Linux as a Work Environment Desktop

Tips and suggestions for using Linux on the desktop in a non-Linux workplace.
General Advice

In the way of general advice on how to handle day-to-day tasks that would normally be done in Windows, I offer the following:

Probably the most generic function in any office these days is reading and writing Microsoft documents, whether Word, Excel or Powerpoint. StarOffice provides an entire suite of applications that are capable of reading and writing Microsoft format documents. With their latest version, they have provided even more support for Microsoft integration.

For e-mail, there are loads of mail clients to choose from. However, this can be restricted depending on the type of mail server you use. You should have no problem finding mail clients for POP and IMAP mail. Since I've already mentioned StarOffice, I'd like to point out that it comes with a built-in mail client for POP and IMAP mail. Netscape also includes POP and IMAP support. Difficulties can occur if your company has selected to use Microsoft Exchange as its e-mail server and hasn't opened up IMAP or POP access to it. At the moment, there are no IMAP compatible clients available for Linux. As far as I know, your options here are limited to e-mail clients that will only run in Windows (if anyone knows any differently, give me a holler!). See below for more information on how to combat this.

Unfortunately, Linux doesn't supply all the capabilities that are necessary in today's office. We are more often than not resigned to having to share our machine with Microsoft products. WINE provides the ability to run Microsoft products natively in Linux; however, it leaves a lot to be desired. For these cases, VMWare is a clever application that allows you to run an instance of another operating system within your Linux operating system. Check it out if you haven't come across it. For me, VMWare provides the ability to run Microsoft Outlook reading e-mail from our Exchange server. It seems a bit of an overkill to have another operating system running in order to just read mail, but we don't always get what we want.

Printing is an area that can cause a number of headaches when setting up a Linux operating system; however, printer setup tools and driver support is improving rapidly. Setting up a network printer under Linux can be pretty straightforward if you follow the rules. One thing to watch out for is when you have a printer that doesn't seem to have its own driver. There are plenty of resources on the Web detailing how to set up a specific printer even if it doesn't seem to be supported. For example, we have a Gestetner PCL printer in the office, but by using the HP LaserJet III printer driver I now have access to this printer.

In summary, there are many areas that must be dealt with when trying to successfully run a Linux operating system in an environment that doesn't necessarily support it. I've tried to give you some idea of how I got around the problems I've encountered. In the Resources section, I've listed some of the web sites that have come to my aid in researching how to do something in Linux that is normally done in Windows. But remember, not everything can be done through Linux, and sometimes you will have to fall back to non-Linux applications.


Mark currently works for ICL, based in Dublin. His technology interests include Linux and Java. Outside of work, he likes to take long holidays to visit other countries. He can be contacted at