Issue 8, August 2004
Copyright (C) 2004 by Steve Litt. All rights
Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for
use to Linux Productivity Magazine. All rights reserved to the
holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free
source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User
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but only after massive
investments in ease of use and configuration. The average desktop user
is unfamiliar with "make". -- Halloween Document II
By Steve Litt
We use Linux for servers only!
That was conventional wisdom for years. It's an easy position to take.
Samba has always been, and continues to be, despite Microsoft's
repeated changes to break Samba interoperatbility, a better file/print
server than Windows. Sure, at any given time Windows servers have
features Samba can't (yet) match, but Samba is rock solid, easy to
administer, and zero cost.
Quick! Think of a web server software! Did you think of IIS? Probably
not. You thought of industry leader Apache, and you probably envisioned
it on either a Linux or BSD box.
Linux hosts many other great servers, including X servers, mail
servers, ftp and secure ftp servers, fax servers, news servers,
telnet/ssh servers, and loads more. For a lightly used server, an
$800.00 commodity box, with no software cost once you download or
otherwise obtain your Linux distribution. For a heavy hitter machine
you'll pay extra for error correcting RAM, more RAM, faster processor,
SCSI disks and the like, but not a penny more for software.
Linux servers are a no-brainer.
Desktops are a different animal. The people who use them are a lot less
technical than server administrators, and thus do not train themselves.
Training is an issue. Something as simple as a different method of cut
and paste presents a training challenge. There are huge file and
protocol compatibility issues between the Linux desktop and the Windows
world. Some Windows programs have no close equivalent in the Linux
world. So why are more and more individuals and corporations jumping to
the Linux desktop?
People who years ago considered only the product are now starting to
consider the vendor. How has Microsoft treated them? Do they trust
Microsoft? How do they feel about the spectre of software audits, and
possible huge fines? These are the major incentives.
Once those incentives highlight a choice, the "wouldn't it be nice"
factors come into play. Wouldn't it be nice to have software expenses
go down to zero? Wouldn't it be nice to install an OS on any machine,
as many machines you want, without first placing a call to your
company's procurement officer? Wouldn't it be nice to be immune to the
most destructive viruses? Wouldn't it be nice to have world-class C,
C++, Java, Perl, Python and PHP compilers and interpreters bundled with
the operating system?
2004's best kept secret is that many corporations are trying out Linux
desktops. Many individuals bring Linux desktops into their homes.
This month's Linux Productivity Magazine is devoted to the Linux
Desktop. If you've ever considered a Linux desktop computer, or if you
just like Linux, this is your magazine. Enjoy!
Linux Productivity Magazine
By Steve Litt
Loyal readers, I need your help.
For months I've publicized Linux Productivity Magazine, expanding it
a new magazine to a mainstay read by thousands. There's a limit to what
can do alone, but if you take one minute to help, the possibilities are
If you like this magazine, please report it to one of the Linux
Tell them the URL, why you like it, and ask them to link to it.
I report it to them, but they don't take it very seriously when an
blows his own horn. When a hundred readers report the magazine, they'll
up and take notice.
Reporting is simple enough. Just click on one of these links, and
the magazine. It will take less than 5 minutes.
If you really like this magazine, please take 5 minutes to help bring
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GNU/Linux, open source and free software
By Steve Litt
Linux is a kernel. The operating system often described as "Linux" is
kernel combined with software from many different sources. One of the
prominent, and oldest of those sources, is the GNU project.
"GNU/Linux" is probably the most accurate moniker one can give to
operating system. Please be aware that in all of Troubleshooters.Com,
when I say "Linux" I really mean "GNU/Linux". I completely believe that
the GNU project, without the GNU Manifesto and the GNU/GPL license it
the operating system the press calls "Linux" never would have happened.
I'm part of the press and there are times when it's easier to say
than explain to certain audiences that "GNU/Linux" is the same as what
press calls "Linux". So I abbreviate. Additionally, I abbreviate in the
way one might abbreviate the name of a multi-partner law firm. But make
mistake about it. In any article in Troubleshooting Professional
in the whole of Troubleshooters.Com, and even in the technical books I
when I say "Linux", I mean "GNU/Linux".
There are those who think FSF is making too big a deal of this.
could be farther from the truth. The GNU General Public License,
with Richard Stallman's GNU Manifesto and the resulting GNU-GPL
are the only reason we can enjoy this wonderful alternative to
operating systems, and the only reason proprietary operating systems
even more flaky than they are now.
