat, sleep, bathe, etc., not just sit and stare at a PC all damn day long!

Your criticisms regarding drivers and hardware compatibility are not unfounded, and definitely not garbage! Some of these Linux "gurus" get very upset when us less-than-Godlike PC users can't or won't take the time to learn how to write our own software. But I'm proud to say that I have a life, I love spending time with my family and I bathe regularly!

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 JohnMc Former Colony

[Disclaimer: I am as much a Linux bigot as Bill is for MS.]

Bill!,

Please lets compare apples to apples here. First of all for most folks the MS OS comes preinstalled so they never have to go thru the hassles. I have done enough MS OS installs to know that in 1 out of 10 instances the OS will not come up clean and requires driver tweaking and network alignment, etc. You want to be fair, then buy a Dell with the Ubuntu OS preloaded. That addresses point 1.

I also note that you made two errors. One you picked a very old version of the Ubuntu build. Try Fiesty Fawn 7.04. Second you complain about the choice of GUI. If you wanted KDE from the get go then download the KUbuntu branch and live with it. Fact, I think the KUbuntu is a closer match to a Win environment than the Gnome variant. The fact that the GUI is detached from the core kernel was by design. It is actually a feature. Here's the challenge. Try with your Win desktop to do a remote GUI login without using either MS Term Server, VNC, or some third party tool. With X11 that functionality is is built in for Linux. Not so for Windows. Addresses point 2.

Point 3 is just gibberish. Whether individual or organization, you pick one of them and learn the lay of the desktop. You don't worry about all the different variants. You find one quickly that suits your tastes then stick with it.

Point 4. Apples and oranges Bill. You are confusing desktop with the application. Its not Linux's fault that MS decided to make IE part of the core GUI. That's a design flaw but a great marketing ploy. Were I to build a distro for public consumption it would be Firefox or Opera. It would be built in. And in any given org with a IT shop behind it that is exactly what they would do.

Point 5. Huh. Its a learning thing like any tool. Give some credit to the end user, they can figure it out. It is not that different. I guess I would make one other point here. To be fair you should be comparing COMMERCIAL offerings to MS equivalents. So that means Star Office from Sun, the pay for Evolution product, etc.

Point 6. Aaah here there are two approaches. For the individual I would suggest loading LinNeighborhood. Its a very simple application. It can be set up to remember those locations you repeatedly go to just like the MS tool. For organizations this kind of functionality can be built into an rc script so that it is all behind the scenes for the end user. My shot here is most people don't know anything about MS networking in Windows either. It just the fact that they have learned the 'tricks' to get it done. So again to a degree its a training thing isn't it?

Bill, you seem to be leaning to a basic fact that Linux might just be viable on the desktop. That's good, but you need to keep learning. There is more:

[] In organizations with very good security protocols I would recommend go native on the file share and use NFS rather than the CIFS block protocol.
[] Use Unision for backup and for file updates. It can be configured to be damn near automatic.
[] Learn X11. The remote desktop access capability is a very powerful tool. It can be tunneled or to get fancy consider NX.
[] Going out on a limb, consider looking at the Google tools. Not specifically an OS discussion but complaints about mail streams will become less and less an issue when people move to a web presence for such services.

That is all....

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 Miguel Spain

Rubbish, no more than rubbish!.

You use the very same old arguments to rest credit to Linux but they are not valid any more.

It's M$ fault when you can't connect to Hotmail as they do as much as they can to force you to use Outlook for email fetching. The same applies to every product they produce. Ask EU Competence Commission what they think about M$ or read what the have already ruled.

It's your fault to have destroyed your system with Suse as you haven't read the manual first, a manual which is freely accessible through openSuse web page. And, no; doing it correctly is not for experts just for people who follow the steps depicted in the manual correctly. One of the first distros I have ever used was openSuse 10.0 and I did it all perfect with the help of the gorgeous information available for opensuse: till that day I had never partitioned myself the hard drive.

Most people won't even notice they are using Firefox for web access. It's intuitive and similar to IE. Two buttons and you are done. The same happens all through out the entire system. KDE and GNOME interfaces are really intuitive; it's not needed a lot of training for basic tasks. Anyone after 10 minutes in front of a modern Linux system can guess how to create a document and navigate the web. I could tell of a good number of people who have migrated to Linux satisfactorily.

There's more software than OOo for office, especially Koffice. Koffice is simple and intuitive, not very different to any other suite and covers practically all the necessities of most people (who in the end just write letters or simple documents). For more advanced users learning OOo is not such a big thing.

'Lost of faces and lot of distros'. That's it: you are free to choose the one the like and change it if you please: anyway, it's free. Even more, you can try distros without having to install them: try live CDs and you will know if you like it or not. In the end there is no more than four popular distros and two desktop environments; and even they are no so different. Then, it's confusing to have tons of versions of Vista?: home, basic, premium... or have to decide mac/PC?.

There is commercial Linux desktops. If you want training and hardware support buy a Linux or get to one of companies who offer so. Nowadays Dell is selling Linux desktops. So hardware problems with Linux?. No. That's like saying that Windows doesn't cover most of product which would be true if there were not drivers. There is ATI and Nvidia drives for graphic cards for Linux and most of hardware is already supported by the kernel, so?.

There is no need to go to console in Linux. Unless you 'want' or 'decide' you want to change something in some special way (* commonly for very technical reasons) there is no need to touch the console because practically everything can be done graphically.

Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. If you like so much Windows products stick to them but know that most people could live without them because they have a real and innovative alternative driven by thousands of volunteers and some of the biggest companies in the world, bigger companies than Microsoft itself.

Fri, Aug 3, 2007 revdjenk Anonymous

Beware the Linux fan who "insists" that one uses Linux!

Now don't get me wrong...I have been Linux only (PCLinuxOS) since Dec 2006 and dual-booted for a year before that. As I tell people about Linux, I offer it as an alternative. I realize that for many, MS Windows may be the "only" choice for them to run their software, business, life.
But that is the freedom we all enjoy....and I am enjoying Linux, at home, in business...but I have taken the time and done the re-training...

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