Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4

The latest product in Caldera's business-friendly lineup is eDesktop 2.4, designed to bring the power and cost-effectiveness of Linux to the corporate and home desktop.

OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 can be installed a few different ways, but the easiest way is to insert the CD and reboot (a boot floppy is included for computers that cannot boot from CD). That allows you to install eDesktop in whatever free space is available on your hard disk or to overwrite any operating system you may have been using, and take up the whole disk. If you aren't ready to commit yourself to Linux completely, you will really appreciate the inclusion of PartitionMagic. PartitionMagic allows you to shrink your Windows partition without reformatting your hard disk or losing data. Just by inserting the eDesktop installation CD while running Windows, and walking through a few simple steps, you can make room for Linux without deleting your old operating system or data files. [The often-recommended advice of many computer professionals: make a backup of all important files or your entire hard drive, before doing any significant installation. —Editor]

While PartitionMagic is a great add-on for users wishing to try out Linux, the version shipped with eDesktop has one serious flaw. Because it is specifically for use with eDesktop, there are only a few partition sizes it will create. Specifically, there is “too small for eDesktop” and “too small for Windows”. You can create either a really small Linux partition (350MB), a slightly small Linux partition (700MB) or take everything but 100MB of the hard disk for Linux. The first two choices aren't good for much more than trying out eDesktop, and anyone familiar with Windows will recognize the problem with the third option—Windows with only 100 megabytes of free space is even less usable than normal.

Whatever first step you take, the second step for first-time installers is Caldera's slick graphical installation tool, which they call the Lizard. Lizard guides you through all of the important decisions about your installation: setting system information, partitioning the hard disk (if you didn't use PartitionMagic), selecting your monitor and other hardware, choosing the software to install, setting up user accounts and, perhaps most uniquely, configuring dialup Internet access.

Caldera has made some of the hardest parts of Linux installation easy by including a couple of impressive databases. Getting the most out of your video card and monitor, a task that usually requires a fair amount of trial-and-error, is easy with eDesktop because of the huge monitor selection database, which seems to contain just about every monitor ever produced. Also handy is the database of ISPs that covers most of the world and makes setting up dialup Internet access easy for customers of major ISPs.

Lizard is smart enough to start copying files as soon as it knows where to put them, so on a fast computer the actual installation process is very quick, not much longer than answering the configuration questions. If you finish configuring the system before all the files are copied, Caldera provides a bit of entertainment in the form of a game to pass the time.

Lizard is very easy to use but acts as a gatekeeper of sorts for eDesktop. Its first task is to perform a hardware compatibility test, and if it doesn't think eDesktop will run on your computer, it refuses to proceed with the installation. This would be fine, except that it is a bit too strict in its testing. Lizard sometimes refuses to install eDesktop on systems with newer video cards, even though the display driver, or X Server, that eDesktop uses is compatible with those cards. For example, Lizard refused to install eDesktop on a laptop with an ATI Rage LT video chipset that is supported by eDesktop's Xfree86 version 3.3.6 X server. On systems Lizard refuses to interact with, you can install eDesktop using a backup, text-mode installation program called LISA.

There are several automated installation methods for system administrators and IT departments that need to get a lot of systems up and running with identical configurations. If you have a LAN, you can set up an install server and quickly install eDesktop on any computer on your LAN. Just insert a floppy, reboot and the installation program takes care of the rest. You can also create a boot floppy with Lizard, configured to install the default configuration without prompting, or create a custom installation, specifying the exact programs you wish to install on each system.


Perhaps the most significant aspect of using eDesktop 2.4 is there really isn't much to say about it. For the user interface, Caldera uses KDE, the K Desktop Environment, which has become the de facto standard for Linux desktops. With good reason, too: KDE is easy to use, looks great, is very configurable and uses an interface metaphor most Windows users are familiar with, the bottom-of-the-screen control bar, complete with a “start button” labelled “K”.

Most of the pre-installed and bundled applications work without much tinkering. The bundled commercial software must be installed after eDesktop is up and running, but the process is easy and fast. eDesktop is exactly what a business desktop OS should be: a gateway to the applications where you do your real work. It gets out of your way and lets you do your work, without forcing you to learn and re-learn its own features. That is not to say that it lacks features. KDE starts out with power-user features like multiple virtual desktops and is one of the most configurable user environments around, so you can tailor its look and behavior to your needs.