Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez, XebiaLabs Blog, Trevor Parsons

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Managing Linux Desktops

The future is getting brighter

I often speak about the Linux desktop as a viable business solution and analyze how and why it works, what's handy and where it's progressing but maybe one point gets lost and that's the manageability of the Linux desktop, not only locally but remotely and centrally.

When looking at Novell's latest offering recently, the Novell Linux Desktop 9 (NLD) (www.novell.com/products/desktop/), I realized that they have a product that meets the simple needs of the business PC user.

Now, what constitutes "simple needs" you may ask?

Well, I define it as core business applications, office suite, web browser and e-mail. And those are not just criteria that Novell can satisfy. There are other limited-function highly available solutions available.

Unlike me, many PC users use their PCs just to do their job; it's not the center of their job. Think law offices, call centers and centers processing insurance claims.

These people aren't doing the equivalent of electronic heart surgery. They are just using their PCs to facilitate the flow of information or to supplement their work environment like the typewriter and banks of steel filing cabinets once did.

However, someone has to keep these sophisticated "typewriters" working and in the large enterprise it's an expensive undertaking, especially since the people who use them aren't "techies."

Ironically, these are the self same people, the ones who use only a few core applications, who might best be served by a Linux desktop. These are the same people who the systems administrators and help desk personnel are supposed to support. Supporting them with a low-cost, high-availability operating system that's easily duplicated and managed is very attractive proposition.

And if the jobs these people do don't change much, forced vendor upgrades that tax hardware resources may not be necessary and IT budgets may benefit.

Here is Linux' chance to shine by taking advantage of the tools that are being honed for server management.

Remote Access

In a large installation having to run from PC to PC, popping in CDs full of operating system upgrades is time-consuming. In this so-called "Sneakernet" approach, help desk personnel navigate through a sea of hundreds or thousands cubicles to find the PC that's malfunctioning.

Now if those same people could use their travel time to troubleshoot the PC remotely instead, they would be more productive. Help desk personnel could save time by using the tools on their own PC to administer the company's desktops. Many administrators could stop keeping a case full of CDs up-to-date and handy.

There are two easy ways to access a Linux desktop remotely. The first is by using ssh (www.openssh.com/) to login to the system console securely and remotely, make changes and do most administrative tasks in a highly secure low-bandwidth way. This can even be done while the system is in use without disturbing the user.

The second way to connect is by transporting the PC's graphical environment over the LAN to the administrator's desktop via the network-transparent features of X. That way the admin can see what the user sees and troubleshoot.

Either one of these methods is useful and practical and can save a lot of time when compared to sitting at an end-users' desk interrupting them while doing triage and making rudimentary repairs.

Binary Package Management

Binaries are the programs the Linux desktop run. They are distributed in either .rpm or .deb packages. Both formats rely on a system-wide database to check to see that the software is properly installed and to find out what other software (usually libraries) the software package depends on. Updating or installing a program in RPM or Debian format is rather simple and can be done by copying the files locally and using the rpm or dpkg commands to update the software.

More and more companies are working on ways to push these updates to the end user. Both Red Hat and Novell offer services designed to push updates to a large number of PCs or servers.

The Red Hat Network (https://rhn.redhat.com/) was designed specifically for Red Hat products and was one of the earliest commercial Linux updates services to group systems into profiles and push out updates via either a hosted update service or a proxy synchronized with RHN, which limits the bandwidth dedicated to updates. Novell is also going down this path with ZENworks (www.novell.com/products/zenworks/), which is evolving into a robust Linux resource management tool.

Lock Down

One way to ensure that software keeps functioning correctly is to make sure that no unauthorized changes occur in the system. That's where Linux' user and group hierarchy and file permissions start to play an important role. In Linux every user belongs to a group and each file has a set of permissions that let a user read, write or execute a file. By letting users only read and execute a given set of applications and by not letting them install software on the system gives system administrators a finer degree of control over the system and protects the user account from being compromised.

User Templates

Linux can create a template for a new user. A system administrator can create a template of the ideal user environment using the /etc/skel directory. skel is short for skeleton and provides the "bones" of a new user account. A user template can be created that includes the default settings on the user desktop. The template facility and its quick and consistent installs are huge time-savers.

Using a skeleton is one of many ways to implement user templates. There are a number of evolving commercial applications available like Aduva OnStage (www.aduva.com), which focuses on deploying and updating Linux systems. In this model, installation is done via a kick-start agent that looks at a predefined user template and automates the installs. This way, throughout its life the system gets updates and configurations from a central software and configuration repository.

Summary

Linux on the desktop still has a way to go for pervasive use in the enterprise but with an ever-expanding application set and increased use its future is getting brighter. In fact, knowing the underlying management capabilities of Linux might make it even more appealing as an alternative or at least a supplement to your enterprise desktop computing infrastructure. Noting that both Windows and Linux, despite their corporate backing and architecture, still need to be managed and finding ways to do it cost effectively should be every organization's goal.

SIDEBAR

Novell Linux Desktop 9

Novell Linux Desktop 9 (NLD) is Novell's first Novell-branded Linux release. Based on the popular SuSE Linux distribution, Novell made NLD9 synch with SuSE versioning to indicate that while the product is new it's not immature.

NLD is Novell's first corporate desktop offering though it's probably more directly aimed at the Unix desktop market, the low-hanging fruit of the Linux desktop migration just like Unix servers have been.

If you are looking to replace your Microsoft Windows desktop wholesale, I don't think this is the product - yet.

However, if you want a stable, well-backed, technically sound product that can provide core computing functions like e-mail, web browsing and productivity software, NLD does the job.

