Linux Containers Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Derek Weeks, Yeshim Deniz

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) (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.


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 (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
November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Penta Security is a leading vendor for data security solutions, including its encryption solution, D’Amo. By using FPE technology, D’Amo allows for the implementation of encryption technology to sensitive data fields without modification to schema in the database environment. With businesses having their data become increasingly more complicated in their mission-critical applications (such as ERP, CRM, HRM), continued ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Arch...
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, will draw together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established ...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their online busine...
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudbric, a leading website security provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudbric is an elite full service website protection solution specifically designed for IT novices, entrepreneurs, and small and medium businesses. First launched in 2015, Cloudbric is based on the enterprise level Web Application Firewall by Penta Security Sys...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Roundee / LinearHub will exhibit at the WebRTC Summit at @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LinearHub provides Roundee Service, a smart platform for enterprise video conferencing with enhanced features such as automatic recording and transcription service. Slack users can integrate Roundee to their team via Slack’s App Directory, and '/roundee' command lets your video conference ...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Established in 1998, Calsoft is a leading software product engineering Services Company specializing in Storage, Networking, Virtualization and Cloud business verticals. Calsoft provides End-to-End Product Development, Quality Assurance Sustenance, Solution Engineering and Professional Services expertise to assist customers in achieving their product development and business goals. The company's deep domain knowledge of Storage, Virtualization, Networking and Cloud verticals helps in delivering ...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
“Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CloudBerry Backup is a leading cross-platform cloud backup and disaster recovery solution integrated with major public cloud services, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
In the next five to ten years, millions, if not billions of things will become smarter. This smartness goes beyond connected things in our homes like the fridge, thermostat and fancy lighting, and into heavily regulated industries including aerospace, pharmaceutical/medical devices and energy. “Smartness” will embed itself within individual products that are part of our daily lives. We will engage with smart products - learning from them, informing them, and communicating with them. Smart produc...
As ridesharing competitors and enhanced services increase, notable changes are occurring in the transportation model. Despite the cost-effective means and flexibility of ridesharing, both drivers and users will need to be aware of the connected environment and how it will impact the ridesharing experience. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Timothy Evavold, Executive Director Automotive at Covisint, will discuss key challenges and solutions to powering a ride sharing and/or multimodal model in the a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Coalfire will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Coalfire is the trusted leader in cybersecurity risk management and compliance services. Coalfire integrates advisory and technical assessments and recommendations to the corporate directors, executives, boards, and IT organizations for global brands and organizations in the technology, cloud, health...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Transparent Cloud Computing (T-Cloud) Consortium will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Transparent Cloud Computing Consortium (T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data proces...
Cognitive Computing is becoming the foundation for a new generation of solutions that have the potential to transform business. Unlike traditional approaches to building solutions, a cognitive computing approach allows the data to help determine the way applications are designed. This contrasts with conventional software development that begins with defining logic based on the current way a business operates. In her session at 18th Cloud Expo, Judith S. Hurwitz, President and CEO of Hurwitz & ...