Open Source

The enlightenment of the Linux desktop

On Jan. 11, 2000, Elliot Lee, a developer for the Red Hat Advanced Development Laboratories, hosted a discussion on Linux development (with an enterprise twist) from a programmer's point of view.

On Jan. 11, 2000, Elliot Lee, a developer for the Red Hat Advanced Development Laboratories, hosted a discussion on Linux development (with an enterprise twist) from a programmer's point of view. If you couldn’t join us then, we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity
Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I would like to welcome you to TPG's Guild Meeting. Tonight we welcome Elliot Lee from Red Hat Linux! <insert grand applause>.

EL: So, greetings all.

Moderator: I want to remind you that we are giving away prizes for the most constructive participant of the Guild Meeting. We will be giving away one copy each of Quake III for Linux, a VMware License, one of IDG's popular Linux series books and a chance to win one of the Athlon machines from

Moderator: so...everyone, I give you Elliot Lee. would anyone like to start out with a question for Mr. Lee?

Moderator: here's a question about the evolution of Red Hat Linux—where do you see it going?

EL: Or if you all want to introduce yourselves, that'd be cool too.

Q: If this is my first exposure to Linux, will this be over my head? have been NT admin (sorry for dirty words).

EL: No, it's OK :).

EL: Everyone uses what they need to use.

EL: I think jlwallen's introduction was slightly incorrect, mainly because I work for Red Hat, Inc., which happens to produce Red Hat Linux, but I don't do too much work on RHL itself.

Loading Red Hat on a DEC Alpha
Q: Hello, I support a mixed NT/UNIX environment at work and need to get a DEC Alpha to run my Red Hat 5.0 (won't load).

Q: Now working in NOCC for startup co-location provider/ISP. use Linux on one of our servers. I’m not admin‑yet.

EL: 5.0 is pretty ancient. 6.1 is out now, and might work slightly better. :).

Q: Hi there, I develop on Solaris and play with NT, but I’m looking forward to Linux.

Moderator: only slightly? ;-).

Q: True, I purchased it from Red Hat, but have never been able to get it up and running. Probably time to give up and get the upgrade. Hate wasting money.

EL: Well, it always depends on the particular use situation. You could always download it if you just wanted to try it out. What type of Alpha?

Q: The DEC is a 244.

EL: Hmm, I haven't heard of that one. It may be a little old.

Netcfg “deserves to die”
Moderator: i do have a question for you—that you might be able to answer. why did Red Hat switch their way of doing dial up? i find the rp3 tool to be rather inconsistent—besides being broken out of the box. will this issue be addressed in the next release? <sorry if this question is out of your jurisdiction>.

EL: rp3 is a lot easier for new users than netcfg ever could have been. It goes through the process of setting up dialup step-by-step.

Q: I will be setting up Red Hat Linux 6.0 on one of 3 systems (NTServ, NTWksta), w/Cisco router in training lab. would appreciate heads up on any gotchas.

EL: Well, you might want to consider 6.1 instead of 6.0, just because it is newer and has all the fixes discovered after the 6.0 release.

Moderator: i agree that it is easier...well...I’d say more familiar. (on the rp3 vs. netcfg tool). i for one was used to netcfg and could configure dialup in about 15 seconds. ;-) I was very sad to see that tool lose support.

Q: Thank you, I will do that.

EL: netcfg is a tcl hack from before Red Hat Linux 4.0—it deserves to die.

Moderator: what about the small breaks in 6.1? like printing (lpr problem) and the PPP problem? these problems in particular really taught me to rely on the errata page.

Moderator: :-) at least it died a graceful death.

Red Hat 6.1 supports e-commerce, not XML?
Q: Quick Question: does the 6.1 release contain any application supporting an e-commerce catalog?

EL: Yup.

Q: er, hi! :) I have been toying with Linux (Mandrake version—totally compatible w/ Red Hat I hear). I've noticed that although it finds most of my hardware, I have things like screen flicker, and the CD-ROM is detected as a 14x instead of the 32x that it is. and no sound card. I've been hearing about apps that can be bought to make these things work. is there no way to do it right out of the box?

