Linux promises to provide a low-cost alternative to Microsoft
software, but can it really deliver? In this article we discuss our
experiences of installing and using Linux. Abrantes is a small web development
and training company. We use Linux for the following
Development database/web server
Testing platform for web sites
Why did we choose Linux?
We have to work with Linux when creating e-commerce web sites,
since it is a common choice for a web server. Since we have dial-up
Internet access, it is impractical to develop sites using a remote
server. While this is our main reason for using Linux, we quickly
realised that it could offer other benefits beyond being a simple
web development platform. One of the big deciding factors was cost.
Since Linux is free, it eliminates the software licensing costs
associated with a Windows 2000 or NT server. Another deciding
factor was reliability. Since we cannot work without the server, it
must be very reliable. Our experiences with Linux have shown it to
virtually indestructible. It never crashes, it just works.
Setting it up / configuration
Installing an operating system is relatively painless. The
difficult part is configuring it to work properly. This is true of
both Linux and Windows. We found Windows easier in this respect but
setting up a server is never easy and there is always some learning
involved. Fortunately, you only have to do it occasionally. We use
the Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 distribution of Linux, which is
quite old. Our experience with a later distribution called Linux
Mandrake 8.0 showed it to be far easier to configure and we are
currently migrating to it. We use Linux on a single PC as both a
server and a desktop operating system. This would not be advisable
using Windows, but seems to have no problems under Linux.
Installation of software packages is quite easy once you get used
to it. We find that rebooting is seldom necessary when installing
new software or changing the configuration.
How well it does its job
Linux appears in the Network Neighbourhood just the same as any
other machine on the network. We use it as a file and print server
in this respect. The web server allows creation of new web sites
quite easily and the database server is ODBC compliant so we can
operate it using Microsoft Access as a front end. Using Linux as a
desktop operating system is problematic. Our main problem is the
lack of compatibility with Microsoft Word and Excel files. Although
Sun's free StarOffice suite imports/exports Word and Excel
documents, it is not perfect. For internal documents this is not an
issue because we have StarOffice for Windows. It is similar enough
to Word and Excel to be relatively easy to adjust to for simple
tasks. Overall, Linux performs very well as a server and is
suitable for desktop use in limited situations. We still use
Windows because we need tools like Dreamweaver and HomeSite, as
well as Word and Excel compatibility. We also need Internet
Explorer to test our web sites.
Our only problems are using Linux as a desktop operating system. As
well as Microsoft Office compatibility problems, there are a few
other issues. Accessing the Network Neighbourhood from Linux is
more involved than it should be and some web sites look a little
strange when you view them using anything but Internet Explorer. As
a server, we have no problems at all.
We currently run the Caldera eDesktop 2.4 OpenLinux distribution,
but will be converting to Linux Mandrake 8.0 in the near future.
This should solve some of our configuration and desktop problems.
We follow the development of three products with particular
interest; StarOffice, Webmin and Mozilla. StarOffice has now become
OpenOffice and should support Microsoft Office XP's file format
extremely well. Webmin is a simple web based administration system
for Linux that makes configuration easier. Finally Mozilla is the
product which new versions of Netscape are derived from. We are
currently under-utilising Linux. We intend to use it as an email
and fax server, an Internet gateway/firewall and possibly a web
cache/proxy server. All of these are available to us and we don't
have to pay a penny more for the software to do it, since it comes
as part of Linux.
We find Linux an extremely capable server platform as long as you
are willing to spend some extra time learning how to set it up. On
the desktop we see great potential that has yet to be realised.