5/27/06

Another Linux Desktop

In October, 2003, I wrote about my experience with a $200 computer from Walmart and its Lycoris operating system, in A Linux Desktop. I recently started using my Fedora Core Linux 2.6 server with the Gnome desktop. And I am impressed. Here may be a desktop that "Mom + Pop" (™ Jon "maddog" Hall) can use.

It is difficult not to compare things to the predominant home computer desktop. Really, I must. The discussion is really about an alternate to Microsoft Windows. Does this match it for ease of use, etc.? I think so.

The Gnome desktop is clean with mouse and keyboard use similar to Windows. This is important for anyone thinking of a move, as well as the new user who has computer support from friends and family. There are familiar-looking "Computer," "Trash," and "your home" (which you can easily rename to "My documents", and by "easily" I mean "exactly as you would in Windows"). There is a root window menu to launch a terminal window, which Mom+Pop would never do, create a folder, which they might, and create a Document, which they would do elsewhere.

A row at the top of the desktop gives access to drop-down menus, easy to explore. There is a text editor (Notepad replacement), gedit. (I am using it now to create this file), a bunch of games, tools (calculator, dictionary), graphics tools (like Gimp for photo editing and an image viewer), and PDF viewer. It comes with an X Window system version of Gaim (AOL IM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, and Jabber, all in one interface), Thunderbird for e-mail, and Firefox for browsing. Also, there's video conferencing application, GnomeMeeting. Mom+Pop would have no use for Nmap, Ethereal, FTP, or IRC, but you might.

The whole OpenOffice set of applications is here. Mom+Pop will ever even notice they are not using their expensive, MS counterparts. All the audio and video applications you might think of are here, except iTunes; Apple does not make an iTunes implementation for Linux. For the power-user, you can set all system parameters, servers, and other system configuration tools. Adding a printer just worked.

I've used the X Window System for years, and I've used Linux for years. I am closer to a power-user than Mom+Pop. But, I bet that this could be an excellent and un-Redmond-encumbered alternative to the usual, and more expensive, personal computer.

I've forgotten to post this. Dave Piscitello commented thusly:
I liked your Fedora column. In the column you mention OpenOffice, which I find to be extremely intuitive, and sufficiently close to Office 2003 to be a wash.

You say, "The whole OpenOffice set of applications is here. Mom+Pop will ever even notice they are not using their expensive, MS counterparts."

You're probably 95% correct. However, one word (no pun intended) of caution I would offer is that *some* features - picture insertion, floating and anchoring, table and paragraph characteristics - are interpreted differently by OpenOffice and MS Office. These are mostly minor inconveniences unless you use OpenOffice and distribute a document or presentation to MS Office users only.

The most useful feature in OpenOffice is "Export to PDF". Why? Because I can now send a document to Windows and *NIX users easily, without incremental expense, and without the obligatory "I hate Microsoft and don't use Word stop sending me .doc formatted reports!" :-)

Can users apply updates transparently as they do in Windows Updates? While auto-apply is controversial in business environments, the majority of home users automatically download and install every Microsoft update.
Yes, Dave. On the Gnome desktop is an indicator, which shows the state of your system (the blue check-mark in the image below). It uses "up2date." When it fires up, the user is asked for an admin password (root to us), and then it checks the Redhat Network for available updates. And there is an indication of being in "admin/root" mode (the yellow "badge" in the image).

Gnome Desktop image

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