Since its inception in 1991, Linux has been making inroads
into the operating system space long dominated by Microsoft Windows. While the
benefits of Linux have been touted and evangelized, the open source OS
community has found that convincing entrenched decision makers occupying key
enterprise positions to switch is a challenge. Much of the resistance expressed
toward Linux revolves around the perception that it is a difficult OS to
install, maintain, and use. Overcoming this preconceived notion is now being
supported by concrete factual information.
Point & Click
Point & Click
Linux! Your Guide to Hassle-Free Computing, written by Robin Miller,
and published by Prentice Hall, takes the preconceived perception that Linux is
difficult to use and turns it on its ear with a simple, straight-forward guide
to Linux basics. Following the simple instructions laid out in the book and
using the CD-ROM that ships with it, you will get Linux up-and-running on your
PC in just minutes. Can Linux on the office desktop be far behind?
The main emphasis of Point
& Click Linux is on the desktop, but there is a chapter written by Joe
Barr that covers some of the basics of the command line interface (CLI). IT
professionals installing Linux on end user’s desktops will most likely find
most useful chapter, which is why TechRepublic chose it for the feature
download, but if you are working a help desk for Linux in the enterprise, you
will find the entire book very useful.
Where do we go from here
In an effort to gauge what an easy-to-install-and-use Linux
means for the future of enterprise computing and the IT professionals who
manage it, TechRepublic interviewed the author of Point & Click Linux, Robin Miller, and the chapter author for
that accompanies this article, Joe Barr.
your book illustrates very well, Linux has come a long way with regard to ease
of installation and use. However, Joe Barr’s chapter deals with the command
line. One general school of thought has been that once Linux moved from a
command-line alternative operating system to a more user-friendly GUI OS,
widespread adoption would be just around the corner. Will the command line
always be a necessary component of Linux?
[Robin Miller] The
command line is no longer necessary for desktop Linux users, but it’s great to
have available for users who want to move beyond the “Point and
Click” stage. Remember, when something in a closed-source program or
operating system is broken or doesn’t work the way you want, you can’t fix it,
while with an open source program or operating system you can—if you’re willing
to take the time and trouble to learn how to do it.
Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to become a
programmer or command-line guru, you can usually get someone in an appropriate
online forum or IRC channel to talk you through whatever you’re trying to do.
An example: I prefer not to have splash screens taking up
space on my monitor while a program is booting. I particularly dislike the OpenOffice.org (OOo) one. I
went to the OOo site, did a search, and easily found how to turn off the OOo
splash screen by making a one-line modification in a program file. I didn’t
need to learn any programming to do this. I followed simple instructions. The
change took me all of 30 seconds, and I used a point and click text editor (KWrite)
to do it.
This was a command line task. Without access to those
program files—and at least knowing I could
use the command line to do this sort of thing—I couldn’t have done it.
So is the command line necessary for desktop Linux use? No.
Is it nice to have available? Yes. And that’s why only one chapter in my whole
book mentions it, and that chapter is toward the end—and is clearly marked as
[Joe Barr] One of
the strong suits of Linux—especially compared to the monopoly platform—is its
flexibility. This gives it the ability to be “exactly right” for a
wide range of users: from a rank novice using the Internet for the first time
to a software developer, to an experienced professional running server
applications or administering multiple systems.
For the less technically inclined Linux users—most often
recently arrived from the Windows world—the CLI is not a necessary component at
all. Everything they need to do can be done from the ease and comfort of the
For those with “geek fever,” who like to get under
the hood and tweak themselves silly, the Linux CLI provides just the tools they
need. I’m certainly not a pro, not in the sense of being a system or network
administrator, but as something of a “power user” of the modern Linux
desktop, I find the CLI to be a powerful tool in getting things done exactly as
I want them done, quickly and easily.
I spend almost all of my time in the GUI these days. But
just like Pooh Bear deciding that he had 16 jars of honey at home instead of
only 15, it’s just more comforting to know the CLI is there if I need it, and
it is continually stocked with new and upgraded tools.
Assuming we are on the cusp of a general migration toward Linux and other open
source applications, how do you see that manifesting itself? Will retailers
start selling Linux boxes to consumers? Or will Linux make its mark in
Retailers already do, just not as heavily in the U.S. as elsewhere. I can go to
HP’s site and order either a desktop or laptop preloaded with Linux. In fact, I
am typing this on an HP D220 that was originally shipped with Linux, not
Windows. Other OEMs are gradually learning that there is a market for Linux computers,
but they need to be careful about irritating Microsoft and losing co-op
advertising support and other spiffs that are beyond the scope of the DoJ’s
antitrust settlement with them but can still significantly impact profits.
So you know, retailers don’t make a “Linux or not”
decision but leave it up to the OEMs, at least according to buyers for Circuit
City and Best Buy I’ve talked to. As far as Linux making its mark in business,
the last I heard Linux was the world’s fastest-growing server operating system.
This is not enough mark for you?
There has been a running
discussion on TechRepublic about the viability of Linux and open source
software for large enterprises. It has been argued that the need for
application integration across a wide spectrum of departments, etc.,
necessarily eliminates Linux and open source from this market because by their
very nature integration is not possible. The argument contends that the
enterprise market requires the stable infrastructure of a proprietary system.
Do you agree? What are some examples of open source integrated applications?
