Caldera Network Desktop 1.0
The Caldera Network Desktop (CND) is not just another Linux distribution. Some people will be very happy to hear this; others will be disappointed. Rather than an in-depth product review, this article offers some first impressions and talks about where CND is a good fit.
Starting in Fall 1993, with the first Yggdrasil release, Linux has been evolving in the commercial arena. That is, prior to that time, most newcomers found Linux on the Internet or in the hands of a friend and worked from there. Yggdrasil changed that, and other vendors (including Walnut Creek, CraftWorks, and Red Hat) continue to offer commercial products.
Like Yggdrasil, a pioneer that took Linux into a different arena, Caldera has done it again, expanding the possible Linux market into a whole new area. What needs to be addressed is: what is this new market, and who, along with Caldera, will need to get involved to service this market? But before we get into that, here are my initial experiences with installation.
When I opened the package I found a manual, a CD in a jewel case, a very skinny mouse pad (that gets mixed reviews in our office), and two floppy disks. I was pleased to find the floppies but very surprised there were only two, since Red Hat (which Caldera is based on) uses two root disks plus a boot floppy that you must select from 72 possible choices.
It turns out Caldera is using a new installation system and only one floppy is required. One of the two is for standard computers, the other is for laptops with PCMCIA cards.
I quickly thumbed through the manual as I searched for some free disk space on biggie, the machine I have used to load and test most of the Linux distributions on the planet. The documentation looks good, covering most of what you need to know without becoming a text for techno-nerds.
I slipped in the boot disk and CD and booted up the system. It came up to a boot screen where I entered my one required boot-time parameter so my SCSI controller could be found. All worked well and I was ready to start answering questions.
Without going into great detail, LISA (Linux Installation and System Administration) is a text-mode installation system that was very easy to use and asked the right number of questions. By that I mean, if something needs to be asked, it is, but users aren't pelted with questions about things they might not care about or understand.
All went well until the X installation. At that point the system refused to believe I had an S3-based video board and kept defaulting to VGA mode. The board I have is a brand-X, but I have it running fine under Slackware, Red Hat and Yggdrasil.
I finally gave up and changed to a name-brand video board that was one of the choices on the X configuration menu and all worked fine. The X server is X Inside, which is, I understand from talking to others, very good and fast. While it supports cards that are not supported by the free server (like the Matrox line) it has a reputation for not liking some clone cards.
At this point, I decided I needed to try installing CND on another computer to see how well it worked. I chose my Toshiba T3600 notebook which is currently running Slackware 2.3. I plugged in a New Media BusToaster card and SCSI CD-ROM drive and booted it up from the PCMCIA floppy. After booting, it asked me to insert my PCMCIA card, wait five seconds and press return. I did. It successfully identified the card, but then died because the module to talk to the card was not on the boot disk. While I could have found the module, made another boot disk, and tried again, I decided to quit and hope that version 1.1 addresses that problem.
On boot after installation, all came up fine. My only complaint is that it starts about every possible server and daemon in the world. While this does make it easy for people who don't know what they want, it also means editing rc files for those who need to streamline their system.
Once CND is up and running, it offers a drag and drop desktop. But, you already know that from the reviews of the preview version and the Caldera ads. So, once again, I wanted to make it do all the stuff I had been doing with other Linux distributions, and my first effort was to get my PPP link back up and running.
There was no GUI-based setup for PPP, so I looked in the manual. Sure enough, PPP was in the index. The reference basically said to read the PPP HOWTO (which is on the CD). This wasn't fatal, as I merely copied the PPP stuff I had under Slackware over and it worked fine. But again, there was nothing easier about setting it up under CND.
While the information above may sound depressing, I don't really feel that it is. While Joe Average may want to convince his wife that CND is a good buy because it looks like MS Windows, I don't think this is the primary market. If Caldera hired me to be their marketing manager, I would tell them their markets are the office desktop and custom office situations. They don't have to hire me to do this, though, as it appears they already know. For example, they have established Value Added Reseller (VAR) and Independent Software Vendor (ISV) programs.
If I wanted to get Linux into the office market, I could pick a particular segment of the office market (like education, medical office, etc.), develop the packages needed (probably some sort of database), get up to speed installing CND, and start selling a bunch of software.
Better yet, pick some specific hardware and get into the market with a total hardware/software solution. Also, since CND includes commercial NetWare client and administration tools, getting CND on desktops in a Novell-based office makes a lot of sense.
In conclusion, CND is not another Slackware or Red Hat. It is designed for the end-user, “I don't know what a Linux is” market. With one hundred million or more PCs out there, CND has a very good chance to move Linux into new places.