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4 August, 2005
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Linux for Windows Users

In Pursuit of Good Desktop Linux:

Network Neighborhood and MS Windows Partitions

. . . one characteristic of a good desktop Linux distribution is that it has to be good right out of the box. That includes a file management system that let's users have easy access to shared files and devices on other computers on a LAN.

Mike Angelo -- 4 August 2005 (C) -- Page 1

Article Index

Switch from the MS Windows operating system to the GNU-Linux operating system

To learn why Linux is so much a better choice than is Microsoft Windows, please see our article Gaël Duval Tells Why Mandrake Linux Is Better Than MS Windows

To learn how to run MS Windows-based software and accessories in GNU-Linux, please see our article Crossover Office 2.1 Runs MS Windows Software on GNU-Linux Systems

Figure 1. The Network Neighborhood directory in the Windows Explorer file manager.

Executive Summary

A good desktop Linux is easy to use, is easy to install and configure, and is feature rich.

A good desktop Linux distribution has to be good right out of the box. It includes a file management system with easy access to shared files and devices on other computers on a LAN. (Network Neighborhood in MS Windows terminology.)

And it includes a file management system that let's users have easy access to MS Windows directories and files on the local computer for dual-boot Linux and Windows computer systems -- or for Linux-based computer systems converted from a MS Windows system to Linux.

We compared five important Linux distributions, Fedora, Mandriva, Novell, SUSE, and Xandros using our Pogo Linux Altura64 test system and using multi-boot technology.

Only two Linux Distros, Mandriva Linux and Xandros Desktop OS, matched up, out-of-the-box, on both (a) easy access to shared files on other computers on our LAN and (b) easy access to MS Windows files on the multi-boot test computer.

Mandriva and Xandros have a look and feel that is much like that of MS Windows. That helps to make migration from MS Windows to GNU-Linux an easy transition with Mandriva Linux and Xandros Desktop OS.

Xandros does not have the KDE Konqueor Web browser, which is the best Web browser available today, in its distribution. Nor does Xandros make the KDE Konqueror Web browser available for later addition to the Xandros installation.

Because Xandros does not include the Konqueror Web browser, we do not consider it a good desktop Linux at this time.

About Linux Distributions

For more about GNU-Linux distributions and how they are put together, please see Anatomy of a Linux Distribution in our article SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE.

Under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL), the GNU-Linux operating system is free and open source software (FOSS) and no one can charge for it. However, Linux companies such as Mandriiva, Novell, Red Hat, SUSE, Xandros, and others that add to the basic GNU-Linux OS may charge for the added value and for distributing the GNU-Linux OS. They also can charge for services such as product support, documentation, and so forth.

So, you are not sure what makes a Linux distribution a good desktop Linux but you know it when you see it, right? Perhaps but perhaps not. So, what does it take to be a good desktop Linux distribution?

Here, we use the term desktop Linux to refer to Linux-based computer systems that sport graphical user interfaces (GUIs) laid out to look and feel like desktops. Two popular GNU-Linux GUI desktop systems are GNOME and KDE. What most people see when they use Microsoft Windows is a GUI desktop.

One characteristic of a good desktop Linux is that it is easy to use. Another is that it is easy to install and easy to configure. And yet another characteristic of a good desktop Linux is that it is feature rich.

To some degree what might be labeled a good desktop Linux is a relative sort of thing.

  • It's relative to the features and functionality of other Linux distributions at the time. It's relative to other operating systems (OSs), at the time.
  • It's relative to what people do with computers at the time.
  • And it's relative to what you can do and want to do with a computer on which Linux is installed.

Easy Access to Network Files and Devices -- The Network Neighborhood

That said, one characteristic of a good desktop Linux distribution is that it has to be good right out of the box.

  • That includes a file management system that let's users have easy access to shared files and devices on other computers on a LAN.
  • And it includes a file management system that let's users have easy access to MS Windows directories and files on the local computer.

Thus, one item that we believe is an important and essential element of a good desktop Linux is that it allows you to see and access shared files and devices on other computers on your LAN (Local Area Network). In Microsoft Windows terminology, that is the Network Neighborhood. Please see Figure 1 in the right sidebar.

Easy Access to Windows Files on Multi-Boot or Migrated Systems

Another essential ingredient of a good desktop Linux is that it allows you to see and access MS Windows directories and files in your computer. Usually, you only have Microsoft Windows directories and files on your computer if it is a dual-boot or multi-boot computer system. You also might have MS Windows directories and files on your Linux-based computer system if you converted it from a MS Windows system to Linux system

Out-of-the-Box Functionality

Moreover, in a good desktop Linux these two elements of a good desktop Linux are up and running right out-of-the-box so to speak. You can get access to shared files and devices on other computers on your LAN with almost any Linux distribution. The difference across Linux distributions is how much hassle and expertise it takes to do that.

Likewise you can get access to MS Windows directories and files on your computer with almost any Linux distribution. And likewise, the difference among distros is how much hassle and expertise it takes to do that.

In some GNU-Linux distributions if you chose custom partitioning, you can direct the installer program to auto-mount any MS Windows partitions it finds on the hard drive(s) on your computer. However, that takes some thought and effort. Thus, we do not consider doing that as an out-of-the-box implementation of access to MS Windows directories and files on your computer.

Please do not let the term mount used throughout this article baffle you if you are a Microsoft Windows user. It's not really that big a thing. In fact, mounting a share is somewhat similar to mapping a drive in MS Windows.

So, if you are familiar with mapping a drive in MS Windows, it might help you to think of mounting a share as mapping a share. (Please see the Mount and Mount Point entries in the Terms and Definitions sidebar on page 2.)

Good Desktop Linux -- A Relative Thing

These two essential elements of a good Linux distribution, (a) access to directories and files that reside on other computers on your LAN and (b) access to MS Windows directories and files that reside on the same computer on which your Linux is installed, are good examples. They are good examples of why what might be labeled a good desktop Linux is a relative sort of thing.

Five years ago not many home, home-office, or small-office computers were networked. Today many, if not most, such computers are networked. That makes easy access to directories and files that reside on other computers on your LAN a relatively important characteristic of a good desktop Linux these days.

By the way, do you have two or more computers at home or at the office that are not networked. If so, you should consider networking them. For more about networking your computers, please see our articles Computer Connections at Home, Office, & School and our Networking Articles Index.

There are lots more dual-boot and multi-boot computers today than there were five years ago. Today, many people are migrating from Microsoft Windows systems to Linux systems. And they have existing MS Windows files on their computers to which they need access. That makes access to MS Windows directories and files that reside on the same computer on which Linux is installed a relatively important characteristic of a good desktop Linux these days.

On the other hand, If your computer is not on a local network (LAN) or not a computer with both MS Windows and Linux on it, the elements of access to directories and files that reside on other computers on your LAN and access to MS Windows directories and files that reside on the same computer on which your Linux is installed, relatively speaking, are not important to you. That's one reason that what is a good desktop Linux is a relative sort of thing.

  • See How the Linux Distros Match Up on Network and Local File Accessibility on Page 2 ----->
  • See Xandros Desktop OS Business Edition 3 on Page 2 ----->
  • Article Index

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