We have not managed to write a great many book reviews over the last couple
years - they take a lot of time, and were never our most popular feature.
Linux In The Workplace
, however, is sufficiently interesting that we
took the time to read it through. Read on for our impressions and thoughts
on why this book is worth noting.
Linux In The Workplace is published by the Linux Journal Press.
Interestingly, no authors are named on the cover; instead, it is credited
to "SSC, publishers of the Linux Journal." It is, in fact, the result of
the Linux Journal's staff's experience with running a Linux-based office
over the last few years. As a result, it is well grounded in a lot of
real-world, Linux-based office work; it is also deeply tied into the
Journal's way of doing things.
The cover does not go out of its way to make it clear, but this
book is mostly about KDE. GNOME-based applications are mentioned in spots,
but anybody wanting to set up an office around the GNOME desktop will not
get what they need from Linux In The Workplace. There is no problem
with this - trying to cover both desktops would likely turn the book into a
confusing mess - but it's a good thing to be aware of.
Actually, anybody wanting to "set up" an office around any desktop will
need to look elsewhere. Linux In The Workplace is very much a
user's manual; it expects that somebody else has already gone
through the trouble of installing Linux and making it work:
This book is different in that we assume you don't want to install
Linux, don't want to learn how to be a system administrator, and
aren't concerned with doing some of the more complicated tasks. We
assume you already have a working Linux system on your desk and
need to use it to get your work done.
Again, that is appropriate; serious use of Linux in offices is only
feasible if most users do not have to deal with the administrative issues -
something which is also true of Windows in the office.
So, what's covered in this book? After a quick "what is Linux" chapter, we
learn how to log into a KDE-based system, deal with user accounts ("A
good password combines upper- and lowercase letters with nonalphanumeric
keys. Passwords such as *nCk&Ve or *nG]y$Uds- are good examples."),
and deal with the basics of the KDE desktop. The approach is low-level and
detailed - we learn about what most of the icons and menus do. Anybody who
is used to working with a Linux desktop at all may find the "now click
here" pace a bit tiresome,
but readers who are entirely new to Linux will likely welcome the detail.
In subsequent chapters, the reader will encounter:
- Chapter 3: a description of Konqueror, but only in its role
as a local file manager.
- Chapter 4: "getting organized." Topics like KOrganizer, KPilot, KArm,
- Chapter 5: OpenOffice. OpenOffice is the preeminent free office suite
for Linux, and this book recognizes that fact. This chapter provides
a whirlwind tour of the OpenOffice applications; it (like much of the
book) is more useful for getting an idea of what the application can
do than really getting an in-depth understanding. If you want an
overview of how the spreadsheet works, this book will help; if you
need to learn how to write formulas, you'll need to look somewhere
else. (This chapter is available on the net
in PDF form).
- Chapter 6: alternative office software. This chapter is a quick
overview of KOffice and AbiWord; one gets the sense that the authors
expect few readers to go beyond OpenOffice, however.
- Chapter 7: graphics. A quick look at KPaint, Kontour, KView, and
the xscanimage tool.
- Chapter 8: the Gimp. There is, of course, no way to do justice to the
Gimp in a single chapter; this attempt reads mostly like a quick demo
given to somebody who had never seen a serious image editor before.
- Chapter 9: email, netnews, and faxes. KMail is covered in fair
detail, though important points are missing. For example, the KMail
interface to GNUpg is covered, but GNUpg itself is passed over. There
is also an overly scary warning about reading attachments:
"Attachments are often the vehicle for transmitting computer
viruses that can do great damage to both your computer and any
computer to which you are connected. A virus can even attack your
address book and send replications of itself to everyone
listed." That is a bit strong, given that this scenario has
never, to your reviewer's knowledge, happened to a KMail user.
If you were going to cover a second mail user agent in a book like
this, what would it be? The authors chose Netscape mail. Pine, mutt,
and elm get passing mentions; evolution does not, for the purposes of
this book, seem to exist.
Quick mention is made of KNode for reading Usenet news and "K Send a
Fax" for dealing with faxes. One could certainly imagine other,
better established applications in these categories that would have
been worth a mention.
- Chapter 10: Konqueror as a web browser. Quite a bit of detail on
bookmark management and such. There are passing mentions of Netscape
and Opera; nothing about Mozilla or Galeon.
- Chapter 11: customizing the desktop. This chapter will certainly be
useful to anybody wanting to tweak how the KDE desktop works.
- Chapter 12: making backups. A quick look at "Ark" and KOnCD.