For practical purposes, the license requirements of "free software" and
source" are almost identical. Generally speaking, a license that
with one complies with the other. The difference between these two is a
in philosophy. The "free software" crowd believes the most important
is freedom. The "open source" crowd believes the most important aspect
the practical marketplace advantage that freedom produces.
I think they're both right. I wouldn't use the software without the
guaranteeing me the right to improve the software, and the guarantee
my improvements will not later be withheld from me. Freedom is
And so are the practical benefits. Because tens of thousands of
feel the way I do, huge amounts of free software/open source is
and its quality exceeds that of most proprietary software.
In summary, I use the terms "Linux" and "GNU/Linux" interchangably,
the former being an abbreviation for the latter. I usually use the
"free software" and "open source" interchangably, as from a licensing
they're very similar. Occasionally I'll prefer one or the other
if I'm writing about freedom, or business advantage.
By Steve Litt
You might as well know up front I'm a Mandrake Man, and have been for
four years. Mandrake is a Linux distro aimed at the desktop niche. It
detects hardware very well (though not as well as Knoppix), and comes
with a HUGE group of very useful applications. For me, installing
Mandrake is a way of getting an almost complete desktop machine in a
one hour install.
That being said, I can show you very knowledeable people who have set
up heavy duty desktop computers with Red Hat, Fedora, Debian, Knoppix,
and even "geeky" distros and operating systems like Slackware and BSD.
BSD is not Linux, but rather an actual UNIX that is free software.
BSD's supporters love its stability and performance.
Mandrake is not the only distro aimed specifically at the desktop.
There are many others, including Lindows, which strives to be as much
like Windows as possible, while still keeping most of the Linux
Knoppix deserves special notice because it can be run directly from a
CDROM without disturbing the operating system installed on the hard
disk. This makes Knoppix a wonderful stepping stone. If you like
Knoppix, you can choose to install it on the hard disk and use it just
like any other distribution. Knoppix is Debian under the hood, so you
can update just like any other Debian distribution. Knoppix does a
better job of hardware detection than any Linux distribution I've ever
seen. That alone makes your life much easier. Knoppix is also an
excellent diagnostic tool and hardware tester/configurer, but this is
beyond the scope of this month's magazine.
So which distribution should you choose for the desktop? Informally I'd
say Mandrake because I've had so much success with it. But really, you
can make any Linux distribution into an excellent desktop -- it's just
a matter of how much work it will take to do so.
If the rest of this document appears to be somewhat Mandrake-centric,
it's because I've had 100 times more experience with Mandrake than Red
Hat, and 10,000 times more experience than with Debian, Knoppix (used
as a desktop), Caldera, Corel, or BSD. That being said, I believe most
of what's written in this month's magazine is applicable to Linux at
The Basic Desktop Machine
By Steve Litt
What do most people do with computers? They surf the web. They
correspond via email. They write letters and other documents. They work
with spreadsheets. They create presentations. They interact with
specialty applications. They track their finances.
Most of the preceding capabilities are packaged with your average Linux
distribution. For web browsing, the user has the choice of Mozilla,
Konqueror, Galeon, and several other browsers. Most Linux distributions
come with Kmail, Evolution and Mozilla Email. Many Linux distros are
bundled with OpenOffice, which includes a word processor, spreadsheet,
and presentation program, all of which are compatible with documents
created by most versions of MS Office.
That leaves two holes:
#1 is doable depending on the specialty application. If it's a web app
and isn't riddled with browser or OS dependencies, it's likely runnable
from a Linux desktop. If it's a simple C or C++ program without Windows
specific frameworks such as MFC, it might be possible to get the vendor
to compile it for Linux. If it's an in-house application, it could be
ported or reengineered. So in many instances you can interact with
specialty applications from a Linux desktop.
- Interacting with specialty applications
- Tracking finances
#2 is problematic. There's no Quicken or Quickbooks for Linux. Sure,
you can learn and use GNUCash. You can train
employees to use GNUCash. But you'll be out of sync with the vast
majority of accountants, who can handle only Quicken, Quickbooks, and a
few other well known Windows-centric accounting packages. Alternative
approaches to this problem will be discussed in later articles.
To get your basic desktop, start with a substantial hard disk (at least
20GB), and install all browsers, all email clients, OpenOffice, all the
office offerings from the KDE and Gnome projects, KDE, Gnome, and all
the other desktop managers. Configure Internet connectivity and a
firewall, either on the desktop box or on a separate box. I use a
separate box with the IPCop firewall distribution, because it makes
Internet connection trivial and it's an excellent firewall, complete
with DNS server and DHCP server.
