December 7, 2001

Web review: IBM writer says desktop Linux good but not for everyone

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
This week's Web review isn't a Web review at all; it should be called a PDF review. As far as I know, this information is not published in HTML on the Internet. But, What good is a Linux client? is a good read, and perhaps a challenge to popularly held notions within the Linux community. So whether you're a newbie or you're further down the road, you won't want to pass it up.Mark Chapman is a technical writer for IBM and he's done a very good job of disseminating what could be (and what has been, all too often) depicted as very technical information. That makes Chapman the best kind of technical writer -- the kind who can make the difficult, understandable and friendly. As you're reading this white paper, if you're thinking "what's the big deal?" it means the writer has done his job properly.

This publication, sponsored by IBM's developerWorks site, is 29 pages of what should be desperately sought-after first-hand information for people who are thinking about adopting Linux on their desktop. Chapman set out to honestly answer the question, "Is Linux a viable desktop operating system for general business use?"

To make things especially clear for Windows users who may be reading What good is a Linux client?, Chapman put together a 17-page PDF glossary, entitled Linux glossary for Windows users, where he defines terms such as "bash," "beowulf," "process," and "Python." This is no weeny little glossary. It's a text unto itself, worthy of its own review and worthy of inclusion in your technical reference library.

Once you've digested the glossary, you're ready to read and understand Chapman's journey to becoming a Linux user. He provides an exhaustive list of software to tryout as replacements for Windows applications, starting with browsers and progressing through office suites, virus checkers (someone should tell him you don't usually need those in Linux), speech recognition, games, personal finance (Chapman mentions that these are not normally considered for business use, but thought they were worth including since so many people use Quicken to track their financial data), and various emulators for DOS, Windows, and Macintosh.

Chapman concludes in part: "I was pleasantly surprised by how many categories of applications and utilities were represented with Linux tools. Many people would be able to perform their daily jobs ... On the other hand, those needing Linux versions of popular Windows applications may be disappointed." Sounds positive, but the clincher in Chapman's verdict is printed in italics after he says all the good stuff: "... I feel that many home and home office users (those who are comfortable using Windows but not editing configuration files, running occasional commands from the command line or compiling software before use) might be best served avoiding Linux for now, at least until such time as the level of 'polish' allows users to do everything from the graphical interface, as Windows 98 does."

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Chapman's final assessment, What good is a Linux client? (this link is a 228k PDF file) is a wealth of information about Linux applications and where to find them, as you'll see when you peruse the appendix, and an interesting read about one man's journey.


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