Linux desktops: Hacks, apps and enterprise use

Author Jono Bacon has been hacking around in Linux since his brother introduced him to the operating system back in 1998. "Back in those dim and distant days," Bacon said, "Linux was quite a homebrew hackish system and was incredibly difficult to set up and use." Since then, he says, he has tracked its growth and improvement, and he has contributed as a writer, developer and consultant. Here, he recommends favorite hacks from his O'Reilly book,

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Linux desktop hacks (co-authored by Nicholas Petreley), and discusses the growing enterprise acceptance of Linux on the desktop. -- Editor

What is your favorite desktop Linux hack, and how does it work?

Jono Bacon: I quite like the one for grabbing a screenshot from a command line terminal. The hack demonstrates the sheer flexibility of Linux; although the hack uses the command line, it shows how flexible the command line can be if needed. Most desktop Linux users will not need to touch the command line, but those with a desire to tinker can make some pretty amazing things happen by stringing together commands in different ways.

The major challenge in the application availability discussion is to make sure people understand that major open source applications can provide the same or increased level of functionality...
Jono Bacon
author and consultant
Which desktop hack might be especially useful for making desktop Linux a better fit in the enterprise?

Bacon: The hack to create default user setups is a good example of how you can automate the day to day jobs that an enterprise desktop rollout faces. The hack shows you how to create a series of default settings that are set as default for each new user added to the system.

Which distribution would you recommend for the desktop?

Bacon: I personally recommend Ubuntu. This distribution has proved to be a solid, capable and expandable distribution with a solid development base behind it. The distribution has grown to be incredibly popular and it is a breeze to install and run it across a variety of machines and network settings.

What is the current enterprise demand for desktop Linux?

Bacon: Linux on the desktop is a reality in controlled conditions such as corporate networks. Linux is a very controllable operating system in these environments and the specific needs of users can be largely implemented. For general-purpose users, Linux on the desktop is maturing nicely, but not quite there yet. Challenges such as device driver issues are the current problems in this area, but the sheer progress and growth of Linux is making this less of an issue each month.

What are the major benefits of deploying Linux on the enterprise desktop?

Bacon: The Linux desktop provides a solid and scalable solution for an enterprise. In this environment the requirements demand a predictable and controllable desktop that is resilient to viruses, spyware and other nasties that can be installed by users poking at the system. The Linux desktop is virtually untouched by viruses and spyware, incredibly stable and scalable and very low cost due to its underpinnings of free software. If the applications are available for the Linux desktop, it makes sense to run with it.

More on this topic

O'Reilly's Website contains sample hacks from the book


Analyst Tony Iams sizes up the desktop market


Knoppix Hacks: Use Knoppix to rescue Windows

What do you see as major barriers to using Linux on the desktop? Is application availability still an issue, or is it a problem of perception?

Bacon: Applications are the key reason why people use desktop software, and although there are many quality open source applications available, some people still demand their current proprietary applications. A number of these applications can be run on the Linux desktop with a tool such as Crossover Office.

The major challenge in the application availability discussion is to make sure people understand that major open source applications can provide the same or increased level of functionality for their needs. A good example of this is Firefox, an open source Web browser that provides an improved user experience and is entirely open source. The trick with Firefox is that they have a very focused promotional team (entirely community driven) to help propagate the message.

This was first published in September 2005

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