NLD shows no clear allegiance to either the Gnome or KDE desktop environment and doesn't default to one or the other during install, even though Novell added Ximian, the Gnome desktop concern, to its fold in 2003. Instead Novell offers both desktop environments.

It also includes updates similar to the familiar Windows Update done through Internet Explorer and a Web interface. Novell does it through its ZENworks Linux Management Update Manager (formerly Ximian's Red Carpet). Updates can be scheduled and be done automatically.

The biggest difference I see between SuSE and NLD is that NLD is a simplified version of SuSE Professional without the familiar SuSE green. NLD is themed in blue and Novell Red.

One useful bit I found in NLD was a network applet on the Gnome toolbar that let me switch between wired and wireless connections and launch the network configuration dialogue through Yast2.

Another addition was Firefox as a launcher on my Gnome toolbar, suggesting to me that Novell will offer Firefox as its next-generation default web browser.

Novell Linux desktop may not be the ideal solution for the Linux hobbyist or power user (for those in that category I recommend Novell SuSE Linux Professional). But if you want a manageable desktop for core applications I recommend trying Novell's free evaluation of NLD and see if it addresses your needs (www.novell.com/products/desktop/eval.html).

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
The Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) market will grow to $6.4B by 2018. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, will begin by walking the audience through the evolution of Workspace as-a-Service, where it is now vs. where it going. To look beyond the desktop we must understand exactly what WaaS is, who the users are, and where it is going in the future. IT departments, ISVs and service providers must look to workflow and automation capabilities to adapt to growing demand and the rapidly changing workspace model.
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
Hadoop as a Service (as offered by handful of niche vendors now) is a cloud computing solution that makes medium and large-scale data processing accessible, easy, fast and inexpensive. In his session at Big Data Expo, Kumar Ramamurthy, Vice President and Chief Technologist, EIM & Big Data, at Virtusa, will discuss how this is achieved by eliminating the operational challenges of running Hadoop, so one can focus on business growth. The fragmented Hadoop distribution world and various PaaS solutions that provide a Hadoop flavor either make choices for customers very flexible in the name of opti...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly in the process of breaking from its heretofore relatively obscure enterprise applications (such as plant floor control and supply chain management) and going mainstream into the consumer space. More and more creative folks are interconnecting everyday products such as household items, mobile devices, appliances and cars, and unleashing new and imaginative scenarios. We are seeing a lot of excitement around applications in home automation, personal fitness, and in-car entertainment and this excitement will bleed into other areas. On the commercial side, m...
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are increasing at an unprecedented rate. The threat landscape of today is drastically different than just a few years ago. Attacks are much more organized and sophisticated. They are harder to detect and even harder to anticipate. In the foreseeable future it's going to get a whole lot harder. Everything you know today will change. Keeping up with this changing landscape is already a daunting task. Your organization needs to use the latest tools, methods and expertise to guard against those threats. But will that be enough? In the foreseeable future attacks w...
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
The cloud is now a fact of life but generating recurring revenues that are driven by solutions and services on a consumption model have been hard to implement, until now. In their session at 16th Cloud Expo, Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder of Solgenia, and Ian Khan, Global Strategic Positioning & Brand Manager at Solgenia, will discuss how a top European telco has leveraged the innovative recurring revenue generating capability of the consumption cloud to enable a unique cloud monetization model to drive results.
As organizations shift toward IT-as-a-service models, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and now cloud environments grows with it. CommVault can ensure protection &E-Discovery of your data – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud, or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enterprise. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Randy De Meno, Chief Technologist - Windows Products and Microsoft Partnerships, will discuss how to cut costs, scale easily, and unleash insight with CommVault Simpana software, the only si...
Docker is an excellent platform for organizations interested in running microservices. It offers portability and consistency between development and production environments, quick provisioning times, and a simple way to isolate services. In his session at DevOps Summit at 16th Cloud Expo, Shannon Williams, co-founder of Rancher Labs, will walk through these and other benefits of using Docker to run microservices, and provide an overview of RancherOS, a minimalist distribution of Linux designed expressly to run Docker. He will also discuss Rancher, an orchestration and service discovery platf...
Analytics is the foundation of smart data and now, with the ability to run Hadoop directly on smart storage systems like Cloudian HyperStore, enterprises will gain huge business advantages in terms of scalability, efficiency and cost savings as they move closer to realizing the potential of the Internet of Things. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Turner, technology evangelist and CMO at Cloudian, Inc., will discuss the revolutionary notion that the storage world is transitioning from mere Big Data to smart data. He will argue that today’s hybrid cloud storage solutions, with commodity...
Cloud data governance was previously an avoided function when cloud deployments were relatively small. With the rapid adoption in public cloud – both rogue and sanctioned, it’s not uncommon to find regulated data dumped into public cloud and unprotected. This is why enterprises and cloud providers alike need to embrace a cloud data governance function and map policies, processes and technology controls accordingly. In her session at 15th Cloud Expo, Evelyn de Souza, Data Privacy and Compliance Strategy Leader at Cisco Systems, will focus on how to set up a cloud data governance program and s...
Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, had reached 30,000 page views on his home page - http://RobertoMedrano.SYS-CON.com/ - on the SYS-CON family of online magazines, which includes Cloud Computing Journal, Internet of Things Journal, Big Data Journal, and SOA World Magazine. He is a recognized executive in the information technology fields of SOA, internet security, governance, and compliance. He has extensive experience with both start-ups and large companies, having been involved at the beginning of four IT industries: EDA, Open Systems, Computer Security and now SOA.