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Open source on the desktop: Hurry up and wait

Jun 14, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxOpen Source

Just like many of you, I have a box near my desk running Linux. So far it’s not a critical part of my network, but it does provide a bit of convenience. It’s running Fedora, with Ximian’s Gnome interface, and I use the Evolution e-mail client to do some pre-processing (and spam-crunching) of incoming mail.

Last week, my wife and I were discussing ways to consolidate our multiple electronic and print calendars – it seems no one calendar has all of our business and personal appointments, events, trips and other “interesting” date-related material. Because I also am running the Apache Web server on the Fedora box, I went looking for a calendaring application for the Apache installation.

We’re a long way from Linux ever replacing Windows on the desktop. We’re even further from open source software replacing commercial products for the average user. How do I know? The calendaring application I wanted to try required that WebDav be installed alongside my Apache server. A quick Google search revealed “Enabling WebDAV on Apache.”

When I want to install a new Windows application or service, the usual choices are: put the CD in the drive (auto-start will take it from there), download and run a self-extracting zip file (the install will run automatically), or start the installation by clicking on a link over the Internet. Ten seconds of actual work on my part with maybe a couple of minutes of whirring and clicking by the computer and, presto, the service or app is running. By contrast, the WebDav guide seems filled with the words “maybe” and “possibly,” and requires I move files around (but only hints at what the folder to move them to might be called). It goes without saying that some compiling and recompiling of applications and services (even the Apache Web server ) might be necessary. To me, it appears that – even if everything goes well – I’ll have to devote half a day to this installation, and it might not be worth spending that much time.

This could be a way to prevent your users from messing with a standard PC setup, but it’s more likely that they’ll try to do stuff anyway – and really cause you some headaches! “Ease of use” is much maligned (especially in a security context) but it does sell a lot of products.

Tip of the week

User management and electronic provisioning are hot topics these days. If you’re having trouble understanding them, register for a free copy of my latest book on the topic.