Caldera Network Desktop v 1.0
Caldera asserts that despite recent improvements in commercial distributions, Linux still lacks acceptance as an operating environment in the commercial world (although some recent Linux Journal articles have shown matters to be gradually changing). Some of the reasons given: Linux is often perceived as having been developed by unskilled students, and installation and configuration are challenging for the uninitiated. Further, they point out, Linux offers no accountability: it is all but unsupported by mainstream applications, and it can't provide a complete solution to users' needs—networking, gui, and so on.
I leave it up to you to decide if any of these are straw men. In any case, the entrepreneurs at Caldera label these “barriers to growth.” And in order to remove those barriers, they have brought us the Caldera Network Desktop. They will “add value to Linux by creating and providing a platform for commercial products that can appeal to major users and spread the use of Linux to new areas that traditionally would not have considered using it.”
What lies ahead for this package? Again, from the CD's preview document:
a more mature WWW/HTML browser
sophisticated, commercial-grade tape backup system
a new graphical interface to many utilities and programs
commercial personal productivity applications
better Internet access applications
Although it isn't yet possible to upgrade from one release to another, Caldera says that “such tools are planned for the final 1.0 release.” [Those tools are in Preview 2, which has just been released—Ed] Something Caldera calls the InfoTrack database support system will become part of the overall technical support. OpenDoc support is in the offing. And ELF work is under way. [Again, Preview 2 is based on ELF—Ed]
How about Linux in general? A number of commercial packages are said to run on Linux, including Word Perfect and Oracle 7. Indeed, Caldera includes the SCO Word Perfect demo, and one of Caldera's future offerings includes Word Perfect itself. Perhaps Linux is being moved in this direction, with or without Caldera.
Caldera says it wants to “shield end-users from the ordered chaos that creates and grows Linux, so they can use it as their operating system of choice.” Well, I've grown jaded over the years—cynical, I suppose (must be that stint as a Windows 95 beta tester). When so much of a software package actually works, I am surprised; and this first release of Caldera's Network Desktop has been, to my mind, a remarkable success.
My suspicion is that the people who buy Caldera will be expecting a software package they can simply install and run. And, if you take a few precautions (have enough disk space; know your video numbers; and—yes—RTFM), that's exactly what happens.
Some take the commercialization of the Net to signal the End of Things as We Know Them. Will products like Caldera mean the end of Linux as we know it? I think not—the philosophies are not mutually exclusive. True, Caldera “uses” Linux, which is GNU freeware, to make money. Still, I think Caldera will prove to be good for Linux. The solidity of Linux makes a product like Caldera possible; and the success of Caldera will make Linux accessible to people who don't want to tinker—who just want to learn, or maybe even do some work.
Meanwhile, in true Linux tradition, “programmers the world over” are doing a fine job of bashing this package—breaking it, fixing it, feeding the fixes back to the folks at Caldera. The “First Customer Ship” will be a better, more solid product because of this test cycle.
I like the product. It can't pretend to be plug-and-play, but it installs easily, runs well, looks great, and—unless you try to stretch it too far—keeps on running. Caldera wouldn't exist without Linux; Linux could continue to exist without Caldera, but this certainly ups the ante.
Roger Scrafford wrestles with Linux, Novell, and Win95 at his day job in Seattle. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.