Migrating to Linux, Part 2

We continue with our look at converting an office from a commercial operating system to Linux.
Applications ... Applications ... Applications ...

Too many useful Linux applications exist to list them here. For the SOHO Linux user, a few key applications are available which do bear mentioning in this context. As for the other possible software tools, we should remember number two on the list of recommendations made earlier: know where to find good catalogs of Linux software (see Resources).

One of the biggest news items to hit the Linux community recently is the announcement from the Corel Corporation. Corel has committed to porting its productivity applications to Linux. For those of us who use our Linux boxes for earning a living, this is indeed welcome news. Corel's announcement, along with the continuing evolution of other Linux software, means that most Linux users may no longer have any reason to boot another OS.

Most SOHO Linux users will do the vast majority of their real work while in the X graphical environment. While there are at least a dozen useful window managers (see Resources) for Linux, the two user environments making the biggest headlines right now are the K Desktop Environment (KDE) and the GNU Network Object Model Environment (GNOME). A commercial option is the Common Desktop Environment (CDE). While many developer types and other gurus have different reasons to prefer one over the other, we SOHO users will most likely end up basing our choice once again on personal preference.

When you mention productivity, especially for SOHO users, the first thing that comes to mind is a good, full-function office suite. Right now, the two “biggies” in the Linux community are Applixware and StarOffice. Corel's port of its office suite will add a third option. As for e-mail and web surfing, Netscape's decision to open the source code for its Communicator 5 is perhaps the best news for the SOHO user. Until that product reaches maturity, Netscape's Communicator 4.0x will meet most users' needs.

Soon, we can look forward to at least one full-featured financial management program—a la Intuit's Quicken line of software—known as GNU Cash. As for graphics and graphic manipulation, we have the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) which rivals Adobe's PhotoShop. Corel has also ported their CorelDraw program; as they port the rest of their commercial applications to Linux, we hope they will take the time to update the package.

Sharing Data

While trying to make up your mind about which software you'd like to use, pay particular attention to whether or not you will need to share files with your non-Linux friends or colleagues. This is especially important for users of the various office suite tools. For example, will you be able to share and save your files in a de facto standard format such as Microsoft Word (.doc)? Or will you be forced to save and share your files in another format like Rich Text Format (.rtf)? Either way, you need to be sure your clients and colleagues will be able to use the files you produce for them.

Another key skill for integrating with non-Linux users is the ability to mount, read from and write to MS-DOS, VFAT and HFS floppies and other removable media. This will enable you to share floppies with Microsoft and Macintosh users. Check under the mount command in your Linux manual and read the man page for mount and also the MTOOLS and HTOOLS utilities.

Until Next Time

We've talked a little about basic system administration, software for the SOHO user and sharing files with our colleagues. Let's sum up a few of the key points:

  • Make yourself as self-sufficient as possible by owning at least one comprehensive Linux manual, bookmarking and regularly visiting major Linux software web sites, judicious use of relevant IRC channels, and refraining from posting to newsgroups until you have exhausted other avenues of help.

  • Make reliable, frequent and regular backups, using any supported removable media, and storing the media off-site, if possible.

  • Acquire and learn to use a good set of Boot/Root or emergency disks. Your choice as to which distribution to use may be influenced by whether or not it comes with a pre-built, comprehensive set of recovery disks.

  • Don't be intimidated—you don't have to be a major guru or techie to get your work done. Following these simple guidelines should have you on your way to running a solid, reliable and stable SOHO Linux setup.

  • Carefully weigh all options before investing time and money in software. One of the greatest benefits to using Linux is the freedom of choice—find the packages best for you.

  • Be aware of how to share files and data with your non-Linux colleagues, clients and friends. Successfully interfacing with non-Linux users will make your life easier and may serve to win a few more Linux converts.

Well, now we know a little bit more about what we face if we choose to “go Linux” and leave our old OS behind. Next time, we'll move away from practical issues and discuss the future of Linux as it applies to the non-technical, SOHO end user. We'll also talk about how SOHO Linux users can get help from each other, without overwhelming the newsgroups and other traditional avenues of support. See you next time.


Norman M. Jacobowitz is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Seattle, Washington. Please send your comments, criticisms, suggestions and job offers to normj@aa.net.

Jim Hebert spends his spare time coming up with Stupid UNIX Tricks and dating the love of his life. He can be reached via e-mail at jhebert@compu-aid.com.