Further along the non-Windows route

Okay, I give in. Setting up PPP in Solaris to connect it to the internet was just too damn hard. I tried. I really did. I even found a really useful setup script out on the net - like, one that was supposed to solve all those "this is too damn hard" kind of complaints from idiots like me - but I ultimately just couldn't make it work properly on my home PC.

Okay, I give in. Setting up PPP in Solaris to connect it to the internet was just too damn hard. I tried. I really did. I even found a really useful setup script out on the net — like, one that was supposed to solve all those “this is too damn hard” kind of complaints from idiots like me — but I ultimately just couldn’t make it work properly on my home PC.

Pity really, as Solaris had installed really well, ran fast and supported all the stuff I needed (like a good browser and a good office suite). But it just wouldn’t play when it came to PPP. The guys from SolNet tell me that it does work ... it’s just a real bugger to set up. Guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

So, what did I do instead? Did I buckle to the will of Redmond? Well, no. I sallied forth and sucked down a copy of RedHat Linux. It’s completely free (or you can buy the official CDs for 60 bucks) and, quite frankly, release 7.1 kicks Microsoft arse. The install is a doddle (and is waaaay faster than a Windows install), getting PPP going is devastatingly easy and you don’t have to be a Unix command line freak to use it (although the sound setup is text-based, you only have to use the command line to get the thing going ).

My kids moaned bitterly when I told them their old Windows games wouldn’t work any more (boo hoo) but have cheered up immensely since I found and installed them the Linux version of the Quake 3 demo. I haven’t told them about WINE for porting Windows programs to Unix and don’t think I’ll bother — there’s more than enough native Linux stuff out there to keep them happy.

My beloved comma-nazi moaned bitterly when I told her she wouldn’t be able to use Word — her word processor of choice ever since she wrote her MA thesis on a Mac Plus running Word 1 or 2 or something. She has yet to sit down and really sink her teeth into StarOffice but what she’s seen so far has made her happy. If she decides she really hates StarOffice I can always download a copy of Gnome Office (actually, some of it is bundled with Gnome on the RH 7.1 install anyway). From what I’ve seen of it it’s quite nicely functional and it doesn’t launch its own annoying desktop like StarOffice 5.2 does (I’ve been assured that release 6 won’t). One downside to Gnome Office, though, is that it doesn’t support all the latest Microsoft file formats like StarOffice does. Sigh. There’s just no escaping from under that dark cloud is there?

So — I asked it last fortnight and I’ll ask it again — is all this good free stuff ready for prime time? On a personal level I’m sitting here right now being very productive using it so I guess the answer, for some of us at least, has to be a resounding yes. But is it ready for big corporates, the really influential consumers of technology? I know, for example, that Sun uses StarOffice but does that really count?

One of Computerworld’s cover stories last week was about a business that uses Linux on every desktop. “Cool”, I thought, but a read of the article revealed that their actual desktops were Windows ones, served up to their Linux clients via Citrix. Sort of like Clayton’s Linux — the kind you use when you don’t know you’re using it (or something like that, anyway). Having said that, maybe that’s the best way of doing it. Maybe evangelism isn’t the right way. Maybe what we need is to approach it like the old Chinese proverb says: Slowly, slowly catchee monkey (or something like that, anyway).

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

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