10/8/03

A Linux Desktop

I needed a second system on which to build a second web site and e-mail server. I decided on a computer from Wal-Mart. Why? It was $200. I had my choice of one without an operating system and one with Lycoris -- a Linux system. Same price. Even though I plan on tossing the O/S, and installing Red Hat, I chose Lycoris. I was intrigued with the idea of an inexpensive system that Mom and Pop could use.

General observations

I'm fairly impressed. The set-up is very easy. Wizard-driven, it asks you for all the usual things. The system automatically detected the network and received an IP address, DNS information, etc. It has a "Windows-like" interface. I write that as if that is the standard. Well, unfortunately, it is. I tried to think like a novice (ignoring the command line prompt that I knew would get me a Linux shell prompt, for example).

The demo explained that there are "virtual desktops" (3 automatically set up). I wondered if the typical home user will know what that means. But , then, it doesn't hurt not to use them. There they are at the bottom of the screen. The average user will leave them alone. The more inquisitive user will figure out what they are through trial.

I clicked on the Network Browser and got Mozilla. I had to configure it -- that may or may not be easy for a new user -- and I had Internet access. I was able to browse and play streaming media. But only after I allowed pop-ups from the sites that used pop-ups for playing streaming content. I suspect a beginner would have stumbled on that. Mozilla e-mail also worked without problems.

The Windows system is X11, and it comes with some fairly standard X11 tools you would expect to find on any Linux system. It uses KDE for the window manager. The system comes standard with KWord and KPresenter, as well as Kedit, and FTP client, numerous photo tools, audio players, etc. (I wrote this on the Lycoris system using Kedit and then FTP'ed it over to my Linux system.) For $50 one can purchase a "productivity pack" to add compatibility with Excel, Powerpoint, and Word (Microsoft Office).

Print set-up was easy and also didn't work. No joy at all with my network-accessible Epson C80. No Linux driver on the system. Yes I can find one and try to get it to work. No, I cannot imagine my grandmother going to a store and asking for a printer that came with a driver for Linux. But, this is a problem on Windows systems, albeit less of one now-a-days. Still, finding Hewlett-Packard, and then selecting the printer model, and having it accept it, only to see that it thought it was a PostScript printer (which resulted in 10 blank pages), leads me to think there are still some usability issues needed to avoid frustration. But then, it was only $200.

Conclusions

All-in-all, I am impressed. My wife tells me that Consumer Reports gave a low rating to this because of it being Linux. All that contributed code, depending on volunteers, etc. You know.

I may see if I can keep this system around a while and install Red Hat in another partition. Is an inexpensive Linux system like Lycoris a viable alternative? It depends. For someone who has used Windows systems on the Internet for years, probably not. For someone new to the Internet, the answer is "possibly," with this caveat: while there is a lot of software available for Linux systems, there are much fewer solutions that will meet the availability and installability needs of the novice user. Linux desktops for the masses are where Apple systems were a few years back."Is there a version for the Mac?" But, if the user is only going to surf, do e-mail, and (perhaps) print, this might be a cheap alternative to a Windows desktop.

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