August 15, 2003

Linux: Just what the doctor ordered


- by Joe Barr -

Ever wonder how the general public would cope with Linux on the desktop
if they tried it? àHere is one small data point suggesting that the
delta in ease of use between the Linux desktop and the monopoly desktop
is not that great. àNo, I'm not talking about the recently released
usability study comparing the ease of use between Windows XP and Linux by
relevantive in
Germany. àI'm talking about a public waiting room in a doctor's office
in the UK.

Two years ago, Dr. Adrian Midgley
in the UK wrote to tell me that he was planning to install a PC running
Linux with an Opera browser in his waiting room and make it available to
his patients so they could surf the Internet while waiting for their
appointments. àHe budgeted ã500 for the project.

I just received an update on the project. àDr. Midgley reports
the project has been up and running for four months now. àThe terminal
is actually a 233MHz Pentium with 32 megabytes of RAM and the
"thinnest standard installation" of SuSE 8.2 with Opera for the browser.

It came in on budget, and according to Dr. Midgley, "Nobody has
complained about it being Opera or Linux." à(He is considering
changing the browser from Opera to Mozilla, but hasn't decided for sure.) He added the single caveat
that there is "a very restricted whitelist of sites accessible through
it." à

Midgley says biggest headache associated with the project is that he has
not automated the system shutdown, so he had to teach his receptionist
how to do that. àHe adds that the "most interesting use was an IT
consultant who used it to sign himself up to the NHS Information
Authority's list of people available for work, while waiting to see me."

As if to underscore the cost savings, Dr. Midgley pointed out that
"Recently one of my colleagues published an account in GP mag of
spending ã8k on two terminals for patients." àHe did admit that the more
expensive spread looked "sharper" than his, however.

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about
Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal,
LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, and He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, the official
newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.


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