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Finally, Linux for the Desktop?

(continued from page 1)

Using Lycoris Desktop/LX was nothing short of amazing.  From the beginning, the interface was a lot like Windows, simple to use and something that I believe any user could sit down and learn within a few minutes.  But the more I casually looked over Desktop/LX and gathered my first thoughts and opinions on it, I wondered if this was just another distribution of Linux with a "pretty" interface making big promises that it couldn't live up to.  Would it still have it's complex usability problems that have always plagued desktop users who are looking for simplicity and ease of use?

I decided to sit down and test three major areas of Desktop/LX, from the perspective of being a standard user; third party software installations, ability to network/connect to the internet, and  configuring system preferences.  It is essential that a desktop operating system have its focus towards each of these three areas to make it easier for the end user as well as easier for maintenance and troubleshooting.  The last thing any IT staff member wants to do is learn something entirely new as they troubleshoot to fix it.

Considering that an operating system is not the only software needed to use a computer, businesses are constantly developing software and applications to be installed on the operating system.  Most of us are familiar with installing software such as Microsoft Office, ICQ, and any other programs you might enjoy.  This is what has made Windows such a widely accepted operating system, regardless of its frequent crashes.  The only knowledge required by the user to install software is to insert a CD or to double click on an *.exe file.  I decided to do what any home user would do after receiving a new computer and that was head to the internet and download several of my favorite software applications.

I created a list of several applications that I felt would encompass what users would most likely download or use in replacement of their Windows software.  Topping my list was AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) 1.5.234, along with OpenOffice 1.0.1, Opera web browser 6.0.3, and Kaspersky Anti-Virus 4.0 for Linux.  While downloading the files, I noticed that the software packaged in RPM format was denoted with a special windows-like setup icon which would be very familiar to any Windows user.  Acting instinctively, I chose one and clicked on it to begin the setup process.  The program I chose was AIM, and to my surprise the RPM package began to install immediately using the Desktop/LX Software Installer.  A window denoting the overall process was shown and when it finished was I was prompted that AIM had successfully been installed.  My one complaint with the AIM install was that it did not create any shortcuts on the desktop or start menu's.  In order to get AIM to start I simply had to type "/usr/local/bin/aim" at a console screen.

The next program I installed was the Opera 6 web browser.  Just like AIM, Opera was packaged in the RPM format allowing the native Desktop/LX installer to automatically install Opera with a single click of the mouse.  This time I did notice that Opera was smart enough to create a icon and shortcut inside of the Internet options on the start menu.  A side note for people who are wishing to download and install Opera, the Opera website offers several RPM packages for various distributions of Linux.  Lycoris Desktop/LX will only work with the QT Shared SuSE/Debian/Other selection and not the RedHat 7 RPM version.

Installing OpenOffice and Kaspersky Anti-Virus was not as easy as AIM and Opera.  Both of these programs were packaged in the standard Linux tarball format allowing Desktop/LX to see them only as archives and not programs to be installed.  In order to install either of these I had to open a console window, manually extract and then install each of them.  Installing OpenOffice was not as hard as it first appeared as long as the directions on the OpenOffice website are followed exactly.  For any experienced Linux user, installing tarball files should be a relatively easy process, but for someone migrating from Windows or Mac platforms to Lycoris this would be a bit of a challenge to get working the first or second time.

The second area of Desktop/LX that I felt I should cover was its ability to network and be networked.  In recently years with the growth of broadband internet and homes getting more than one PC, networking in the home is becoming just as common place as networking in the office.  For any operating system that is going to make a push to be competitive in the desktop market, it is essential that it can network and be networked flawlessly.

The biggest impression I got of Desktop/LX was how quick it recognized and accessed my Windows 2000 Domain/network here in my office.  On the desktop is a Network Browser icon similar to the My Network Places in Windows.  It's purpose is to browse networks and domains allowing easy access to files and file shares.  I decided to try using that to access my MODEMNET-NET Windows2000 domain.  Instantly Desktop/LX showed my domain and the file shares contained within.  Not since the days of Corel Linux 1.0 has any version of Linux ever recognized and accessed my network with such little effort. 

Even though Desktop/LX uses Samba 2.x for its file sharing and connections to Windows PC's, it still is not fully compatible with NT/2000 domains in that it can not join or fully become part of domain.  That is not as much a problem as an annoyance.  Instead of having the seamless integration of Windows clients, using Active Directory allowing user to go wherever they have permission, Desktop/LX forces you to enter the username/password for each share you would like to visit.  This can be overcome by using the assigned Windows username and password, but again it is more of an annoyance than an actual bug.  For this reason I would not suggest a wide deployment of Lycoris Desktop/LX in the enterprise business where normally all file, email, and logon servers are Microsoft NT/2000 based.

After seeing Desktop/LX connect to my office network almost perfectly, I decided to try something that I had dared not tried before with Linux.  That was to try and get Linux to see my networked HP DeskJet 990c inkjet printer which is connected to one of my intranet servers.  By just following the basic prompts and icons, I navigated to the Control Center where I was able to click on Printers and Other Hardware and start the process of setting up a new printer.  I was given the choices of what type of printer I was installing (local or networked), letting Desktop/LX search the networked printers, and choosing what driver I wished to install.  Upon the completion of the printer detection, out came a test page from Desktop/LX on my printer.

It is very worthwhile to note that since Linux has always been designed as a server operating system, it contains daemons or services that allow web browsers, ftp programs and telnet programs to connect to it.  By default in other distributions such as RedHat Linux, these services are turned on automatically leaving a possible backdoor for malicious users to cause damage to the system.  Also not only could that be an open door for hackers, but those services do take up extra system resources.

Since Desktop/LX is a desktop oriented operating system I felt that those server daemons should not be there, at least not installed and running.  To check this I simply opened Internet Explorer, telnet and WS_FTP on my Windows XP computer and tried to use those programs to access the IP address of my Lycoris test machine.  On each of the above programs Desktop/LX either denied access or the daemons simply were not installed.