December 18, 2001

Redmond Linux: Are we there yet?

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
Here I am with a downloaded and burned Redmond Linux (beta 3) CD, on an old desktop from Amnet Computer that was built specifically to run Linux. You'd think a distribution like Redmond Linux, made with installation ease as a primary goal, would glide onto this box smoother than a glass of spring water slips down a desert wanderer's throat. And it does. But Redmond Linux still isn't quite "there" yet.Installation Notes
To successfully install Redmond Linux on a simple desktop box you must first learn to perform the following tasks:
  • Inserting a CD in a CD drive right side up
  • Turning computer "on" with the switch
  • Clicking on a "next" button
  • Playing on-screen Solitaire
  • Removing a CD from a CD drive

You do not need to win at Solitaire for the install to work. Indeed, you can probably go watch TV or read a book instead, and the installation will go just as smoothly.

Video detection and setup, at least with my generic video card and monitor, was flawless, a literal "no brainer." Setting up my Epson inkjet printer took (I counted) four mouseclicks.

The next step is to pick a root password and make a user or two. Then Redmond Linux will drop you into a KDE desktop with the prettiest "default" background and theme you've ever seen.

(I had a little problem getting sound to work at first, but the fix was easy: plug in the speakers.)

Setting up the modem is the hardest part of the installation. You need know and type in your ISP's phone number, your login name, and your password. But once you get beyond these hurdles, your Redmond Linux system is ready to go. And now you come to a major problem: You are not going to go very far.

Where are the applications?

The only applications included with Redmond Linux right now are KOffice, Mozilla, and a demo version of a commercial financial management program for Linux that crashed the first time I tried to start it. I needed more applications than what came with the "stripped" distro in order to use Redmond Linux in any meaningful way, and they weren't there. I figured I could probably download them from the company's Web site, so I went there. But the download page was nothing but a list of mirrors where I could get the same ISOs I already had. I went to the support page and still found nothing to download.

Sure, there are some nice utilities already bundled, like a word processor, image viewer and graphics creation software, a spreadsheet and some others.
This is a great start, except for the fact that they are mostly not-quite the latest KOffice components, and not all of them are as functional as they ought to be. KWord, especially, the word processor in Redmond Linux, has crashed on me every time I have tried to use it, and today's test was no exception. Word processing is an absolutely basic function for a home or small business computer. Without reliable word processing, a student can't even use a computer to do homework. I tried downloading AbiWord RPMs and installing them, but ran into dependency problems. I managed to install StarOffice 5.2 from a CD, but not many people have StarOffice CDs sitting around. Redmond Linux could take care of this problem by packaging a recent build of OpenOffice, the Open Source successor to StarOffice, on a second CD, along with several other useful (or fun) programs.

Add a later Mozilla than the 8.X version included, and include pico as a console text editor instead of forcing new Linux users to wrestle with vi if they have reason to do a little command line work, and this would truly be Linux you could install on a non-technical relative's machine with confidence that they'd be able to use it without calling you for help all the time.

Everything from Redmond Linux itself is beautiful
I tried setting up a network with the included point/click tools. And succeeded, no problem, no thinking required at all. This is the easiest network setup I've ever seen in any OS, even easier than Mac 9.1. I was not able to test interoperability with Windows boxes because my home is Microsoft-free, and I do not have a CD burner so I could not test that function, but everything else worked as advertised, except for the flaws in some of the "outside" software I already mentioned.

I cannot praise Redmond Linux's basic KDE menu structure and default screens enough. They not only look great, but are organized better and more intuitively than those I have seen with any other Linux distribution. This may be no big deal to an old Linux head, but for a new user or one who only uses a computer to perform simple functions, menu structure can be more important than the kernel version inside the box.

Sadly, the server behind the "Update Wizard" is not running yet, nor is the one behind the (paid subscription) GamePak. I would dearly love to test these. If they work as well as the basic installation, I will happily pay a nominal monthly or annual fee for them. Free is nice, but so is ease of use. I don't know about you, but if I can click on a button and have my computer automatically updated and can download and install new software with a couple of clicks (even if the downloads take half the night at modem speed) I have no trouble letting go of a few bucks.

I can hardly wait for the "complete" Redmond Linux
What I have seen of Redmond Linux so far screams "WINNER!" For Linux users on a corporate Windows network, the Network Neighborhood for Linux feature, by itself, may be reason enough to get excited about Redmond Linux. More broadly, this is the kind of Linux distribution Windows users who want to switch painlessly to Linux have been hoping to find for years.

I am eager to look at Redmond Linux again, as soon as they get their first production release out the door, hopefully with more applications bundled, backed by download servers full of updates (and a steady stream of new software), even if full access to those servers requires a paid subscription.


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