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From the Desktop: Fishing For the Right Envionment - page 2

Transitioning to End Users

  • September 18, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

When I started getting re-involved with Linux a couple of years ago, one thing that really struck me was the lack of standardized documentation to be found. There're the man pages, of course, and a pretty solid collection of HOWTOs and mini-HOWTOs. When these cover the topic you need, they're great. But many times the topics I could have used help with were missing altogether. And, let's face it, some of these documents assume the reader is already very knowledgeable in Linux. Not everyone who starts using Linux has a computer science degree.

Clearly this is an area where some more effort could be made. The Linux Documentation Project and GNOME Documentation Project are each good starts, but are still not ready for primetime.

Another improvement would be the addition of new administrator tools that would let IT admins get a better level of control over client desktops. Such tools and methodologies exist now, of course, but there does not seems to be a single source of answers or tools to handle admin tasks. Network and client control need to be more streamlined in order to win over the network admins who are teetering on the edge of the Linux pool.

The reason for this is simple: administrators like to keep control of the client desktops. While such control is an anathema to any one with a creative or expressive cell in their body, the cold truth is that in a business environment, users should not have a lot of control over what their computers have running. Standardization is a necessary evil in business and network administrators need platforms they can lock down and keep in step with the corporate mission.

Finally, another area of improvement should be the strengthening of choices available. Now before everyone gets all crazy, let me emphasize the word strengthen--not reduce. I do not think Linux will ultimately be harmed by the amount of choice it presents to users, though lately it may seem like choices are doing more harm than good. But the strength of these choices needs to be increased and shouted to the highest mountaintops so that users know exactly what they have to choose from.

Recent efforts by GNOME, both from the developers and from the GNOME Foundation, have made strides in this direction. The upcoming release of KDE2 will offer a much stronger choice selection as well.

KDE2, if you have not had a chance to look at it, is a really nice bit of coding. The new Konqueror file manager/Web browser is a much-needed enhancement. I have been playing around with it quite a bit, even before Red Hat decided to renege on offering it straight with Red Hat 7 (KDE will be available as preview software). Thus far, its speed and level of control of the desktop have been above average and the eye-candy being offered hasn't been too bad, either.

GNOME and KDE are not the only fish in the sea, of course. There are other X environments and window managers to be found. Of particular interest is one that a reader pointed out to me last week called XFce. This is a GTK+-based window manager that is made to resemble the CDE environment for UNIX, and having played around on that platform once upon a time, I can tell you that this is certainly a valid claim. After it was recommended to me, I checked it out and found it to be a nice little environment that kept everything smoothly organized and accessible. Of course, being GTK+ based, it works well with GNOME stuff, too. (I tried not to hold that against it.)

This is just the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg, of course. Actually, I shouldn't say "of course," because that perpetuates the problem a lot of users to Linux have: they aren't aware of all of the choices they have. Veteran users are typically too wrapped up in whatever they are doing to offer unsolicited advice and new users often do not know the right questions to ask.

Casting the Line

To help users start asking better questions, and hopefully start getting some answers, the next several From the Desktop columns will take a look at various desktop environments and window managers that are available today. Part review, part tutorial, these articles will offer you a more detailed look at the many environmental choices for the Linux desktop.

It is these choices, after all, that will help keep Linux growing. Instead of a bloated great white shark, think of Linux as a school of fish. Each individual fish has its own goals and direction, but they all move in relative unison as one entity. A school of fish is a lot more flexible than one old, slow great white shark, too.

Something to remember as you cast your line into the murky operating system seas.

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