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Testing out Linux on the desktop

Give Linux on the desktop a try

By Dave Kearns, Network World
April 26, 2004 10:54 AM ET
Kearns

We've talked a lot lately (well, in the last year) about Linux on your servers - but what about on your users' desktops? The biggest prize in Novell's acquisition of Ximian last year is thought to be the GNOME user interface for Linux. This graphical user interface (GUI) makes a Linux desktop seem friendlier and easier to use for a person reared on Windows than the traditional command-line that gearheads and geeks say they prefer.

Do you have a Linux box running GNOME (or the competing KDE interface) in your lab? I do.

I finally brought up a Linux desktop last week (it's running Fedora, not SuSE, but that's not important right now). I haven't spent much serious time at the keyboard of a Unix-like machine for a dozen years, and that was a command-line driven Digital Equipment box running Ultrix. My copies of "Fedora Unleashed" (SAMS) and the "Linux Web Server CD Bookshelf" (O'Reilly) are becoming well-thumbed as I try to recall commands I haven't even thought about in 10 years.

But I'm finding that Linux, especially with GNOME, is a lot more user friendly than the Unix I remember. Point and click have replaced arcane shell scripts and allow much quicker (and intuitive) access to the power of the computer.

At the Linux User and Developer Conference in London a couple of weeks ago, IBM Linux software marketing manager Adam Jollans said we're asking the wrong question about Linux on the desktop. "It's not Linux on the desktop or Linux not on the desktop. There are different answers for different users in your organization. IT managers should divide users into different segments and assess their needs accordingly."

That's a lot like what we were saying in the early 1990s about Windows (Version 3.1 in that case) on the desktop. Some people needed it, some could use it very effectively, some weren't ready and some might never need it. There are probably people in your organization right now who could become more productive with Linux and GNOME on their desktop. Maybe you need to find out more about it.

If you think it won't ever be important to you, consider this. The CIO of a major company we all know has just been charged with the task of migrating more than 5,000 employees onto desktop Linux and Open Office during the next 12 months. The CIO is Debra Anderson and the company is Novell. The folks in Waltham and Provo are very serious about this. You should be too.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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