Click here to close now.


Linux Containers Authors: Pat Romanski, Dana Gardner, Flint Brenton, Liz McMillan, David Dodd

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: 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) (, 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 ( 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 ( 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 (, 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 (, 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.


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.


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 (

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

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
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
Apps and devices shouldn't stop working when there's limited or no network connectivity. Learn how to bring data stored in a cloud database to the edge of the network (and back again) whenever an Internet connection is available. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Ben Perlmutter, a Sales Engineer with IBM Cloudant, demonstrated techniques for replicating cloud databases with devices in order to build offline-first mobile or Internet of Things (IoT) apps that can provide a better, faster user experience, both offline and online. The focus of this talk was on IBM Cloudant, Apache CouchDB, and ...
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, explored the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context with p...
I recently attended and was a speaker at the 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I also had the opportunity to attend this event last year and I wrote a blog from that show talking about how the “Enterprise Impact of IoT” was a key theme of last year’s show. I was curious to see if the same theme would still resonate 365 days later and what, if any, changes I would see in the content presented.
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical to maintaining positive ROI. Raxak Protect is an automated security compliance SaaS platform and ma...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.