Caldera OpenLinux 2.2

by Jason Kroll

OpenLinux 2.2 is Caldera's latest “Linux for Business” distribution, a professional, productivity-oriented package that is highly functional, stable, secure, and especially easy to install and administer. OpenLinux comes with a number of productivity packages including Corel's WordPerfect 8 and StarOffice v.5, along with the typical Linux utilities and applications (even games) which are all incorporated into the menuing system of the K Desktop Environment. Also included is the Caldera Open Administration System (COAS), which is an easy-to-use graphical interface for dealing with configuration and administration issues (similar to a Control Panel on the Macintosh, but aimed at network administration).

Installation

OpenLinux 2.2 is installed from an autobooting CD-ROM by way of Caldera's graphical installation program Lizard (Linux Wizard, that is). Provided your computer has a CD-ROM drive, autobooting from the CD-ROM is achieved by pressing delete during startup and selecting the CD-ROM drive as the first boot device, or you can start up the installation program from within the particular OS which comes by default on most PCs (MS Windows). OpenLinux's installation CD boots immediately to the graphical interface, which is actually easy to use. Once the Caldera graphic comes up (dancing people on part of a globe, presumably happy because Linux installation is so easy), Lizard will present a boot prompt, and if nothing is typed, will begin probing the hardware. Lizard's probing techniques are fairly thorough and if they do cause the computer to hang (with the diversity of hardware available, problems are bound to come up on some systems), typing install er=cautious at the boot prompt will tune down the probing and the installation should continue smoothly.

The graphical installation process, once begun, is extremely simple and consists of a few questions and answers. The first question is which language you would like your installation instructions in; the choices are English, German, French and Italian. Strangely, Lizard will not let you change your mind on this subject, so one is advised to be truthful. Once the language is chosen, Lizard configures the mouse; the mouse should work with the settings derived from Lizard's probe, and changes to the configuration could cause a malfunctioning pointer.

Lizard presents several partition options: entire hard disk, prepared partitions and custom. The first option simply prepares the entire hard disk for use with Linux; the second is used for situations in which one has already partitioned a drive for Linux. The final partition option is for “experts only” and is what the typical Linux user is used to: manual editing of partition information (gasp). All of this is quite simple. The only problem I noticed was that Lizard would sometimes ignore my swap partition, and I would have to go back and declare my swap partition again (just a simple back-and-forth clicking, like on a web browser). According to the documentation if you boot from Windows, PartitionMagic is invoked automatically to build the partitions for you. Once the partitions are formatted, selection of installation packages is made.

Unlike many Linux distributions, Caldera OpenLinux does not require a user to spend time picking and choosing particular packages. Four installation options are offered: minimal (server), recommended, recommended plus commercial (including WordPerfect and Star Office) and complete install (over one gigabyte of Linux software). I tried all four sizes, and I recommend one of the latter two, preferably the complete install if you have the space.

A clever technique of Lizard is that installation of packages proceeds while the user is still answering questions and configuring the system. Right after package selection has begun, the questions on keyboard layout, video card, monitor and networking are raised. Keyboard layout is just a typical straightforward selection (although “Finnish” is misspelled as “Finish”). The video card selection offers a probe function, which I recommend. On the test machine, Lizard correctly diagnosed the video card, while the probe discovered the correct amount of video memory. Monitor selection consists of choosing among over 1,700 monitors from a database. Obviously, some monitors may be missing from the list, but any monitor which is agreeable to VESA standards should be easily configured.

After the monitor has been selected, Lizard shows possible resolutions for running the X Window System and KDE. To test a particular resolution, simply select the resolution and click the test button. One difficulty I had is that Lizard showed a KDE screen instead of the standard X test pattern, which made it difficult to tell if I had a perfect setting. Still, it is quite an easy procedure: point and click until the test screen looks right.

Finally, just set the root password, add a few users, perhaps configure networking, and then all is ready to go!

OpenLinux and the K Desktop Environment

Caldera selected the K Desktop Environment as the interface of choice for its distribution, and upon startup, OpenLinux launches right into it. If you feel uninclined to type in your user name, pointing and clicking from a list of users is an option (regular users' icons are just heads, but root gets to be a conductor). However, you will have to type in your own password—there is no point-and-click solution to this problem (yet).

