Tag Archives: linux desktop

Lean, mean Linux

LinuxToday linked to a story today about Building a lo-fat Linux desktop. Basically it’s a list of applications you can run on a 233 MHz machine without feeling like you’re standing in line at the bank.

Most of the apps are things I’ve mentioned here before, but never in one place, at least not as a list of apps that run superfast. The closest I ever came was that last link. So I’m glad someone else did.

One nice thing: That last link was from 2002. Two and a half years-plus later, not much has changed. I think that’s good. It means things are stable.

Here’s a general principle to follow: KDE gives a nice, integrated environment and lots of apps that play well together, but the price is overhead. If you want something that reminds you of Windows and a Mac, run KDE. But don’t complain if Linux is slow on anything less than a cutting-edge machine, because it will be.

If you’ve heard that Linux runs fast even on ancient hardware and you want to live up to that expectation, Gnome apps are faster.

Sylpheed is a nice e-mail client if what you need is an e-mail client and not an all-out PIM. When I’m running Linux it’s what I like to use.

Dillo is a minimalist web browser. That has its advantages. Popups? Flash? Blinky ads? What are those? It’s a great choice for slower machines, and even for fast machines if what you’re wanting to do is get the information on the web without distractions and then get out.

Icewm is my default desktop no matter what machine I’m running. If I had a quad-CPU 3.4 GHz P4, I’d still run Icewm.

I haven’t used a newsreader since Google bought Dejanews, but back when I frequented newsgroups and ran my own client, Pan was tops. Pan did things that the for-pay newsreaders like Microplanet Gravity wouldn’t do. And that was something like five years ago. I’m sure it’s better now. Not only was it full-featured, it was fast.

I hadn’t heard of the picture viewers the article mentions. I’m not sure that I have a picture viewer installed on my current Linux desktop. I guess I just haven’t needed one. Hmm. But as I recall, GTKSee was reasonably quick, and its user interface was familiar, since ACDSee is a very popular program.

As far as links to the apps, I don’t provide them because you’ll need packages specific to your distribution, assuming your distribution didn’t already come with them (which it may very well have). Do a Google search on the app name and your distribution–“Sylpheed Mandrake” “Sylpheed Fedora” or what have you.

It’s a good article that I recommend reading, as is the follow-up, linked at the bottom.

Dave installs Windows XP

We needed an XP box at work for testing. Duty to do the dirty deed fell to me. So after ghosting the Windows 2000 station several of us share, I pulled out an XP CD. It installed surprisingly quickly–less than half an hour. The system is a P3-667 with 128 MB RAM and an IBM hard drive (I don’t know the model).
It found the network and had drivers for all the hardware in the box. That doesn’t happen very often with Microsoft OSs, so it was nice.

I booted into XP, to be greeted by a hillside that was just begging to be overrun by tanks, but instead of tanks, there was this humongo start menu. I right-clicked on the Start button, hit Properties, and picked Classic view. There. I had a Win95-like Start menu. While I was at it, I went back and picked small icons. I don’t like humongous Start menus.

I also don’t like training wheels and big, bubbly title bars. The system was dog slow, so I right-clicked on the desktop to see what I could find to turn off. I replaced the Windows XP theme with the Classic theme. Then I turned off that annoying fade effect.

Still, the system dragged. I went into Control Panel, System, Performance. Bingo. I could pick settings for best appearance (whose choices are certainly debatable–I guess they look good if you like bright colors and have a huge monitor) or best performance. Guess which I picked? Much better.

Next, I went into Networking. I saw some QoS thing. I did a search. It’s intended to improve the quality of your network, at the price of 20% of your bandwidth. Forget that. I killed it.

After I did all that stuff, XP was reasonably peppy. It logs on and off quickly. I installed Office 2000 and it worked fine. The apps loaded quickly–just a couple of seconds. That’s how it should be. If I went in and edited the shortcuts in the Start menu to turn off the splash screens, they’d load instantly.

WinXP brings up a bunch of popups that I don’t like. If I wanted unexpected popup windows, I’d run a Web browser. I couldn’t quickly figure out how to disable those.

I couldn’t run Windows Update. It froze every time I tried.

I found a Windows XP tuning guide at ExtremeTech. I suspect turning off the eye candy will help more than most of the suggestions in that article. I suspect if I dug around I’d find other things. We’ll see if I get some time.

XP isn’t as bad as I expected, I guess. But I’m still not going to buy it.

This, on the other hand, is worth a second look. And a third. You can now run MS Office on Linux. No need to wait for Lindows, no need to abandon your current fave distro (at least if your fave distro is Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, or Caldera).

It’s 55 bucks. It’s available today. It brings Office 97/2000 and Lotus Notes r5 to your Linux desktop. Other Windows apps work, but their functionality isn’t guaranteed.

You can get some screenshots at CodeWeavers. It even makes the apps look like native Linux apps.

Software stuff I forgot about

I’m hoping someone can help me here. I read a couple of stories this week and can’t find them anymore. They’re fairly significant.
Evil Adobe software. The first involved an Adobe lawsuit. Some outfit was buying Adobe suites, breaking them up, and reselling the components. Adobe sued, saying this violated the click-through license. The court ruled that the reseller never agreed to the click-through license, this constituted a sale even though Adobe defined it as a license, and the vendor wasn’t violating any copyright laws by selling the software CDs and books just like stores that sell used books and music don’t violate the copyrights. The court also questioned whether a click-through license was legally binding anyway.

