$50 OpenLinux 2.2 puts on a friendly face for its users

$50 OpenLinux 2.2 puts on a friendly face for its users

By Jason Byrne
GCN Staff

No operating system fits every task. That is the main reason why open-source Linux has risen in the past couple of years from obscurity to OS superstardom.

The GCN Lab recently took a look at Caldera Inc.'s latest version of OpenLinux, which retails for $50.

Like every flavor of Linux, Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 has slight differences from and certain features common to other Linux OSes. Linux competes with the dominant Microsoft Windows OSes in server environments, but it misses the mark for the typical end user.

Linux source code is public and modifiable. Consequently, Linux installations tend to be much more targeted than Windows counterparts, which must fill every requirement with just two operating systems.

Windows' strength and weakness is that it satisfies the mainstream, but sites that try to get it to do something it wasn't designed to do can run into problems.

The Linux build-your-own approach is a boon to those who have the time and knowledge to invest in OS modifications. Mainstream users tend to feel cast adrift.

Caldera's OpenLinux 2.2 does an excellent job of bridging the gap. The underlying OS is pure Linux, but Caldera pays plenty of attention to the user experience.

It bundles Corel WordPerfect 8, administration tools, schedulers, organizers, robust network support, developer tools and even multimedia applications.

Included are the Netscape Communicator browser and the K Desktop Environment, which will be immediately familiar to any Common Desktop Environment Unix user.

Topping off the bundle is a Microsoft Office-compatible productivity suite called StarOffice 5 from Star Division Corp. of Fremont, Calif.

I installed OpenLinux 2.2 on both an aging 133-MHz Pentium PC and a state-of-the-art 500-MHz Pentium III. I tried it on a 300-MHz Pentium II server with a RAID controller but was stymied by drive recognition problems.

The installation, and indeed the entire user experience, moved along much faster on the 500-MHz PC. I was surprised, though, at how well the OS performed on the 133-MHz Pentium with a paltry 16M of RAM.

From helpful error messages to the Tetris game that popped up while the installation script copied files, OpenLinux clearly was different.

The log-in screen looked indistinguishable from most Unix log-ins. But the K Desktop Environment provided a wizard to help customize the interface.

The wizard had four themes, some designed for the comfort of users accustomed to other environments.

The look-alike themes included Windows, Mac OS and Be Inc.'s BeOS, plus the default KDE theme.

I have had limited experience with BeOS, but the Windows and Mac OS themes were nicely done and easy to navigate. Linux gave me the impression of melding Windows with SunSoft Solaris.

A few snafus

There were several glitches, however. While using the Netscape browser, I had trouble accessing pages that required plug-ins unavailable for Linux and even with simple JavaScript buttons.

Linux in its current version is not ready for desktop PC prime time.

Power users who are willing to get their virtual hands dirty will find it an interesting and productive environment'and economical for Web hosting with, say, Apache Web Server freeware.

Linux has matured at a remarkable rate. Versions such as Caldera's are moving in the right direction to fill an important niche.

Will Linux ever be able to compete head-to-head with Windows? Not anytime in the near future, but that's not a suitable question.

Sometimes the right tool will be Linux, sometimes Windows, and sometimes Novell NetWare or Solaris or Hewlett-Packard
HP-UX.

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