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OpenLinux 2.2 Continues Linux's March to Enterprise Acceptance
June 14, 1999
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By Eric Hammond  The buzz has always been that Linux isn't a practical choice for enterprise computing. But in fact, it provides a robust, low-cost solution for many enterprise needs, ranging from Web servers and network services, such as PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol) or SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol), to e-mail or file and print services. This year alone, major hardware and software vendors, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., have announced support for Linux. Microsoft Corp.'s legal woes, along with IT managers' reluctance to accept a technology market dominated by a single vendor, have created opportunities for Microsoft alternatives in the enterprise. Linux vendors, such as Red Hat Software and Caldera Systems, have stepped up to the plate with solid, inexpensive offerings that are easy to set up and administer, and offer enterprise-level support. (For more on Linux in the enterprise, see "Is It Time for Linux?" at www.networkcomputing.com/1011/1011f1.html.)

Caldera Systems' new release, OpenLinux 2.2, offers a complete Linux system for $50 per machine--that's a no-brainer within most IT budgets. And OpenLinux's simplified setup and administration tools make it a snap to get started, no matter what your level of familiarity with Unix. Its updated Linux 2.2 kernel and new KDE 1.1 desktop further add to OpenLinux's enterprise appeal; it shines as both a server OS and a development platform.

If you've painted yourself into a corner on your enterprise network--and you're in dire need of an inexpensive panacea--you might consider Linux as a mature solution. And if you want to implement Linux with as little pain as possible, Caldera's OpenLinux 2.2 provides the answer.

Windows to Unix, Easy as KDE
I installed OpenLinux on a 333-MHz Celeron machine with 128 MB of RAM and an 8-GB hard disk. The entirely graphical installation is much less intimidating for newcomers and much better at handling errors than in previous versions. I booted from the OpenLinux install CD and dropped right into the installer, which autodetected my system's basic configuration and presented me with several options for disk setup, including complete automatic and manual layouts. OpenLinux also facilitates the creation of dual boot systems, thanks to bundled PowerQuest Partioning Software and BootMagic. On the downside, the process could benefit from improved documentation.

Once I had selected the disk and software configuration, the installer immediately began transferring files in the background and continued onto the video setup. The program selected a resolution that my system couldn't handle, but it worked fine when I chose a lower resolution.

As the installer continued to copy files, its best feature appeared: a Tetris-like game that provided a welcome diversion from a monotonous task. This is so much better than a screen reminding me to fill out my bulk-mail solicitation--I mean, my product registration card.

After I had finished copying files, I rebooted. Though the graphical boot process isn't any more informative than previous versions, it is easier on the eyes. I was pleased to see a new GUI login for the KDE 1.1 windowing environment, which provides an excellent X Windows interface to a Unix system. It emulates Windows, Mac or traditional X GUIs, making it easy for users in any of these environments to get up and running. You can also run any of the other desktops available for XFree86, such as fvwm, which might be a better choice for more traditional Linux users.

While KDE greatly improves upon older X systems, Linux still isn't a desktop OS for the faint of heart. This became painfully clear when I launched WordPerfect (included with OpenLinux) and was greeted with a bit depth or resolution conflict; all the WordPerfect icons looked like some unintelligible alien code. A similar phenomenon occurred with Netscape; the icons were readable, but 2-bit (or should I say two-bit?). Caldera suggests fixing the WordPerfect problem by running at 16-bit color depth instead of 24-bit.

Strong Development
OpenLinux works best as a server OS and development platform. Its multiprocessor-friendly Linux 2.2 kernel is certainly its biggest behind-the-scenes improvement. This long-awaited update includes support for SMP and improved device compatibility. In addition, Caldera Open Administration System (COAS) offers a GUI-based approach to system administration and centralizes tasks under one interface. It was certainly more intuitive than Windows NT's numerous control panels and admin tools.

I also appreciated OpenLinux's support for AppleTalk, SMB (Server Message Block) and NetWare. In the lab, I had no problem setting up Samba, the SMB client. The included AppleTalk support seemed rudimentary, but all features were present; the NetWare camp will like Caldera's bundled NetWare client for Linux.

On top of this support, OpenLinux 2.2 boasts an updated Apache server and sendmail--enhancements that make it easier for administrators to stay on top of new functionality, as well as bug and security fixes, without downloading several updates.

On the development side, OpenLinux is richly integrated with Perl, Python, Tcl, C, C++ and other Java development tools. It also includes GIMP, a powerful PhotoShop-like tool for manipulating images, making OpenLinux viable as a complete Web development platform. I was pleasantly surprised by GIMP's vast number of filters, which provide much of the functionality found in PhotoShop.

Eric Hammond is a freelance writer and a developer at Viewmark, an Englewood, Colo.-based new media design firm. Send your comments on this article to him at ehammond@ earthlink.net.

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