Java Desktop System resurrects aging PCs

I'll admit up front that I love Microsoft Windows XP for its functionality and flexibility. I can do just about anything with it.

But XP has two big limitations. First, it demands a high-end system to run properly. Second, it's a lot more expensive than it probably warrants.

The Java Desktop System is designed to work on aging clients'in fact, on just about any PC built in the last five years. Its Linux environment mimics the Windows environment.

The GCN Lab installed JDS Release 2 on several older systems, and for basic applications it worked just fine, especially considering its low, $100 price tag.

Don't expect many bells and whistles, however, unless you are accustomed to the utilitarian Linux world. There are only basic picture-viewing and multimedia programs.

No programming needed

One of the best compliments I can pay JDS is that everything worked without my having to do any programming. That seldom happens with Linux.

JDS' biggest strength is Sun Microsystems' StarOffice 7 suite. The lab has used StarOffice in the past and found it an acceptable alternative to Microsoft Office, with a little bit of training.

Pairing StarOffice with an OS that is not processor-greedy makes sense. Lacking the office tools, JDS would be just another flavor of Linux that looks fairly pretty and doesn't crash. With the suite, JDS can make older systems viable again.

Oddly enough, few Java programs are present in the mix except for disk and file system mapping. That isn't necessarily a negative, but with Java in the name, I expected to see a bit more Java. Almost nothing overlaps in functionality, which is a bonus for managers of large networks: They'll only have to know one configuration to make the whole enterprise work.

Not all Windows applications are compatible with this environment, however. If your office uses any specialized apps, test them out with JDS before making a large-scale purchase.

Sun representatives told me that some reviewers have had problems trying to run JDS on brand-new systems. I began installing it on the newest notebook PCs I could lay hands on. And yes, there were a few minor glitches with a sound driver or wireless chip here and there.

But the suite is not aimed at the latest and greatest systems, so this is no big flaw. If you shell out money for the latest hardware, you'll get Office XP and Windows XP anyhow.

At the other end of the spectrum, JDS Release 2 ran smoothly on an old, 500-MHz Celeron PC with 128M of RAM'a system the lab had slated for disposal based on its uselessness. Guess what? It got a reprieve courtesy of JDS.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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