Editors' Choice 2006
Outside the open-source products that work on Windows as well as Linux, Windows continues to evolve into a Microsoft-only platform, as Microsoft continues to eliminate its commercial competition. But, competition thrives more than ever on Linux. Pick just about any category of software, and you can find at least two or three excellent candidates, often more. And, the available products are so good, it's difficult to claim that there is a hands-down best, such as the definitive word processor or e-mail client. One's choice often boils down to personal taste.
Here's how we approached the task of selecting winners this year. We asked vendors to nominate the products they released this year. We combined their nominations with our own choices, and our editors chose the best of the best for each category. If there's a flaw in our nomination process, it is that it is sometimes impossible for our editors to try out every product or service in the list of nominations. This is especially true of things like hosting and colocation services. In cases like these, personal experience had to trump vendor claims. For example, there may be a better hosting service than the one that earned our award, but we can vouch for our choice from personal experience, which carries more weight.
In the end, the process was fun, despite the challenge. We hope some of your favorites captured top honors, or if not, managed to get an honorable mention. So, on with the show.
It was at once the easiest and most difficult decision to pick the distribution for the Editors' Choice. Ubuntu has a long list of features and design decisions to recommend it for our award. It is easy to install; it has a vast repository of software; it is stable and friendly; it protects users from logging in as root by default and much more. One of the most influential factors in our decision was the fact that Ubuntu has captured and held more popular interest than any other distribution almost since its release. Granted, this isn't a people's choice award, but it's not for nothing that Ubuntu is such a popular distribution. Many of us at Linux Journal run it, or its KDE-based sister Kubuntu, ourselves.
Nevertheless, the competition is so superb that a proper list of honorable mentions would be uncomfortably long. We should consider ourselves blessed that we have such a marvelous variety from which to choose. Although we can't name every distribution we could consider worthy of the Editors' Choice Award, we can't resist giving honorable mention to a few. Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 is arguably the strongest comprehensive commercial distribution available. Linspire could be the ultimate desktop-oriented distribution for new users, although Xandros gives it a run for its money. Gentoo is the definitive compile-it-yourself distribution. Debian deserves a long round of applause, especially since many of the most excellent distributions, including Ubuntu/Kubuntu, Linspire, Xandros, MEPIS, Knoppix and many more are based on Debian. rPath uses Fedora as the foundation for its roll-it-yourself distribution—a perfect choice for those who need to produce custom appliance-like distributions. Even Damn Small Linux deserves a mention for being one of the few distributions that still runs well on older hardware.
As difficult a decision as it was, however, we're more than satisfied with our choice of Ubuntu 6.06 for the Editors' Choice of 2006.
KDE is the desktop with everything. It is friendly, intuitive and simple enough for the casual user who wants to use it as-is, but it also packs nearly unlimited features and configurability for those who want to plumb the depths of its power. For example, click on the default Konqueror button, and it takes you to a default page with links to your home folder, network folders, applications, trash bin and storage media. Click on the home folder link, and you get a simple, intuitive, folder-based file manager.
That would be enough for most people, but power users who want more from Konqueror can open a navigation panel, split windows multiple times, open tabbed panels—there's almost no limit to what you can do. You can use the fish: kio-slave to view and manipulate files on another computer over a secure connection. And, when you're happy with a view into your own filesystem or that of another computer, you can save any combination of URI and window configuration as a profile you can restore instantly.
Or, as another example, you can pop an audio CD into your CD drive, and Konqueror opens a window with virtual folders of your songs in MP3, Ogg Vorbis and other formats (depending on which extensions you have installed). Ripping your songs to MP3 format is as simple as copying and pasting the virtual MP3 files to another folder or to your MP3 player.
According to research organizations such as Evans Data, KDE is the most popular desktop environment. How does that square with the fact that GNOME is the default desktop of one of the most popular distributions (Ubuntu)? We have no idea. Whether or not Ubuntu users are sticking with GNOME or installing KDE, GNOME certainly deserves an honorable mention on its own merits. GNOME has come a long way in recent times, and it is particularly appealing in its default Ubuntu configuration.
GNOME was first to integrate the Beagle search engine into the desktop. Beagle is a Mono-based adaptation of the Java-based Lucene search engine. It is capable of indexing files of a wide variety of formats, so you can search through the contents of those files almost instantly. KDE has a search tool called Kerry, which is the equivalent of the GNOME search tool. Although GNOME should get credit for introducing the feature, KDE's power is made more apparent by how KDE easily integrates Beagle into Konqueror as a kio-slave. Put simply, you can type beagle:ubuntu in the Konqueror location bar (where you might type a file path or Web URL), and Konqueror taps into the Beagle search index to find all files containing the word ubuntu. All the files found will show up in the Konqueror window as icons and previews.
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