Microsoft Windows is still the dominating operating system for personal
computers, it is by far and away not the only one. Linux distributions are much
friendlier to the user than they used to be, to the point of making the
difference between it and Windows almost nil. By reducing the hurdle that once
made Linux installation arduous, the choice of an operating system is now a
question of which one better suits your needs.

In her
book, Spring into Linux, Janet Valade describes how to install and use Linux and the
most common applications that currently run on that platform. The intellectual
tone of the book is geared toward the information technology professional and
is a thorough guide to the Linux universe. A chapter
excerpt is available in a free TechRepublic download

In the
following interview, Janet describes some of the more tangible benefits of
Linux and open source software and addresses the breadth of professional-grade
application software available to the information technology professional.

Title: Spring into Linux
Author: By Janet Valade
Publisher: Addison Wesley
Chapter 6: Using your desktop
ISBN: 0131853546; Published: April
25, 2005; Copyright 2005


[TechRepublic] In your book you mention
distrowatch.org, which tracks 320 Linux distributions. That’s a lot of
distributions for a professional to wade through without some knowledgeable
advice. You feature Fedora Core in the book, is that the distribution you
recommend? Why?

[Janet Valade] It’s in the nature of open source
programmers to make their work publicly available so that anyone who needs it
can benefit.

when a developer, or group of developers, puts together a distribution to meet
their own needs, they often make it available on a Web site. Thus, 320 distros.
Some of the distros are very specific, addressing very unusual environments. On
their Web site, Distrowatch provides a page showing the 10 most popular
distributions. If I were beginning to research Linux distributions, I would
begin there. The average user can find a distro that meets their needs in the
10 most popular.

My book
features the three most popular desktop oriented distributions–Fedora Core,
SuSE, and Mandrake (recently renamed Mandriva). I use Fedora Core as the
featured distribution because it seems the most suitable for the average user.
Mandriva is more oriented towards beginners. It tends to protect the user from
himself and sometimes flexibility suffers. SuSE, on the other hand, is slightly
more oriented toward technical users. However, Fedora may not appeal to users
who are most comfortable installing from a boxed set, following instructions in
a printed manual. Fedora doesn’t come in a boxed set.

[TechRepublic] Putting aside the passion open
source development can create in some people, why, in practical terms, should
an information professional consider Linux as the operating system for their
next PC?

[Janet Valade] Windows vs Linux discussions bring
fans of each to the battlefield. Many advantages argued by Linux enthusiasts
(better security, better reliability, more flexibility, more efficient) are
disputed by Windows devotees. However, one Linux advantage is clear–the cost
of software.

Users can
download and install Linux for absolutely no charge. Or, they can pay a very
small price for CDs. Even a boxed set of Linux costs less than a boxed set of
Windows. Furthermore, a single Linux system can be installed on as many
machines as the user wants. Linux does not include a license limiting its
installation to a single machine.

Of course,
new computers generally arrive with Windows already installed, its price
invisible in the price of the new computer.

However, computers
require application software, as well as an operating system. Application
software is available free for Linux. A cost-conscious user can download at no
cost all the application software needed to make a Linux system into a fully
functioning computer. For example, GIMP is a fully functional, free graphics
package that runs on Linux. Users running Windows need to purchase PhotoShop,
or an equivalent commercial package, to edit graphic files. Furthermore, the
future cost of the software is zero, as well. When software upgrades are
available and needed, they can also be downloaded for free.

[TechRepublic] The chapter we are featuring as a
download deals with the graphical user interface (GNOME and KDE), which is very
similar to Windows. Do you believe this generally familiar interface makes
switching to Linux easier? Will most users still have to deal with the command
line from time to time, no matter which GIU they choose?

[Janet Valade] Desktop users who work mainly in
applications can easily work entirely from their desktop. Opening applications,
managing files, accessing the Internet, and other tasks performed by most
desktop users can be done from the desktop in a manner very familiar to Windows

administration tasks can also mainly be performed from the desktop. Most Linux
distributions provide utilities that work well from the desktop. However, many
tasks can be performed more easily and with more speed and flexibility using
the command line. And a few technical tasks require administrators to use the
command line.

[TechRepublic] You spend a good portion of your
book discussing the various applications that exist for the Linux operating
system. Just about everything you could possibly need is available including
word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, Web browsers, and graphic manipulation
applications. Is there a certain application that you would like to see
developed for Linux that is not currently available or possibly up to the
proper professional standard it needs to be?

[Janet Valade] In general, Linux is still behind
in multimedia applications, although it’s making major strides. This type of
application is the weakest area for Linux. The problem is partly due to
licensing issues, partly due to software development. However, many people are
now working seriously in this area and applications are improving all the time.