EL: The CD-ROM speed isn't even really detected except perhaps in boot up messages. The detected CD-ROM speed is not really relevant.

Q: Oh! I'm sorry. what I meant is, as I read the messages as they go by, it says Sony 14x or ATAPI 14x, I can't remember which.

EL: Right, it may say that, but software doesn't ever change your CD-ROM's speed, so as long as it works, fine.

EL: To get sound, run sndconfig as root.

Q: Any XML support?

EL: I think it might, let me check. Define XML support.

Q: Ability to talk using XML to other apps (accounting, etc.)

EL: Oh, you want a catalog that talks XML. I doubt it (specifying "XML" is rather useless, since it is only a file format and not a definition of semantics), but you could check on the Red Hat Web site.

Web development tools
Q: newbie question: what about Web page building tools on Red Hat 6.0 or 6.1?

Q: It doesn't affect performance of the drive in any way? or indicate a conflict? ( sorry if it's a dumb question. :) )

EL: What type of tools?

EL: Nope, it doesn't affect performance at all. Just a cosmetic thing.

Q: web page design.

EL: HTML editors, or something else?

Q: yes, HTML editors, basically.

EL: andy: Well, I use emacs. :).

EL: There is also the Netscape composer, and other tools available on the 'net.

Q: great thanks, I was thinking there was something wrong.

Moderator: what kind of new features are coming up with the new release?

EL: No comment.

Changes between Red Hat 6.0 and 6.1
Q: what has been improved upon?

EL: You mean between 6.0 and 6.1?

Q: yes.

Q: let me see, using emacs to build Web pages. i'd better get to Barnes and Noble and look for web design for dummies ; -).

EL: dark: clustering, rp3, much better GNOME (go me), newer kernel, and of course, bug fixes and package updates.

Q: fair enough. I should get away from point and click and start learning the HTML code.

Moderator: good one! ;-)

Moderator: i've been reading on the Red Hat list—there are some people talking about re-compiling Red Hat binaries for the i686. many people are saying it won't make much difference. what is your opinion?

Moderator: go GNOME! <I’m a big fan>.

EL: It won't make any difference given the currently released compilers.

Q: it won't make a big difference.

Moderator: that's what I figured. i was assuming maybe 5% better performance, tops.

EL: Maybe 5% worse, too. The only way to find out for sure is to benchmark it for your specific application. You can't trust generalized benchmarks to make your specific use cases go faster. And really, just how fast do you need /bin/ls to go?

When is Linux getting a decent browser?
Moderator: here's something that's really been eating at me. the browser war. i've used Mozilla, kfm, and Netscape. i have the Opera beta but you can't do anything with it yet. when is Linux (in your opinion) going to get a decent browser?

EL: I use Communicator; it works for me for now. I think people should just choose what they like. Instead of going into this "all or nothing" mindset.

Q: hello all.

EL: And if you don't like the existing solutions, make a better one or improve on one.

Moderator: <insert crowd saying 'loot'>.

2000 will be the year of‑desktop or server?
EL: So, a question for all. Do you think Linux will do better on the desktop or server in the upcoming year? And why? Discuss. (Two page essay due at the start of class tomorrow.)

Q: back to the compiler question: thought that Intel would work (is working) to optimize Linux with their processors.

Moderator: in my opinion 2000 will be the year of the Linux desktop. for many reasons. one being application support, two being simpler and more elegant GUIs, three being simpler installations.

Q: Definitely better on the desktop because of the applications’ availability. The server arena looks filled with angry contenders ;-).

EL: Interesting. The mainstream press seems to think the opposite.

Q: Well, you already did great on the server side.

EL: There's still a lot of room for expansion on the server side, though.

Q: for me, 2000 will be the year of the Linux server. desktop, eoy 2000, more like 2001.

Q: that's "2000 WILL be the year of the Linux server.”

EL: s/expansion/improvement/.

Moderator: how do you think the release of Windows 2000 will affect Linux?

EL: Are any notable obstacles to world domination on the desktop and the server, or is it just a matter of time?

