Wide Linux choice a scary thing

Linux won't be big in the desktop space until the mainstream PC manufacturers commit to providing simple, foolproof Linux distributions with their hardware. Most don't right now, of course, because of their existing arrangements with you-know-who.

I’ve taken the red capsule; there’s no turning back now.

Last week I even got an email from CIO magazine’s Doug Casement. In case you don’t read the NZ edition of CIO, Doug’s always banging on about Linux and last week he was kind enough to drop me a note discussing, as he does, Linux and generally saying how nice it was that there was someone else out there in column-land sticking it to Mr Softee. Doug also mentioned that, besides Red Hat, there are numerous other very worthy and commercially viable flavours of Linux on the market (to whatever extent there is a “market” for free stuff).

This got me thinking that unfortunately this illustrates one of the problems with the Linux market, it’s full of choice— too full of choice for most of us. It’s quite fragmented and, to the uninitiated, it’s a pretty frightening place. Most of us don’t want to choose our kernel version and our window manager. We just want an OS that runs well on our hardware and a user interface that makes it usable. Some apps that make us productive are a good idea too. Linux won’t be big in the desktop space until the mainstream PC manufacturers commit to providing simple, foolproof Linux distributions with their hardware. Most don’t right now, of course, because of their existing arrangements with you-know-who. Some of the big guys are starting to provide no-brainer out-of-the-box Linux in their server ranges. Let’s hope it trickles down to their desktops soon.

Speaking of you-know-who, my editor thought it might be amusing to slip me a copy of Office XP to, like, play with and comment on. Ironic, isn’t it? Here I am writing a review of sorts of Office XP using StarOffice on my Linux PC. Anyway, let’s try to be objective and have an open mind ... To be honest, it looks quite nice. Installs well (yes, I still have a Windows PC at work). Runs well. Does everything I need (and about 1000% more). What could possibly be wrong?

Well, Office has been around for some time hasn’t it? It’s a pretty mature product and when you’re talking about software, maturity equals stability, right? Well, no, not according to Microsoft. On page 6 of “Discovering Microsoft Office XP”, the manual which ships with the Office XP Professional CD, under the heading “Reliability and Robustness”, is the following gem: “Software applications occasionally crash, even when you ‘do everything right’. Office XP has been designed to minimise the impact of crashes by employing a number of new recovery features ...”

Huh? What’s that all about? Why not put your effort into writing apps that don’t crash? Sigh. Same old story ...

It’s not all ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff — there are some additions like new collaboration features and better document tracking in Word, some cool BI and analysis features in Excel and better storage and account handling in Outlook. They’re all very nice and they may just solve somebody’s life—long productivity problem but, for me at least, none of these features justifies the entry price. Maybe next time.

Hey, Neo, pass me another red one ...

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send email to Jim Swanson. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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