On the Desktop
Linux in the news
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
Moving on: a personal note before leaving LWN.net. As you may or may not know, LWN.net's parent company Tucows recently had a round of layoffs. LWN.net was not left unscathed by this. As the only staff member to come on board after Tucows purchased LWN.net, my contract left me vulnerable to such situations. And so it has happened. This will be my last column for LWN.net and the column will be retired as LWN.net doesn't have sufficient staff to keep it going. I leave with no ill feelings towards either LWN.net or Tucows. This is a business after all. And times are tough.
This column, On the Desktop, was born out of my opinion that the Linux desktop is a fast growing environment with tremendous potential. Despite the many naysayers, I still believe that to be the case. There may be a lack of applications, but nature abhors a vacuum, and this void will soon be filled. Linux goes on. Even as this column is laid to rest.
Let me take a moment in this last edition of the column to dispell a few myths about the Linux desktop. First, Linux is not out to overtake Windows. It doesn't need to - Windows is a niche system designed specifically to make it difficult to expand into new hardware. Linux is designed to be exactly the opposite of that. While Windows may have a visual presence in most offices, computing takes place in many forms these days. The desktop is no longer just for the desk. As computing devices evolve - from the desktop to the palmtop to the Internet toaster - Linux will be adopted and ported. And each device will have an interface.
Wired recently published an article that said that the Linux desktop is dead and Linux should concentrate on the server end. The problem with that is that many servers require a user interface for configuration. I worked on a graphical interface for managing a network of base stations in a cellular network. That interface was the configuration server - and it had a desktop (CDE in that case). In the film industry, visual effects studios are adopting Linux as their workstation of choice for artists. Each of these will have a desktop of one form or another (though in practice they don't care much if it's KDE, GNOME, CDE or just some window manager). The Linux desktop is not dead. It just isn't what the world seems to think it is.
This leads to the next myth: there are no applications for Linux. In the case of the server, one has to ask if typical applications are necessary. Certainly browsers are useful. Features such as drag-n-drop and cut-n-paste are essential for some systems where the operator may not be technically oriented (this was one design criteria for the base station configuration server I worked on). Basic features of a desktop are required on servers, but applications are generally environment specific. So this myth holds no water for servers using desktop interfaces.
Expanding to the workstation desktop, and returning to the film industry example, there are plenty of applications. The end user market drives application development and the visual effects industry has told application vendors - in no small way, mind you - that they are moving to Linux and those applications better be made available. And they are. All the major tools have been, or are in the process of being ported. According to the head honchos for technology at both Pixar and Dreamworks, what's left now is for studios to port their own tools now that the off-the-shelf tools are ready. And I'll repeat that: "now that they ARE ready."
On the end user's desktop, where grandma works on recipes and Mr. Jones handles his tax accounting, there are plenty of applications. Anyone who tells you there are no office applications hasn't looked at StarOffice. The newly announced 6.0 beta is astoundingly stable and a vast improvement over the 5.2 release, having dropped much of the extra weight of a builtin desktop. StarOffice handles most Windows format files, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. One can argue - and rightfully so - that the interface is not as easy to use or performance is not as good. But when the argument turns from "there are no applications" to "those applications don't run they way I want them to", the myth is dissolved. Applications exist, if you choose to use them. If you choose not to, then so be it. At least now you have choices.
Even if you don't go with StarOffice you have plenty of options. KDE has its own office suite under development. GNOME, along with Ximian, has separate tools that combine under that environment to provide office features such as word processing, spreadsheets and calendaring. Commercial products include the HancomLinux suite, which is quite popular in Asian markets and is just entering the US market. Applix still produces its commercial suite, now known as Applix Anywhere. Games abound from Loki and other sources. And most importantly: just about any application you need can be run under VMWare on Linux. The myth of application availability is just that - a myth.
The last myth that needs to be dispelled is that the Linux desktop is difficult to use. Most corporate users will use what they're given and make the most of it. Want proof? Why are they working on Windows? It came with the box, no doubt. They just make the best use of it that they can. They certainly aren't used to having a choice there. But Windows isn't easy to use either. My wife works with highly paid oil traders who constantly have her put together their Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. They simply can't figure out how to do so. She does. She took the time to learn to do so.
The truth here isn't that Linux is difficult, but that those who use this argument are lazy. They don't want to change. That isn't a bad thing - to each his own way - but it's not a valid argument against the Linux desktop in the general sense. The Linux desktop needs improvement, but no more so than Windows. What Linux offers can be scary - choice, and the ability to add personality to the face they stare at a great portion of their working day. Change is scary. But it is inevitable as well. Users will adapt, and they will enjoy. The Linux desktop is a great place to work.