Umm… perhaps the people posting on TechRepublic should warn Merrill-Lynch
and other big financial houses that have been moving so heavily to Linux that
it’s not ready for them to use. Wal-Mart is another one that runs on Linux and
would probably also appreciate hearing that they’ve made a mistake. NASA and
almost every government “science” agency should also get the benefit
of these posters’ wisdom.
And I’m sure IBM will be shocked to learn that WebSphere
system—an integrated set of enterprise applications that runs on Linux and is
primarily based on open source code—”is not possible.”
Now, about the “stable infrastructure of a proprietary
system”—I remember Steve
Ballmer, CEO of a well-known software vendor, threatening under oath to
cease distribution and updates for one of his company’s major products,
Windows, if a court decided on antitrust remedies he didn’t like. I remember
listening to that and being glad neither I nor my employers depend on software
that one company, in a fit of corporate pique, can remove from the marketplace.
If I were using their products when I
heard that threat, I would have immediately found alternatives and switched to
them. But that’s just me.
As far as integrated applications, I am having a little
trouble understanding what you mean. I am personally a proponent of simple,
small utilities rather than integrated “suites.” Small,
purpose-oriented programs tend to be less bug-prone, easier to customize,
simpler to maintain and keep secure. And if all your software uses open,
non-proprietary file formats, sharing data across many programs is child’s
play, so integration is not an issue.
Microsoft has been trying to make some hay lately, claiming their products have
a lower total cost of ownership when compared to Linux and open source
software. I think your book shows that the data Microsoft is using to back this
contention is, to be generous, outdated. What data can you point TechRepublic
members to that will show a more accurate comparison of cost of ownership?
I’m afraid I don’t have the resources to hire major analyst firms to perform
studies to prove false studies false, but I will tell you this: At least one
analyst whose name has been on some of the TCO studies Microsoft touts runs his
own home office network on Linux because he finds it less expensive, more
secure, and easier to maintain than Windows.
Why Open Source Software / Free Software is a good page to look
at. David Wheeler debunks many of the concepts behind TCO studies in general,
and reminds you that all
vendor-sponsored studies should be taken with a grain of salt, if not simply
tossed in the trash.
You may also want to ask the people who run TechRepublic, a
well-known IT news and info site, why they run their servers on Linux and/or Apache rather than running Windows and IIS despite
all those Microsoft-sponsored TCO studies. It’s possible that those
TechRepublic guys have done some internal studies of their own and have decided
to use these open source products for the same reason our (anonymous) analyst
friend mentioned earlier uses them.
Lastly, from reading your book, it is obvious that Linux is not nearly as
difficult to install as it once was. However, the real test for consumers is
not whether an IT professional can use it, but whether an IT professional’s
grandparents can install it and use it. Have we reached that point yet? If not,
what can be done to make Linux a reality for the most novice computer users?
[Robin Miller] My
stepdaughter Alicia is a black single mom who didn’t finish high school and
works in a nursing home for $8 per hour. She uses her home computer to do
typical “home user” things like send and receive email, check the latest
rap video clips on BET.com, engage in long IM chats—that’s how she met her
current boyfriend—and as a “homework machine” for her two children.
She used OOo, running on Linux, to write and print the resume that helped her
get the nursing home job, which may not be high-end employment but is certainly
better than the warehouse job she had before it.
The question in my mind isn’t whether people like Alicia or
an IT professional’s grandparents can use Linux, but how they can use Windows.
Alicia’s computer has started and run flawlessly for nearly
four years. She’s never gotten a virus or worm infection, has never had spyware
or other malware problems, and hardly knows what the word
“reboot” means. I’ve updated her installation exactly once, ever. She
doesn’t need any of the handholding, virus removal, registry clean-outs, and
reinstalls that most non-technical Windows users require periodically and
either pay for at a computer store or talk IT-hip relatives—like TechRepublic
users—into doing for free.
Since you’re writing this for a high-level TechRepublic
audience, you chose the one non-point and click chapter in a book called
“Point & Click Linux!” because this is the only chapter that’s on
their level. The other 27 chapters in this book weren’t written for
TechRepublic readers but for Alicia and people like her, who will probably
never look at a command line in their lives. I made the videos (a screenshot
from one is attached) for grandparents, artists, cab drivers, and others who
want a trouble-free computing experience; who are not obsessed by computers or
necessarily interested in their inner workings but simply use them as tools and
want them to work with as little fuss as possible.
Come to think of it, I’m a grandfather myself and I use Linux all day, every day, as my
personal desktop operating system. And don’t forget: I’m a writer, not a
programmer, so incompetent at command line work myself that I called on my much
smarter coworker Joe Barr to write the one command
line chapter (out of 28, remember) in “Point & Click Linux!”
In September 2003, Tim Landgrave set off a real discussion
firestorm when he commented on RedHat’s licensing changes for Linux.
Considering the main point of Point &
Click Linux, do you think his comments have been superseded by technological
The times, they are a changing
Obviously, the author of Point
& Click Linux! Your Guide to Hassle-Free Computing is enthusiastic in
his support of Linux and open source applications no matter what venue you
place them in. Consumers, end users in the enterprise, and IT professionals can
all benefit from software developed in the open source community. When it comes
time to choose your next enterprise application, Linux and open source
solutions should not be overlooked. Enterprise applications are no longer the
sole province of large multinational software conglomerates. It will be
interesting to see how the large traditional players in this market react to
the challenge and how many IT professionals choose open source enterprise application
Still looking for evidence that there is a trend toward
Linux in the enterprise, then check out these recent TechRepublic articles and