Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4

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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.
Administration

The three most common complaints new users have about Linux are it's too hard to install, has too few applications, and in the long term, probably the most important is that it's too difficult to “administer”. “Administer” in quotes, because that's probably the last term most new Linux users would think of; they just want to keep their computer running, their software up to date and their data safe. Whatever you call it, making a Linux system do what you want is often viewed as a dark art involving mysterious knowledge, and probably, animal sacrifice.

This is not true with eDesktop. Caldera has provided an overflowing banquet of administration tools in the form of two system administration interfaces which, if they don't actually guide you through every necessary administration task, at least provide a clear view of what you can and cannot change. COAS (Caldera Open Administration System) provides a graphical administration interface for use from the desktop, allowing you to configure most (but not all) system features without resorting to a shell or a text editor. For environments requiring more centralized management, there is Webmin, a new tool that allows you to perform most routine system administration tasks remotely from any computer with a web browser. COAS and Webmin don't change the need to administer, but they do make it easy for people who don't know—and don't want to know—about “traditional” Linux configuration files to get started administering their systems, without learning a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo.

There are still quite a few tasks that will require a text editor and shell knowledge. From compiling new kernels to reconfiguring LILO, many advanced (but necessary) administration tasks haven't made it into the graphical or web administration tools yet. Fortunately, the manual describes these tasks in detail, providing step-by-step instructions for the most common administration tasks that cannot be performed with the administration tools.

The system's native package tool—the program you use to install and remove most software—is the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM). RPM is the most widely used package tool in the Linux community, and it is the most popular method for distributing third-party software. To easily manage installed packages, eDesktop uses Kpackage, which allows you to browse packages installed on your system and easily add or remove software.

Linux users familiar with package tools like Debian's dselect will suffer from Kpackage's inability to automatically download packages from Internet servers. To upgrade an installed package with OpenLinux, you must manually transfer the package to your system, and then install it. dselect can automatically retrieve a list of available packages from an Internet server, compare the package versions from that server to what is installed on your computer and (with your permission) download and install replacements for any older packages you might have. That sort of feature would go a long way toward enhancing Caldera's place in corporate IS department hearts, and it would help new Linux users by automating one of the most boring system administration tasks—upgrading older software and making sure that potentially security-compromised software is replaced promptly.

Neat Stuff

You will find a long list of neat add-on packages in the eDesktop 2.4 package. Depending on how you will use it, you may find some of the programs great—or totally useless. Corporate users in mixed computing environments may find the Citrix ICA and NetWare clients very useful. Web and Internet developers will like the Cameleo Lite graphics program, Omnis Studio Rapid Internet Application Development Environment, JDK 1.2.2, Apache and other Internet development tools. Small and home office users will find the StarOffice suite and the Moneydance personal finance application handy. There is something for everyone in the eDesktop box, but it is all rather straight-laced utilitarian software and much of it is very specialized. If you don't have a Citrix server, you don't have a use for the Citrix ICA client.

If you are looking for entertainment from your OS, you are going to have some shopping or downloading to do.

Problems

The single biggest problem with OpenLinux is Caldera's “simplicity by hiding details” design philosophy. Hiding irrelevant or distracting details is a good thing. Hiding the truly useless babble that Linux often displays can go beyond a good thing. However, unless details and babble are replaced with concise descriptions of what the system is doing, you can be left wondering and frustrated when problems occur. If you take away the information an “expert” would use to diagnose a problem, you need to replace it with software smart enough to figure out the problem on its own.

An example is the all-or-nothing installation: some systems that should be supported aren't, because Caldera, in their wish to keep the installation process simple for new users, went too far in checking the system for compatibility and removing the details of those checks from user view. It is a tradeoff, and users of mainstream hardware and software will benefit; however, I would like to see the Lizard and all of Caldera's software a little more willing to divulge troubleshooting information. Even a note about what went wrong, a query asking how to proceed and a warning that if you proceed, things might not work as expected, would let more people use the eDesktop. If Caldera invested the same effort, energy and skill they have contributed to COAS and Webmin in developing software that monitored the system status and reported—in plain language—everything that is going right and wrong, they would have the perfect counter to the “Linux is only for geeks” argument. Not only a counter argument, they would truly be simplifying, instead of hiding, the most complex part of using Linux.

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