So don't buy into the "Linux desktop has died" arguments. They're just more hot air blown by those who make a living at flying balloons. The Linux desktop isn't dead. If you don't believe me, ask IBM, Compaq, HP and even Sun.
Now that I have that off my chest, there is only one thing left to say to my readers: anyone need a pretty decent C programmer?
Michael J. Hammel
Mozilla licensing issues: a clarification. In the September 27th issue of LWN.net we posted a note regarding the relicensing of some parts of Mozilla.
Mozilla has relicensed their project code to fall under the Netscape Public License (NPL), the GPL and the LGPL.
The announcement drew a rather emphatic response from Gervase Markham of the Mozilla project.
Does no-one actually read anything any more? Several sites had headlines like this. It's not true! We relicensed about 1/5 of our project code.
Knowing we can, at times, oversimplify a situation, I asked Gervase if he'd like to offer a clarification, here's what he said:
Some time ago mozilla.org announced its intent to seek relicensing of Mozilla code under a new licensing scheme that would address perceived incompatibilities of the MPL and NPL with the GNU GPL. We have now implemented the first phase of Mozilla relicensing, using an NPL/GPL/LGPL "triple license" for Mozilla source files previously licensed under the NPL and for some files currently licensed under an NPL/GPL dual license. This is only about one fifth of our source tree - a good start, but there's a long way to go. In the next phases of this effort we will seek to have source files under the MPL or an MPL/GPL dual license be relicensed under an MPL/GPL/LGPL triple license.
We hope that clarifies the licensing issues with Mozilla code.
Desktop EnvironmentsGNUstep Weekly Editorial. We're not sure how weekly these are, but this edition of the GNUstep Weekly Editorial lists some of the major happenings in the GNUstep project, which aims to provide a complete environment alternative to GNOME, KDE, and XFce.
GNOME Summary 2001-09-23 - 2001-09-29. This weeks summary of the GNOME world includes news of the first GNOME 2.0 alpha release, an introduction to Bonobo from Michael Meeks and a note on the latest MrProject release.
Gnome-print 0.30. Gnome-print is a library for use by applications needing common printing support within the GNOME environment. This new release is the first in a series intended to introduce new features and includes support for an arbitrary number of fontmaps.
KDE 3.0alpha1 ships. The first alpha release of KDE 3.0 has been announced. This release is primarily for developers, though curious users are encouraged to try it out as well. There is a great deal of new stuff, of course; see the announcement for details.
Evolution 0.15. Another beta release of Evolution has been announced. Evolution 0.15, also called Evolution Beta 5, carries many bug fixes as the development team pushes towards the 1.0 release.
StarOffice 6.0 Beta - Out of the (Cyber) Box Experience (LinuxOrbit). StarOffice 6.0 beta is reviewed by Linux Orbit. "The first obvious difference from the 5.2 release is that the beta release completely removes the unnecessary (for most users) StarOffice Desktop. No longer does StarOffice place its own window-manager-like desktop on top of a perfectly sane and operating desktop. Each application in the suite starts up in its own window and looks and acts fully independent of the other applications."
LinuxOrbit doesn't mention it, but we tried importing a Word document from a Windows 95 system and it worked perfectly. Support for XP is also listed in the Open and Save dialogs. Sun obviously has Redmond in their sights. And we were wrong - SO 6.0 does add itself to the GNOME menus. It just does so quietly (under the Favorites menu).
StarOffice offers IT real choice (ZDNet). ZDNet has posted a review of StarOffice 6.0. "The most promising part of StarOffice is its new XML-based file format.... In addition to insulating companies from future changes to proprietary Microsoft file formats, a set of open file formats will enable software developers to work with productivity files in ways not possible now."
Gnumeric 0.71. Gnumeric 0.71 has been released. This version is considered to be a major release; among other things, graphs are now a standard feature. Gnumeric now goes into feature freeze in preparation for a stable release.
Desktop ApplicationsSodipodi 0.24.1. Hot on the heels of Sodipodi 0.24 comes 0.24.1, a bug fix release put out to address some major flaws found immediately after the 0.24 release. Sodipodi is a vector graphics tool that supports SVG format import and export.
And in other news...
German agency contracts S/MIME, X.509 for mutt, KMail. Word has reached LWN.net that the German Federal Agency for IT Security, BSI, is sponsoring the development of S/MIME, a PKIX compatible X.509 profile, for inclusion in both mutt and KMail. (Thanks to Jan-Oliver Wagner)
KDE-Look.org. KDE-Look.org is a new site dedicated to themes and wallpaper for KDE desktops. There's some slick stuff there, worth a look.
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
October 11, 2001