- Chapter 13: the command line. Only in the very last chapter does this
book get around to discussing terminal emulators, shells, and the
Linux command line. A quick overview of a number of basic commands is
provided. Emacs is covered in three sentences.
There are a number of shortcomings and strange omissions. For example,
office workers are likely to want to view PDF files, but there is no
discussion of how to do that - even though gv, which reads (most) PDF files
happily, is briefly covered. Printing is mostly passed over, as are
multimedia applications. And (by design), there is almost no mention of
proprietary software packages that can be useful in real office situations.
But, then, few books are perfect. This one is important as proof that you
can get a lot of work done on a Linux system without ever having to
partitioning menus, shell prompts, mount commands, and so on. The
existence of this sort of book is an important prerequisite for widespread
adoption of Linux for desktop use. Desktop Linux is, increasingly, being
taken seriously; Linux In The Workplace is full of good examples of
why that is happening.
Comments (13 posted)
The OASIS Standards Consortium has announced
the creation of a "technical committee" which will develop an open,
XML-based file format specification for office applications. The goal of
the project, of course, is to facilitate interoperability and data exchange
between applications. Should they succeed, the days of trying to reverse
engineer Word files could come to an end.
It is hard to overemphasize the importance of this effort. Microsoft's
office suite monopoly is based on two things: (1) that suite's feature
set, and (2) the ability to exchange documents with the rest of the
world. There are numerous other office suites which are closing the
feature gap (though there is still some ground to cover for the free
applications, to say the least). But, without the ability to easily
exchange documents with MS Office users (and have them look good when they
get there), adoption of alternative office suites will remain limited.
And there, of course, lies the rub. A new, XML-based office suite file
format will have a rough life if Microsoft does not play along with it. It
is worth pointing out that Microsoft is a member of OASIS; the
company has also said that Office will use an XML-based format in the
future. But the list of supporting companies in the press release
(Arbortext, Boeing, Corel, Drake Certivo, and Sun) does not include
Even without Microsoft, standards for document data can only be a good
thing. This particular standard is getting a jump start from Sun, which is
contributing the OpenOffice.org format under royalty-free terms (OASIS, in
general, is quite happy with RAND or UFO (uniform fee only) terms). Should
the committee create a standard based on this format, the existence of a
free reference implementation should encourage adoption of the standard in
both free and proprietary packages.
Proprietary data formats are a problem for a number of reasons, of
which proprietary lockin is only one. Another is the ability of
proprietary applications to surprise users by retaining information in
documents that those users had thought they had deleted (or never put there
in the first place). Future historians will find that much of the
documentation of this era is encoded into formats which are no longer
readable. An Open format for office information will not, by itself,
solve any of these problems. But it sure would be a good start.
Comments (6 posted)
There is a relatively small amount of news to report this week. The
individual subscriber count stands almost unchanged from last week - which
is not entirely a bad thing, since a number of accounts have expired in
that time. We will have to figure out a way to bring in the next round of
We think we have worked out the problem that made it difficult for
lynx users to log into the site. Please let us know if it still fails to
work for you. (The longer-term task of making the site more lynx-friendly
in general remains on the "to do" list).
Next week is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. We'll be publishing a
(perhaps a little smaller than usual) Weekly Edition one day early - on
November 27 - because we'll all have eaten too much food to reach the
keyboard thereafter. We'll return to our regular schedule for the
following week (but there will be no Weekly Edition the week of
Comments (8 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: The optimal time to apply updates; new vulnerabilities in dhcpcd, the kernel, lynx, samba, and tcpdump.
- Kernel: The state of the feature freeze; the denial of service bug; fun with modules.
- Distributions: United Linux and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8; Interview: Klaus Knopper.
- Development: OpenOffice Installation Project,
JACK apps, SAP DB Beta Version 7.4.03.07, VHDL front-end for GCC,
NemeinNavBar library, lsb-runtime-1.2.3-1 for IA32,
GnuCash 1.7.3 beta, Gnumeric 1.1.12, Durabuild 0.0.9, Boson 0.7
open-source on the PDP-10.
- Press: Australian government's new open-source strategy, a Linux powered pet,
UnitedLinux 1.0, Japan may drop Windows for security, Linux in India,
new Zaurus, LPI certification.
- Announcements: UnitedLinux 1.0 released, Last Call Working Draft of W3C Royalty-Free
Patent Policy, Jacking Pd and Ardour, New PHP Magazines, Portugese conference,
Linux Financial Summit, Linux.Conf.Au speakers.
- Letters: Non-subscriber access; desktop Linux.