This story should be very significant. The way around it, of course, is to rent software, which is more profitable anyway. Expect Adobe to make tracks down that path very quickly. Adobe’s software licenses are generally slightly more generous than Microsoft’s (they allow you to install their products on your home PC if your business buys them, something Microsoft no longer allows) but then again Adobe’s the company responsible for jailing Dmitry Sklyarov, so they’re still evil. Maybe not quite as evil as Microsoft, but still evil.

So if you must buy Adobe software, do it smart. Buy the suites–which generally combine three or more Adobe products and generally sell for what two products would sell for seperately–and split them up. Find a friend or coworker to go halvesies with you.

Evil viruses. I’ve been fearing for a couple of months the virus that takes the methods used by Nimda and combines them with oldschool exploits like infecting file shares and e-mailing people in your address book. Such a beast appeared last week, but the stories faded very quickly. Presumably the virus was discovered but never really made it into the wild. The stories I read suggested the virus code was very buggy.

Still, if you’re still reeling from Nimda like I am, take steps to secure your network. Put an antivirus package on your mailserver. Consider blocking access at the DNS level to your local ISPs’ mailservers and free mail providers such as Hotmail to keep users from bringing unchecked mail into your network. Deploy IE 5.5SP2 with all of the current patches. Put Outlook in the Restricted Sites zone and very seriously consider replacing Outlook with something that works right and is secure, such as the Lotus Notes and Domino tag-team. (Exchange always was a Domino wannabe anyway, and not a very good one.) And since keeping your Microsoft software up to date is a royal pain, tell your boss to start thinking about remote deployment software such as Tivoli. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper and easier than hiring another one of you and it frees you up to do real work. (My company’s been looking for another one of me for about three years, first so they could afford to get rid of me because I’m not a Microsoft lackey, and now so they can promote me. They’ve never succeeded. Presumably your company would have an equally difficult time finding another one of you.)

Linux in the enterprise. The ultimate solution to this virus crap (and other Windows-related crap) is to get rid of Windows and replace it with Linux, since Linux viruses are extremely rare and almost never damaging. While Linux has security vulnerabilities too, they’re generally more rare than Windows vulnerabilities and a desktop PC often won’t be running the programs that can be exploited. Besides, you are firewalled, aren’t you? If you are, you’re pretty reasonably secure, since in the Unix world, operating systems are operating systems–they don’t try to be operating systems and web browsers and mail clients and everything else.

But what about usability and maintainability? Linux plus KDE is no harder for an end-user to use than a PC or a Mac. Corel WordPerfect Office gives you everything you need to run your business, and secretaries like WordPerfect better than Microsloth Word anyway. Oh, you need Outlook, you say? Fine. Wait a month then. Ximian Evolution is approaching version 1.0, which will bring Outlook functionality to the Linux desktop. And if you don’t want to pay for WordPerfect Office, there’s always StarOffice. (But you can easily afford WP Office with the money you save by not buying Windows licenses anymore.)

So you don’t know anything about fixing Linux if it goes bad? So what? No sane person fixes a Windows installation either. Fixing a troublesome Windows box can easily take half a day, so the best practice is to keep an image of a working configuration, then when the user breaks it, back up user data (usually scattered all over the drive), re-image, then restore the data and be back up and running in an hour. Linux restricts user data to the /home hierarchy, so maintaining an army of Linux boxes is actually considerably easier than maintaining an army of NT boxes. Back up /home and re-image. Or if you’re really smart, you already redirected /home to a server somewhere, in which case all your desktops are now interchangeable. And Linux imaging is much easier than in NT. Linux generally doesn’t care about the motherboard, so if your video, sound, and network cards are identical, your disk images are interchangeable. Often you can get away with changing sound cards too. And if you’re limited to two or three types of NICs (probably Intel EtherExpress Pro and 3Com 90x; most cheapie 10/100 cards are covered by the Realtek 8139, DEC Tulip or NatSemi drivers), you can just statically compile those into the kernel and you’re set–then the video card is all you have to worry about. Running XConfigurator can take care of that in a matter of minutes. So a dead Linux box can be wiped and restored in 30 minutes, easy, during which your user can still be working, either on a vacationing neighbor’s PC or on your PC.

Remember too that a good percentage of NT problems are caused by toy programs users download off the ‘Net, or games or other programs people bring in from home and install. Those toys generally aren’t available for Linux, and since Linux has a low penetration in the home, people aren’t going to be bringing in their Barbie CDs and installing them. So you’re a fool not to think about Linux on the desktop in the enterprise.

Outta here. I’ve got more but I’m pretty much out of time. We’re doing a prayer vigil this weekend, and no fool signed up to lead from 1:00-2:00. When I stay up that late, my mind tends to be at its best, though my emotions tend to be at their worst (I get depressed easily). But since I can be plenty lucid at that hour, this fool signed up to lead. I’ll be back with more tomorrow.