That's it. You have a basic desktop machine. Now explore its
By Steve Litt
Linux is a brand new world. It comes with several browsers -- which one
will you use? Same with email clients. One thing that really separates
Linux from Windows is the availability of multiple window managers and
desktop environments. Window managers are software that governs the
display, appearance of and interaction with windows. When integrated
more closely with other software, window managers are often called
desktop environments. Either way, Windows has only one, while Linux has
many, although you can only use one at a time for a given X server.
If you've used Windows you're probably familiar with themes. By
changing themes you can change the color scheme, button appearance,
window appearance, and even which controls are visible. But underneath
it all, you're still using the exact same software.
Window managers also change color scheme, button appearance, window
appearance, and the controls. The distinction is that different themes
use the same software, while different window managers are different
software, sometimes with drastically different capabilities and
Most people use the KDE desktop environment. It's very intuitive and
Windows-like in its user interface. When it comes to user interface,
Windows-like is a good thing, because Bill Gates spent oceans of money
testing peoples' reactions to various user interface components. KDE
comes with huge numbers of applications designed specifically for it,
although most of those applications can be used with other window
managers. KDE's ease and powerful features come at a cost -- it's very
Another widely used desktop environment is Gnome. It's not quite as
Windows-like, but if you can use Windows, you'll instantly understand
how to use Gnome. Like KDE, Gnome comes with many applications. Like
KDE, Gnome is very resource intensive.
I use IceWM. Unlike Gnome and KDE, IceWM is a window manager and little
more. Therefore it's very easy on your resources. IceWM makes low power
machines enjoyable, and high power machines screamers. Like KDE and
Gnome, IceWM is very Windows like in its user interface, plus keyboard
use is a high priority with IceWM. IceWM includes a CPU monitor and
network monitor on its taskbar. I've grown to find these indispensible.
Fvwm is another small footprint window manager with a start button and
a taskbar. It's a great choice for a low power machine.
Fluxbox, Blackbox and XFCE are three small footprint window managers
without taskbars or start buttons. You access the menu by clicking the
desktop, which can be difficult if you have a lot of applications open.
Fluxbox opens windows in a way that leaves a tiny strip of the desktop
uncovered at the bottom of the screen so that you can easily click the
desktop to access your menu. XFCE has a relatively large control center
dohicky at the bottom of the screen. I've never been able to figure out
how to use it.
Speaking of not figuring out how to use something, I've never figured
out WindowMaker. WindowMaker is, in my opinion, the most aesthetically
pleasing window manager out there. It has lots of configuration
opportunities and a great level of integration, but its user interface
is miles away from the others.
Exploring Your Applications
Your average modern distro contains a treasure trove of applications.
Word processing, spreadsheets, presentation, desktop publishing, html
authoring, text editors, web browsing, email, newsgroups, chat, instant
messaging, accounting, calendars, pixel graphic authoring, vector
graphic authoring, and much more. The following table just scratches
the surface of what's available on the typical Linux install CD:
- Mozilla email
- Open Office
- kword (part of koffice)
Book writing software
- kword (part of koffice)
- Kspread (part of koffice)
- Pixel graphics
- Vector graphics
Other office programs
Distro specific configuration tools
Swat, Gnomba (configuring Samba)
Windows File/print server (Samba)
Linux file server (nfs)
Web server (apache)
FTP (and sftp) servers
Telnet and ssh servers
- Others available free on web
- aumix (a mixer, not a player)
- festival (speech synthesis)
Try running all these applications. You'll find a few you really like.
The Development Desktop
By Steve Litt
When it comes to development, you could describe Linux as "it was the
best of times, it was the worst of times". You'll never see Visual
Basic running on Linux (except with emulation). Nor MS Access. Most of
those drag and drop
"development evironments" you came to know and love (or hate) in
Windows are conspicuously absent.
But if you're not afraid to write code, and you're good enough with a
cut and paste editor to develop fast, most languages are available
right on your Linux distribution CD:
If you're a developer, I suggest that you install everything in the
development section of your install CD. Sure, you won't use most of it,
but if you want to explore any of it you can do so immediately.
- Glade (a GTK development environment)
- Prolog (gprolog)
- Lisp (clisp, emacs lisp)
- Pascal (including some support for Turbo Pascal) (fpc, gpc,p2c)
- Fortran (g77)
- Many, many more
Beyond what comes on your Linux CD, there are plenty of free software
development tools you can download. Google and your local LUG are your
Beyond free software, you can get commercial tools. Bless Borland's
heart, they ported Delphi, calling it Kylix. Our friends at ActiveState
sell a cross-language
development environment called Komodo, as well as the Perl Development
kit and Visual Perl, with which you can interface with .NET. These can
be bought as a single package called ActivePerl Pro Studio. Other
ActiveState offerings include Visual Python and Visual XSLT.
