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"Desktop Linux is Friendlier Than Ever," Says IT Columnist

"You finally don't have to sweat the small stuff," says Seattle Times's Paul Andrews

What Paul Andrews writes at the outset is that "Linux isn't perfect. But if there's one generalization that characterizes the state of desktop Linux today, it's that you finally don't have to sweat the small stuff."

Linux systems install easier, get you up and running faster, and interact with devices and content a lot better than a year ago. . .You no longer worry about downloading and installing drivers for things like printers and cameras. And media - songs and video - automatically trigger an appropriate player: no fussing with downloading, uncompressing and installing arcane software.

Linux is more "ready to run" than ever, says Andrews, "with far less worry than Windows over viruses and operating-system meltdowns. If Linux continues to improve at its current rate, it'll be very close to Windows XP in a year or two."

He then looks at Xandros and Lindows, both of which he deems "far slicker than Red Hat, whose end-user version was sometimes a pain in the end of the user."

Here's his Xandros verdict:

The partition feature of Xandros is a big plus in user comfort. Xandros automatically installed itself while keeping the Windows system, data, applications and configurations intact. Thereafter, the PC offered a dual-boot option.

This is a great feature for the Linux-timid, who aren't sure if they really want to dump Windows quite yet. If you don't like Xandros, you can go back to Windows. Or you can use both until you get comfortable with Xandros and then transition to Xandros only.

Once Xandros was up and running, I ran through a basic round of user tasks: Office productivity, Internet/Web, peripherals (printers, digital devices), music, photos, video. Xandros (Version 2, available in $40 and $89 flavors), which uses the versatile KDE desktop and Debian project familiar to Linux wonks, handled most of what I threw at it.

The one frustration with Xandros, according to Andrews, was the fact that Xandros recognized his FireWire card but would not mount his Canon digital camcorder. "Lindows failed the test as well," he observes. "My Mac and Windows XP computers plug-n-played the camcorder with no problem," he adds.

For Lindows, his verdict was as follows:

Lindows has a slicker interface and emulates Windows so well that it repeats several of my pet Windows peeves. Xandros' user-interface has more obvious Linux legacy to it but shouldn't stymie the first-timer.

The biggest gotcha with Lindows came with my HP All-in-One printer, the 6110. I found the printer in Lindows' list and installed drivers but got no handshaking between the PC and printer. Even test sheets failed to print.

I was told I needed to download a different driver from Lindows' Web site and that future Lindows would contain the driver on the standard CD.

Lindows (Version 4.0, $60) also opened streaming media inside a browser window by default, which limited functions such as stop and start and resizing. Lindows offers a huge reservoir of additional Linux software, however, available for download with Lindows' "Click 'n Run" subscription feature.

Bottom line, according to Andrews: "Desktop Linux is friendlier than ever and will do just about everything you need right out of the box. More promising, Linux has proceeded so far so fast that in the next year or two, its few remaining 'user-confuser' traits should be gone for good."

In a second very recent round-up of Linux on the desktop, Maggie Biggs, a senior engineer and technical writer, reviewed five different desktop solutions for Federal Computer Week.

Summaries of her verdicts on the five follow:

Libranet 2.8.1 Flagship Edition

"Libranet is a good choice for developers, systems administrators and technically savvy power users. The product is not as straightforward for casual users as some of the others we tested, but it would be an excellent desktop interface for IT users. ... Average users will need to spend some time getting comfortable with the interface, but IT staffers will take to Libranet easily, finding it powerful and technically solid."

LindowsOS 4.5

"Administrators installing and configuring Lindows will have little to do to get the system up and running. ... We had no trouble locating and accessing Web browsers, e-mail clients and business document applications. Lindows linked to our network printers on the first try from a graphical interface, and we used the included Internet connection tools to access the Web. The included Network Browser also made accessing network shares, which are files on PCs that can be shared with others across a network, very easy."

Lycoris Desktop/LX

"Like Lindows, the Lycoris interface was easy to install and configure, and administrators who are comfortable with Windows installation routines will have no difficulty getting Lycoris up and running. It is also available preloaded from a number of authorized resellers, which will help shorten deployment times. ... Accessing network shares, printers and the Internet also proved to be a breeze. Graphical tools allow users to point and click for easy access to applications and network resources."

Mandrake Linux 9.2

"We had no trouble setting up Mandrake-powered desktops, and like the other solutions examined here, Windows administrators will be able to easily install Mandrake on desktop PCs. Reseller support is also available for agencies that prefer preloaded applications to network-based installations. Like Libranet, Mandrake may take some adjustment on the part of users because as it does attempt to emulate Windows, but they should find it easy to work with agency documents, send and receive e-mail, and access Web-based applications through Mandrake."

Xandros Desktop OS Version 2-Deluxe Edition

"The Xandros Desktop OS is solid and easy to get up and running. Agencies can also order Xandros preinstalled from authorized resellers. We had no trouble installing and configuring several Xandros desktops in short order. Users will find the Xandros interface comfortable and easy to adapt to. Like Mandrake, it includes support for CrossOver to ease the transition. Users can run Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes and other Windows applications on the Xandros desktop. We did not find Xandros as easily adaptable to network resources as some of the other solutions we tested. However, once we added the LinNeighborhood application, we were able to access network shares very easily. Graphical tools in the Control Center helped us smoothly connect to network printers."

The FCW report concludes:

"The results of our tests will not be the last word on Linux desktop interfaces. As they say, your results may vary. But we did find that Linux is a viable desktop alternative for casual users in a business setting. Because agencies have different desktop requirements, we recommend conducting a proof-of-concept study to choose the best Linux product for your agency. Given the current maturity of Linux desktop interfaces, agencies should begin conducting such evaluations now. The tools are more mature and comfortable than ever for business use. Cost savings, ease-of-use, security and reliability are clearly evident."

More Stories By Linux News Desk

SYS-CON's Linux News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the Linux world and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for IT/IS managers and other business decision-makers.

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