Q: *grins!* Well, if it's as stable *g* as the previous releases of Windows, it should start swinging people over in droves!! :)

Q: win2k, funny you should ask. i'm getting a lot about Win2k in the Samba forums. they really break it down there. they have to :-/

Moderator: the biggest obstacle (from what I keep reading from TechRepublic subscribers) is Linux's ability to interact easily with such apps as Outlook. that and I think Microsoft's wallet. ;-)

In-house development, and certification
Q: Well, I was speaking with one of my clients, a rather large corp., about Linux. They made a good point that a lot of their applications are home-brewed. Since they have no developers on board who could create apps for Linux, they are reliant on Windows. How long do you think it will be before corporations begin to hire Linux developers for their own in house s/w?

EL: Well, there are a variety of certifications available, including (ding ding) RHCE.

Moderator: oh no! are we going to have to start seeing RHCE all over the place? i'm just now wearing out all my MSCE jokes. argh! ;-).

Q: i think UNIX will give Linux the inroads to the corporate environment. i've seen some UNIX training courses with Linux classes as electives.

Q: i will ask one of our developers to take a look at Linux, "can you port this in-house UNIX app to Linux?"

Q: I think it would be relatively easy to switch companies over to a Linux based desktop environment over the next year or so, but I've seen people cringe when I mention putting financial and mission critical databases on Linux.

EL: RHCE is a lot more difficult than MSCE :)

Q: it's silly really, since these mission critical apps often run on UNIX, but the prevailing opinion is, "I can trust UNIX, which costs money, or this <shudder> free stuff."

Q: platform success = apps + resources + lots of marketing.

EL: Porting from other Unices to Linux is usually pretty easy. If the app doesn't stick to standard APIs it gets more difficult, though.

Q: exactly! the main obstacle in that arena is definitely people's fears.

Q: true.

Q: yes, I thought porting would be pretty easy.

Q: to belay people's fears we have to test the Linux platform alongside the others and compare and contrast, and focus on the benefits.

What are the biggest Linux shortcomings right now?
EL: What are the biggest shortcomings with it right now?

Q: biggest issue is collaboration—you never know who you will have to exchange files with, and Office has the customer base hands down.

Q: has there been any organized effort to do so thus far?

Q: as we mature and Linux matures, I think support will grow. maybe we have to start small and do small well or maybe better.

Q: collaboration is no longer just an internal company issue‑must work with EVERYONE.

Q: ...then move on to something bigger...

Q: the Beowulf cluster is a nice start :)

Q: 140 processor Alpha Beowulf cluster constructed entirely from commodity personal computer technology.

Q: yeah. that's starting small... :-)

EL: How many of you use Linux as your primary desktop OS?

Moderator: I do. in fact I use no MS products.

Q: right here.

Moderator: ladies and gents we have to wrap it up now, so if you have any last questions for Mr. Lee voice 'em now.

Q: I do @ work we have to use a W95 image.

Q: although I’m on my daughter's PC now while I have something brewing on the Linux box.

Q: <drum roll in background>.

Q: Thank you Mr. Lee :).

Q: thanks everyone! Thanks Mr. Lee.

And the winners are…
Moderator: we had a tough time deciding a winner tonight...but the prizes go to <drrrrrrrrrrrrum rollllllllllllllll> andy_davis! yes sir, andy_davis will receive a copy of Quake III for Linux, a VMware License, and a book from IDG! andy_davis, if you will send your e-mail, phone number, and snail mail address we'll get those to you.

Q: my next big project is to install my IBM 380 ThinkPad.

Q: Thanks a lot for the 411!! It was a real pleasure.

Q: way to go Andy.

EL: _ACTION waves.

Moderator: i want to thank Elliot Lee for being so kind and thank our sponsors,, VMware, Loki Games and IDG! <applause>.

Q: wow, great thanks, folks.

Moderator: please join us again Thursday when Michael Jennings will join us. and you'll be eligible for prizes (like those Athlon machines from

Moderator: thank you everyone for a great meeting! remember January is Linux month at TPG so every Tuesday and Thursday night at 9 EST we'll be talking the talk here at the Guild Meetings.

Moderator: thank you and grease for peace.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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