Led by the GNU compilers, Linux available languages are for the most
part rock solid, fast and productive. You can use Linux as a web app
server, database server, or to directly host an app. Use it!
the Windows World
By Steve Litt
The day you switch to Linux for your desktop machine, to a degree
you'll be at odds with the Microsoft world. To put it charitably, Linux
compatibility is not high on Microsoft's priority list.
Luckily for us, the free software community, and in some instances the
commercial software companies, have created great tools to interact
with Microsoft programs and data.
Using Microsoft Software
One way to interact is to actually use Microsoft software, either as a
dual boot, a second machine, or a virtual machine.
Many people keep Windows around to run a single app (typically
Quicken/QuickBooks). If that app is used infrequently, given how cheap
disk space is today, why not simply dual boot. Dual booting isn't
always easy, and runs the risk of trashing both operating systems, but
many people are quite happy with their dual boot situations.
I have a headless Windows machine in the corner. It's the same Pentium
II 300 with 128MB that I bought for $2000.00 in 1997, and used as my
daily driver until March 2001. Today it lives on as my Windows
compatibility appliance. This box would seem hopelessly obsolete today,
but please remember it's running the same software it ran in December
1997, when it was a state of the art screamer. This appliance enables
me to create perfect MS Office files, and to use Micrografx Windows
Draw, WordPerfect 5.1, and Key Thesaurus (a $39.00 DOS TSR that blows
the doors off every other thesaurus I've tried).
In the old days I accessed it through VNC. VNC is wonderful, enabling
me to "take over" the Windows box's desktop from my Linux desktop.
Trouble is, VNC is rather slow, and it's twitchy in full screen mode,
meaning I usually worked in a small 800x600 window on my 1024x768 box.
With my eyesight, that's not good.
So I spent $150.00 on a Belkin 4 port KVM switch with 15 foot cables.
This allowed me to get rid of serveral monitors, freeing up lots of
desk space. Better yet, now my daily driver, my Windows box and my
experimental boxes are all visible from my 19" monitor.
All my data resides on my Athlon 2400 1.5GB RAM 400GB disk daily
driver. When the Windows box needs to operate on data, it uses a simple
Samba configuration to reach that data. Life is good.
VmWare anyone? You can purchase VmWare Workstation for $199. Using
VmWare Workstation, you can partition a physical machine into a Linux
box and a Windows box, each with its own network. Indeed, the two can
interact quite nicely, using some of the same techniques discussed in
the Second machine section. You can simulate having a couple Linux
boxes and a Windows box with one piece of hardware. Out-standing!
Many emulators (or things that act sort of like emulators) enable you
to run Windows software on a Linux box. The most famous is Crossover
Office. Supposedly you can install and run all of MS Office, and now
even Quicken. They're working on Quickbooks.
I installed Crossover Office about a year ago and couldn't get it to
work right. All apps worked for a couple minutes and then froze. The
people at Crossover Office extended my support time and offered to give
me assistance, but I was just too pressed for time to take them up on
The good news is, from what I hear a lot of people find great success
with Crossover Office. Imagine using your old favorites on your new
Linux box, without the need to maintain or even pay for Windows.
I wonder if Microsoft will place language in their license or EULA
forbidding use of their products on Linux computers. Would that be
legal? Would it be a good marketing move by Microsoft, or would it
simply gain them even more enemies? We may find out.
There are other emulator like products, including Win4lin. Win4lin
requires a Windows license, but from what I hear it's very good at
running Windows apps on Linux.
The very best compatibility is naturally delivered by separate box,
dual boot or virtual machine systems. Then come the emulators. However,
sometimes you can get by with even less compatibility. In that case,
consider a compatible app.
When it comes to Microsoft Office, the king of compatible apps is
OpenOffice. You can open, edit and save MS Word, MS Powerpoint, and MS
Excel files. You can save as various MS formats, or as the native
OpenOffice formats, or even as RTF or HTML. OpenOffice is my first
choice for reading MS Office documents, and for casual writing of MS
Office documents. However, when I really need an exacting look in the
final MS Office document, I either author in MS Office, or author in
OpenOffice and then tweak in MS Office.
OpenOffice also has a very nice vector drawing program.
Other apps can also work with MS Office documents. My favorite
spreadsheet, Gnumeric, reads and writes Excel spreadsheets. Kspread
doesn't save to Excel, but it saves to Gnumeric, from which you can
save to Excel.
