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17 August, 2005
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Linux for Windows Users

In Pursuit of Good Desktop Linux:

Ease of Use and Ease of Migration Overview -- KDE, GNOME, and MS Windows Desktops

. . . if a Microsoft Windows user gives Linux a try and that experience does not go well, then that user will go back to using MS Windows . . . Moreover, that person likely will discourage other MS Windows users from giving Linux a try . . . If you encourage an MS Windows user to give Linux a try, please make sure you steer that person to a very good desktop Linux . . .

Mike Angelo -- 17 August 2005 (C) -- Page 3

Article Index

About the Author

Mike Angelo has written hundreds of published newspaper and magazine computer and technology articles. He has more than 40 years experience using solid-state, digital computers.

Mike has written lots of computer programs in assembly, BASIC, FORTRAN, machine, and several other languages -- on a variety of mainframe and desktop machines. He has designed and built some special purpose computers, and does PC upgrading and building. Mike also creates, designs, and maintains Web sites.

In 1993, Mike Angelo started writing a print newspaper computer column, About Computers. He has written articles for top-tier magazines including Byte, Computer Buyer's Guide & Handbook, DOS World, I-Way, Laptop Buyer's Guide & Handbook, Linux Journal, Maximize, MozillaQuest Magazine, PC Novice, and PC Today.

Despite Mike Angelo's extensive computer experience he has a real life and uses computers as tools. Therefore, he approaches his computer writing from the user's interest and point of view.

Desktops are not operating systems:

All too often, people confuse operating systems with the GUI shells (desktops) that run on top of them and the applications available for them. For the most part, the latest Linux distributions run on top of the same Linux kernel as each other.

Nevertheless, there might be some minor variations due to compile-time options taken by different Linux distribution providers when they package their Linux products. For more about this, please see Anatomy of a Linux Distribution in our article SCO Clears Linux Kernel but Implicates Red Hat and SuSE.

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.

  • Successful migration to Linux important

Rather, it is likely that if a Microsoft Windows user gives Linux a try and that experience does not go well, then that user will go back to using MS Windows. Also, it likely will be a very long time before that MS Windows user gives Linux another try. Moreover, that person likely will discourage other MS Windows users from giving Linux a try.

So, a word of caution to all the Linux enthusiasts and evangelists is in order. If you encourage an MS Windows user to give Linux a try, please make sure you steer that person to a very good desktop Linux -- even if your favorite Linux distro is not a very good desktop Linux.

Same thing goes for getting companies and organizations to move up to Linux, too. If you encourage companies or organizations that currently use MS Windows to give Linux a try, please make sure you steer them to a very good desktop Linux.

Of course company and organization adoption of Linux involves the two faces of Linux,

(a) desktop Linux and

(b) server/enterprise Linux.

The two faces of Linux come into play because one Linux distribution provider might have the best desktop Linux while another Linux distribution provider might have a better server/enterprise Linux product. This discussion today applies to consumer, company, and organization deployment of GNU-Linux for desktop computing. Discussion of deployment of server/enterprise Linux is for another day, however.

And even more directly to Linux distribution providers, if your Linux product(s) are not very good desktop Linux, please forget the profit motive and do not try to migrate Microsoft Windows users to your products at this time. Rather, focus your efforts on developing a very good desktop Linux first.

This might sound harsh, and it is a bit harsh. But in the long run the entire Linux community will be better off if you follow this caution -- and in the long run you will be better off too.

If you want to make the migration to Linux stick, you have to make the transition as easy as possible. Compatibility of the Linux desktop, which lights up on booting Linux, to the MS Windows desktop is an important part of making that transition as easy as possible.

But on the other hand, as the new-to-Linux immigrant gets use to the Windows-like desktop that pops up on booting Linux, the better and/or additional features and functions of the Linux desktop that make it better than the MS Windows desktop should be available readily -- as in already installed and perhaps already in the menuing system. More about this further on in this article.

Desktop Differences Across Linux Distributions

Thus, in a desktop Linux, the look and feel differences from one Linux distro to another are mainly in

(a) the desktop metaphors used,

(b) how the desktop metaphors are implemented, and

(c) the applications included with the Linux distribution.

Because some desktop metaphors include a suite of applications, the metaphor used, its implementation, and its applications are interdependent.

For example, the K Desktop Environment (KDE) actually is a desktop suite. In addition to the basic desktop, KDE includes the award winning Konqueror file manager and Web browser.

KDE also comes with KMail an award winning e-mail client, which is part of Kontact -- KDE's personal information manager. You also will find KOffice included with the KDE suite. KOffice is comparable to Microsoft Office.

GNOME (GNU Object Model Environment) is another excellent and popular desktop environment and applications suite. It comes with the Nautilus file manager and Galeon Web browser.

GNOME's Evolution personal information and e-mail client is very similar in look and feel to Microsoft's Outlook. One of the best Microsoft Word clones is AbiWord, which is part of the GNOME Office collection.

Today, let's try to parse out the applications that are part of the Linux desktop suites and concentrate on;

(a), the desktop metaphors used by the subject Linux distributions.

In upcoming articles we will look at items:

(b), how the desktop metaphors are implemented in each distribution, and

(c), the applications included with the Linux distribution.

Good Desktop Linux Offers Both GNOME and KDE

First, it is our position that a good desktop Linux includes both the GNOME and KDE desktop suites. In part this is because both GNOME and KDE have a nice look and feel -- and they are easy to use. Also, both GNOME and KDE come with some very nice applications.

Moreover, the GNOME and KDE applications should be accessible through both the KDE and GNOME menuing systems regardless of whether GNOME or KDE is the desktop used. Thus if you have logged into the KDE desktop, the GNOME applications and utilities should be available through the K Menu. Likewise, if you have logged into the GNOME desktop, the GNOME Applications Menu should provide you with access to the KDE applications and utilities.

Additionally, we believe that KDE should be the default desktop of a good desktop Linux. As implemented in the Mandriva, SUSE, and Xandros Linux distributions KDE is easy-to-use, and it has a nice look and feel. KDE appears to have more compatibility with the Microsoft Windows desktop than does the GNOME desktop. On the other hand, the GNOME desktop seems to be more compatible with the Mac desktop -- but here the focus is on MS Windows compatibility, not Apple Macintosh compatibility.


  • See Growing Newbies and MS Windows Migrants into Real Linux Users on Page 4 ----->
  • Article Index

    Office on the Linux Desktop

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