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Expert: Nifty Linux apps can work for home and business users alike

Amy Kucharik

To attract users away from Microsoft Windows, Linux vendors have released a slew of new desktop packages and applications. These products may have their biggest appeal for home users, but Brenno de Winter, a consultant in the Netherlands and a resident desktop expert for SearchEnterpriseLinux.com, said enterprises can also benefit from Linux on the desktop. In this interview, de Winter discusses some of his favorite whiz-bang open source desktop products.

I see there's a new OpenOffice and Firefox software package called "

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OOoFf," available from Linspire at around $30. What would be the advantages of using this boxed version, as opposed to just downloading the software for free?

Brenno de Winter: What the box delivers are the Linux, Macintosh and Windows versions. It is a convenience to have the product boxed. You can take the CD and just install it. The sizes of OpenOffice.org and Firefox are huge, so it takes time and costs bandwidth. If you want to install it on more computers, you'd have to burn a CD yourself. So basically, you're buying convenience.

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Do you have any advice for users who are running Microsoft Windows because that is their company's OS, but would like to try out OOoFf on their own laptop? Are there any compatibility issues they should be aware of?

de Winter: Both Firefox and OpenOffice.org can be installed on the laptop without touching the Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office installation. So you'd really be able to try them.

On compatibility, the problems are not as big as they seem. For most Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, import and export works flawless. Only some complex documents might need a little tweaking, but for the majority you won't notice the difference. Tens of millions of users made the switch and survived!

Firefox compatibility is more of a matter of the Web site maintainer. As long as they stick with the open standards, there is no problem. But there are some obscure Web sites out there that only welcome Internet Explorer users. This is only a small number of sites and many of them are cleaning up their act, due to the increasing popularity of Firefox.

[This shouldn't] scare you, because Firefox is considered to be more secure, and that has huge value as well. If you run into problems, you can always decide to use Internet Explorer in that rare case. Personally, I tend to write to the webmaster (webmaster@domainname.com) and explain what is wrong. Firefox is gaining market share and thus Web site owners risk losing out on business.

In return for the Firefox switch, you get a more mature browser with a lot of nice features. And while you're doing that, why not consider Thunderbird for your e-mail?

I'm interested in trying out Linspire's PhoneGaim, but I'm wondering how useful it is. To make calls using PhoneGaim, do the recipients also have to download the same program?

de Winter: PhoneGaim is a nice application to combine Instant Messaging with Internet telephony. By default, the application uses the services of SIPphone.com. That company has partnerships with several other providers and, as long as you call within that network, you call for free. It doesn't matter what type of software or sip-phone your friends use. If they aren't using Voice over Internet Protocol, you can still call them through regular numbers, but in that case you'd be paying money for the call. But to be honest, those prices are still very low.

Are there any issues getting it to work? I've heard that it can be a real bear to get running.

de Winter: PhoneGaim has a Windows, as well as a Linux version. The installation isn't complex at all and the procedure to get a number is truly simple. After the installation you have a great bonus, since PhoneGaim supports multiple networks that free you of the obligation to make a choice or to run multiple programs. All your buddies are present in a single interface.

PhoneGaim sounds like a neat app for home users, but can you suggest how it might fit in for enterprise users? Would companies benefit by using it or a similar product? Might there be any security issues?

de Winter: You should see PhoneGaim as any other Instant Message tool: It boosts productivity and makes your life easier. The combination with telephony makes it even easier, since you can switch any chat into a normal phone call with the single click of a button.

For enterprise users there is an added benefit of portability: Your laptop is now also your phone and as soon as you have an Internet-connection you're able to work and communicate. I have phoned customers and family zillions of times using the ADSL-connection in my hotel room, saving me a lot of money on international calls.


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