The first login from any user will bring up KDE's configuration program, which asks a few questions as to which theme and icons the user would like. There are some typical KDE themes from which to choose (KDE default, Macintosh OS, BeOS and Windows). As for icons, you can choose floppies, CD-ROM, printer and even a Caldera Systems icon for your desktop, linking you to their home page, if you are really enthusiastic about Caldera or think you'll be needing technical support. One mysterious issue of this icon selection is that unless you move the configuration window, you will not see any icons appearing on the desktop, but that is the only problem I found with KDE.

Caldera clearly put a lot of effort into their particular configuration for KDE, because the menuing system is neatly organized and includes a great many applications, utilities, networking software and other programs (even games). It is quite impressive to click on the K icon (“Where do you want to go tomorrow?” it asks) and see everything laid out so clearly, without having to do any manual configuration. In fact, the sight of such a selection of productivity, networking and development software all configured and ready to go on one system could be one of the most persuasive arguments in favor of running Linux in a business environment; that is, when we try to convince non-Linux users to give our OS a chance.

Caldera Open Administration System

For some reason, an aversion to shells and text-based interfaces has developed among modern computer users; the preference is for GUIs these days. COAS is Caldera's solution for network administrators who prefer a graphical approach. COAS is an interface for dealing with issues of network administration and is set up so as to keep track of administration changes in such a way that one can use COAS when one chooses and traditional Linux commands when one is so inclined.

Issues

Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 is very close to requiring minimal technical knowledge; however, some problems can arise. The first is that LILO (Linux Loader) often has trouble installing on partitions with more than 1024 cylinders. This is easily remedied by appending linear to the general section of the /etc/lilo.conf file, but since one might expect most modern hard drives to have more than 1024 cylinders, it seems strange that Caldera did not automate the accommodation for this problem. Still, I had some trouble making a successful coexistence with the BeOS. The other problem is that because OpenLinux 2.2 aims to be secure, authority issues can arise when trying to restart X and KDE after one has shut down the windowing system which comes up at startup. When a user logs into a console, the greeting message says to type startx or kde. Neither of these commands was functional on the test machine except for root, and then only after I made changes to the .xsessionrc file. In a business environment, this could be confusing, though the solution may simply be to reboot. Also, StarOffice must be configured before it can be run, which could pose difficulties for certain people. Finally, for some reason, Caldera did not include the immortal editor pico--I had to boot up Emacs all the time. I am sure there is a simple remedy for this problem.

As far as being up to date, OpenLinux 2.2 runs on the Linux kernel 2.2.5. The 2.2 kernel is a fantastic production and is especially improved in the areas of networking, interoperability with other operating/file systems, parallel processing, backup and RAID and hardware support, things which are especially important in a professional environment. Also, the OpenLinux 2.2 distribution is up to date on its numerous libraries, while maintaining backwards compatibility for glibc 5-based applications.

Support

One of the only arguments supporters of Microsoft could make against Linux is that consumers would not use Linux because they want total product accountability from one particular firm (in essence, users of free software would have no one to call for support). However, Caldera stands behind its product with a 90-day/five-incident warranty and keeps a database of potential bugs and fixes on its web site. Support forms are available on-line, in case one has a problem without a readily visible solution, and Caldera is relatively quick to respond. For businesses and individuals who cannot wait for technical support, there is a full 24x7 fee-based support system with guaranteed one-hour response. Also, Caldera insists it is working to ensure Y2K compliance, though Linux users have traditionally not been very concerned about this.

Conclusion

OpenLinux 2.2 is designed specifically for the business community, and although it would be quite good for productivity-minded home users, it is highly tuned for business use. Businesses should find everything they need right here, including single-party accountability for technical support. The system appears rather secure, and passwords are shadowed. Also, I noticed I could not log in as root via TELNET (which is good for security).

Ultimately, this distribution is evidence of how easy Linux can be to install, and how commercially and professionally viable it is. Home users who like to hack might prefer another distribution, but for businesses, this appears to be the solution.

Jason Kroll has been copy editing articles for Linux Journal for about three years. He is now employed here full-time as our Technical Editor/Product Reviewer. He can be reached via e-mail at hyena@ssc.com.

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