February 7, 2006

My desktop OS: White Box Enterprise Linux

Author: Suraj Vijayan

White Box Enterprise Linux (WBEL), a free Linux distribution, includes a number of user-friendly features that add up to a useful and functional operating system. Over the years, my Linux installs have progressed from Debian 2.0 to SUSE 6.3 to SUSE 8.0 to Red Hat 9, and finally to WBEL 3.0, and I'm extremely pleased with my latest setup.

I work in the high-tech manufacturing industry and have been using Linux for about seven years. I use a Dell Latitude 800 laptop at home, where I've been Windows-free for more than four years.

The install of WBEL 3.0 on my laptop went smoothly. The default graphics driver didn't show good screen resolution, so I downloaded and installed the Nvidia binary driver. WBEL doesn't have Mozilla Firefox, so I downloaded it along with Flash plugins. Novell Evolution was a snap to configure. I routinely use Yellow dog Updater, Modified (yum) to upgrade packages. Currently, I use Linux kernel version 2.4.21-37.EL.

Default WBEL 3.0 comes with OpenOffice.org (OOo) 1.2, which doesn't include the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). I suspect this has something to do with Java licensing. I removed OOo 1.x and installed OOo 2.0. In the process, I also installed the Blackdown JRE and mysql-connector-java3.1.12. OOo 2.0 has been excellent, and the MySQL database interface via Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) and mysql-connector is a breeze to use. You can create simple database entry forms easily with OOo forms.

I use Lotus Notes 6.5 at work, and I was able to get Notes running on Wine with some help from Google. Lotus Notes comes up on WBEL even faster than it comes up on my PC with Windows XP, and everything seems to work. Xine also works well, allowing me to watch WMV files after installing Windows DLLs in /usr/lib/win32.

I was unable to find a driver for my Samsung ML-1710 USB printer in the default WBEL install. Fortunately, I was able to install the driver supplied by Samsung; the printer comes with a GUI install utility for Linux, which worked fine. Now I can see this printer in Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) configuration. I was able to get my Epson Perfection USB scanner working on the first try, and XSane runs perfectly.

The user-friendly GNOME CD player displays CD title and track information. The CD player provided with KDE doesn't provide this feature.

I did run into a few issues. For instance, I couldn't get Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) to work on WBEL, and a Google search showed that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 3.0 kernel doesn't support ACPI. Also, I couldn't get Cisco's VPN client to work on my laptop, even though it worked on another WBEL PC. I dumped the Cisco VPN client and installed the open source vpnc software, which works flawlessly. However, it took me a couple of days to figure out that I needed to install a kernel-unsupported RPM to get vpnc working properly.

WBEL might not be targeted for the desktop, but with a little effort and willingness to learn, it can serve as an excellent desktop OS, even for a fairly new Dell laptop. Once you get everything set up, running WBEL on the desktop is a pleasure -- especially when you consider you didn't pay a penny for it.

What's your desktop OS of choice? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, and Ubuntu.


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