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Is Linux Desktop Better Than Windows?

Nonprofit Users Think So

  • June 28, 2004
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Use of Linux by nonprofit organizations is nothing new. For one thing, the lower costs of Linux fit in well with limited budgets. Now, though, some end users at nonprofit organizations are choosing Linux for a completely different reason--namely, a better desktop experience than they've been getting from Windows.

"Using Windows ME, we've had lots of problems with popups and spyware. There's been none of that with Linux," says Subroto Mukerjea, a site director for the Computer Learning Center in Fairfax County, VA. Mukerjea oversees one of 14 sites within an after school program for children and teens aged six to 16.

"Windows 95 was always going down," maintains Paul Mundell, national director of canine programs at Canine Companions for Independence, Santa Rosa, CA. "The problem with Windows 2000 isn't 'crashing.' It's just that, after a while, applications start running more slowly and features don't work as well unless you say to yourself, 'Maybe it's time to rebuild your hard drive.'"

Mukerjea and Mundell are both recent converts to SuSE Linux, an OS now owned and distributed by Novell. However, neither of these two users is about to abandon Windows entirely, either.

"The Computer Learning Center supports kids who don't have access to computers at home. They can come to the center after school to learn computer skills, and to work on whatever projects they've been assigned in the classroom," Mukerjea notes.

"I thought some of the kids might be upset about needing to learn a new operating system. There was a little bit of opposition at first, but the kids were also curious. After they started using Linux, they didn't notice much of a difference in the look and feel. And once they found out that they could run computer games faster on Linux, any opposition faded away." The kids have been using OpenOffice, too.

Mukrjea decided to try out Linux for classroom use after a friend gave him a copy of SuSE Linux Personal Edition 7.0. "Truthfully, I didn't know one version of Linux from the other," he admits. "But we were having troubles with our PCs, and I wanted to try out Linux to see whether it might help. Windows ME can be a little buggy. Also, whenever you go out on to the Internet (using Windows), you're free to get all kinds of viruses."

From Mukerjea's perspective, Linux has been a boon to managing the after school classrom, which ranges in size from ten to 26 children. Whenever Windows ME bogged down or froze up, program participants got frustrated, he recalls.

"They'd have to shut down the computer and reboot. When things got bad enough, we'd have to do an F-disk. This hasn't happened at all with Linux, and it's been wonderful."

Yet Mukerjea does see one advantage to Windows. "Microsoft's IE (Internet Explorer) does a very good job of installing plug-ins such as Adobe Acrobat and Macromedia flash. Maybe plug-ins have been better addressed in a later edition of SuSE, but I don't know."

Over at Canine Companions for Independence, Mundell, a genetic researcher, is running SuSE Linux 9.0 on an IBM Intellistation workstation. However, his IBM Thinkpad notebook is operating both SuSE 9.0 and Windows 2000.

Mundell uses Windows 2000 for applications that either aren't available yet for Linux. These include EndNote, an application for compiling footnotes and bibliographies, and SAS. "IE also interfaces with Medline. So I figured, let's set the notebook up so I can boot to either Linux or Windows."

Mundell would like to be able to run SAS on Linux, too, but he finds this option too costly. "If you want to get a nonprofit license from SAS, for some reason, Linux is considered a server license. A one-person license would be expensive enough."

The researcher does use Linux for running a couple of genetic calculation programs for the US Department of Agriculture--MTGSAM and MTDFREML--as well as for Web browing and e-mail.

Why does Mundell like Linux better? "Things like deleting temp files and defragmenting the disk just aren't necessary under Linux. You can also avoid the hours and hours of work it takes to rebuild your hard drive. Perhaps the problems in Windows aren't really Windows' fault, because it seems as though virtually every virus ever written was created for Windows. But I view the PC as a tool for doing what I want to do. I'm willing to learn enough to rebuild my hard drive, but I don't want to have to spend time on learning the fine points of editing a registry," Mundell says.

SuSE Linux isn't Mundells's first experience with Linux, and he's noticed some huge improvements along the way.

"I first tried out a fairly early version of Caldera Linux. You have to keep in mind that I was inexperienced at the time--but at that point, Linux didn't seem that great for desktop use, although it was okay for certain applications" Mundell observes, pointing in particular to issues with both e-mail access and modem and display drivers.

"I don't really care that much about the user interface, because much of what I do is text-based, anyway. But I wanted to be able to look at my e-mail. You could get e-mail clients, but they didn't necessarily work well with the Exchange server that we use."

Years after his Caldera experince, Mundell came across SuSE 9.0 when strolling through a software store, and decided to give Linux another whirl. "SuSE 9.0 works better in every respect. Novell has also bundled in Evolution, which gives me smooth access to Exchange."

Back in Virginia, Mukerjea is now looking at double-barreled use of Linux and Windows, too. Mukerjea has been asked to return to Windows ME, in that Microsoft is one of the sponsors of the Computer Learning Center.

"We're also being encouraged to with Windows XP, whenever funding beomes available for an upgrade from our current generation of Dell Pentium II hardware," he adds.

Meanwhile, however, in Mukerjea's classroom, at least, Windows ME will be running hand-in-hand with Linux.

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