A Linux Island in a C:\ of Windows, Part 4

by Eric Clapsaddle

If you've been following along with this series (see Resources), you now know how to load VMware on your company-issued desktop, how to connect to the outside world and how to interact with the Windows servers on your company network, all without taking any downtime or interrupting your work environment. Thus far, we've talked about replacing your standard Windows desktop at work. Everybody knows, though, that Linux is cooler than Windows, so now let's talk about using some of that cool stuff at work.

If you're like me, you like to have music playing when working, especially when doing those late-night updates, upgrades over the weekend or last-minute "stay until this is done" work. Working deep inside an office building in a cube farm doesn't help radio reception, however. And who wants to shuffle CDs throughout the day simply to get a change of music? Instead, why don't you burn the CDs you already own to your PC. I don't think that violates any copyright laws--yet.

I use KAudioCreator for this task, which installs by default as part of SuSE's KDE desktop. Click the K menu icon, choose Multimedia and then select CD/DVD tools. The first time you run KAudioCreator, it asks you to select an encoder. Click on settings, configure KAudioCreator and then choose the encoder you want to use. As with everything else in Linux, you have a choice of encoders. I chose to use the lame encoder to make MP3 files, which work in my PDA as well. If the encoder you want isn't on the list, you may have to download and install the proper one. If you want to retrieve the CD information from freedb.org, click on the CD lookup tab and the CD information loads for you. If by chance freedb.org doesn't have the information for that particular CD, be sure to submit it by using the Submit tab.

After your favorite CDs have been ripped, there are many ways to play them on Linux. I use XMMS if I want to play a single CD straight through. Start XMMS, right click on the title bar, click Play Directory and choose the Directory from the drop-down list. If I want to mix and match music, I then use JuK as a music jukebox. amaroK also is an excellent jukebox player.

I use a PDA to keep track of meetings, projects and other important information. Connecting a PDA to a Linux machine is outside the scope of this series, but you can find some great information on that topic here or at any one of the other almost two million sites that came up when I did a Google search. Given the multitude of PDAs available, somebody probably already has worked through any problems you may have. If you are using VMware, though, be sure to load the desktop software on the Windows machine first. VMware uses the Windows drivers to communicate with the PDA.

And sometimes, you simply need a diversion at work; maybe you are there only for coverage or maybe you need to babysit a machine going through a long automated process. Windows machines comes standard with Solitaire, Minesweeper and other games, and Linux comes with these games as well as others. I'm not suggesting you load up the latest first-person shooter and waste hours of work time, but when you need a five-minute break during the 70th hour of the week, a little game break can be a good thing. Kmines is a minesweeper clone that plays well, and Patience offers many varieties of Solitaire card games. If you want to be a little more stealthy about wasting company work time, you might want to try something without the obvious graphics. I find that a little game of the classic NetHack is a good way to take a break without being too obvious.

Final Thoughts

A Linux desktop can work perfectly well in a Windows server environment, as long as you don't need any specialized Windows-only applications. Much of the functionality of Windows programs can be duplicated if not improved by a Linux version. Even those applications that don't have a Linux version can be run on Linux using WINE for free or by using CrossOver Office, if you want to spend some money. And more companies are developing Linux clients every day. If you can't find a Linux application that connects to a specific application, check the company's Web site; you might be able to find a beta version of a Linux client.

I now use Linux on a daily basis at work and only use the company-issued Windows system to start VMware in order to run Linux and one client/server application. When we upgrade to the newest version of this application, I will be able to use its Web interface and not need Windows for anything.

I started using Linux as a desktop at work to better administer all of the UNIX servers for which I am responsible. Making the move was a matter of spending a few spare hours here and there to bring a fully functional and integrated desktop into my Windows work environment. I may be the only Linux island in the sea of Windows at work, but I never have to call the help desk for support.

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