Kword opens WordPerfect 5.1 files. It's not very faithful to the
original formatting and graphics, but it gives you the text and some
idea of the formatting as a starting point. Unfortunately, the little
research I've completed indicates that it converts all WordPerfect
styles into appearances. Although you could conceivably open a
WordPerfect 5.1 document in Kword and save it as OpenOffice, there are
probably better ways to convert old WP 5.1 files to more modern formats.
In my opinion, using compatable apps is by far the easiest way to work
with MS and WordPerfect documents. Another advantage is that by saving
in OpenOffice, Gnumeric or other free software native formats, your
data resides in more robust, editable and parsable text formats.
No matter what degree of Microsoft compatibility you desire, there's a
solution for you. A physically separate Windows machine, a Windows
virtual machine (VmWare, win4lin), an emulator (CrossOver Office), or
compatible app (OpenOffice, Gnumeric, Kword), you can interface with
the Microsoft world.
Life After Windows: Switching is
Hard to Do
Life After Windows is a regular Linux Productivity Magazine
by Steve Litt, bringing you observations and tips subsequent to
Windows to Linux conversion.
By Steve Litt
Ask 100 people why they don't use a Linux desktop. Most will mention
incompatibility with the Windows world. But a huge number will also
state an objection that boils down to "it's just so hard to switch".
That's an objection that's hard to counter, because it's true.
How well I remember March 2001, when I switched my business from the
Windows to the Linux desktop. How well I remember tasks I couldn't
perform any more. I couldn't write a book, I couldn't create an
outline. A hundred little gotchas plagued my first few weeks in Linux.
One by one, I lined them up and shot them down. But even today, a
My Linux pet peeve #1 is cut and paste. I'm a touch typist, so I'm not
sure why cut and paste should involve the middle mouse button, or any
mouse button for that matter. And if you accidentally highlight
something before doing the paste, you need to start over again. And in
Linux, there are some program pairs that won't cut and paste to each
Of course, many applications enable Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V cut and paste,
but that's at the application level, and it's inconsistent. Programs
like Klipper make cut and paste more uniform across applications, but
no matter what you do, Linux cut and paste is never as simple and
uniform as the Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V in Windows.
Another Linux pet peeve is the mouse. No matter what you do with
XFConfig mouse resolution and xset mouse accelleration, the Linux mouse
is never as smooth and easy as in Windows.
What really puts my Linux pet peeves in perspective is maintaining my
wife's and my daughter's Win98 PC's. When's the last time you tried to
work on the command line without file completion? How could I EVER have
worked without file completion? On a Windows computer, I first need to
perform a dir command to find the filename, and then retype it. This
could add an hour to a serious maintenance session.
Win98 doesn't, by default, come with command history and editing. If
you ever want to know how dear these features are to you, go to a
virgin Win9x machine and try to work without them.
Trying to install Mozilla Firefox on my daughter's computer, I had
occasion to go into regedit. Eeuuuu, get it offa me. Regedit! One wrong
move and your OS is trashed. Or you have to press Enter every boot. Or
you get a strange problem you'd never associate with a specific
Just when you think Windows can't get worse, try installing a network,
sound or video card in Windows. I don't mean one you just bought 10
minutes ago at Best Buy. I mean one several years old that's been
sitting in another computer. One for which you don't possess the
manufacturers drivers, nor do you even know the manufacturer and model.
Oh, how you long for those good old Linux days when you drop in almost
any old card and it autodetects. In windows, even having the drivers is
no assurance of success. I've failed 3 times and succeeded once at
installing an Intel EEPro100+ in Windows. In Linux, it works instantly.
Same for all my Realtek 8139 chipset network cards.
My wife bought a Kodak DX4530 camera. At the time, Linux documentation
varied on how well that camera was supported by Linux. It took her a
few tries to get it to work with her Win98 machine. I'd never before
worked with a digital camera, but I took it, plugged it into my Linux
box's USB port, fooled around for an hour, and got it to download
albums. Now, a few months later, her camera works with an out of the
box Mandrake 10 system.
Yes, it's really difficult to switch from Windows to Linux. It's
heartbreaking to leave behind those features you loved. But if you
really want to experience difficulty and heartbreak, try switching from
Linux to Windows.
Letters to the Editor
All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and
be edited for clarity or brevity. We especially welcome additions,
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All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
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URLs Mentioned in this Issue
- Miscelleneous URLs
- Server software
- Linux distributions
- Email clients
- Office apps
- Window managers and desktops
- Programming languages
- Simulators, virtual machine software, remote desktops and KVM
- Other Linux software