Storm Linux 2000

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Toronto Computes, March 2000

Storm Linux 2000
Stomix Technologies, Inc.

Corel Corporation

In the long-ago days of the dinosaurs, our ancestors, the mammals were also on the scene?as relatively small scavengers, lurking in the shadows, living on the scraps left over by the bigger beasts, but waiting for things to change enough for them to emerge as major players in the ecosystem.

There?s no doubt that today, the computing equivalent to T-Rex is Microsoft Windows. And it?s easy to see the various Linux variants as the mammals, arguably smarter and more nimble, but still, getting by on whatever market niches aren?t totally dominated by the Beast from Redmond?Internet servers, for example.

The dream of all alternative computing systems remains the vast numbers of desktop systems. Currently, Linux is running on a tiny proportion of those systems?a 1998 estimate by International data Corporation put the figure then at 2.1%. To dramatically increase that number, though, Linux has to provide simpler installation, configuration, file management?evolve from a system demanding lots of knowledge from its users to something that can appeal to the millions of users who simply couldn?t care less, but want it to install and run with minimal fuss.

As a nation, Canada has long experience living in the shadow of a much more powerful neighbour. Perhaps it?s no surprise that two of the top contenders to replace Microsoft Windows on the desktops of millions of users come from Canadian companies.

From Ottawa, CorelLinux, and from Vancouver, Storm Linux 2000 have many similarities. Both were released at the end of 1999, and are built on top of the respected Debian GNU/Linux distribution, perhaps the most stable of Linuxes. Both aim to simplify Debian?s installation, configuration, and use, while recognizing the need to co-exist with Windows on users? computers. Both try to create a system that?s simple to use while preserving Linux?s behind the scenes power for the more technical users.

Both can be downloaded for free from their makers? respective web sites?at least if you can cope with a 400+ meg download and have a CD-burner to create an installation CD. More attractive to many users, however, will be the shrink-wrapped versions of each, bundling multiple CDs including 3rd party applications, a boot floppy, and documentation. With these packages, both companies offer 30 days free tech support to help new users get over initial confusion. They?re even priced the same: US$49 for the standard edition. (Corel also offers a US$79 Deluxe retail edition with additional 3rd party applications and support and a 3.5? Linux Penguin toy).

When I installed both, each even failed the same way?neither was able to recognize either the sound card or Ethernet adapter on my test system?an NEC Ready 360T notebook.

Despite the similarities, there are some differences.

CorelLinux is the product of what is perhaps Canada?s best known software company?Ottawa?s Corel, who also make CorelDraw, Word Perfect, and a range of other applications. Vancouver?s Stormix Technologies is a 1999 startup, created by the founders of the well-known NetNation web hosting service?Storm Linux is their only product.

Storm?s package includes a limited edition of PowerQuest Partition Magic, making it possible to resize an existing Windows partition to make room separate Linux partitions. It?s offers a graphical install program, but can backtrack to a text-mode install if needed (as it did on my test system). I did run into a bit of a problem with it however?I failed to click on the ?Advanced? button on the screen to configure bootup?as a result, after installation, the computer did not offer me an option to boot to Windows.

Corel, by contrast, has the most automated installation of any system?Linux, Windows, or even Mac, that I?ve seen. Everything happens behind the scenes?but in my case, it did it right?leaving me with a system that offered a choice of Linux or Windows at bootup, for example. It also offers an option to install onto an existing Windows partition, trading off performance and security for additional simplicity for Windows users who are curious about Linux.

Once up and running, both systems look and feel pretty similar?both default to the Linux KDE desktop environment (though Storm offers users a choice between that or the Gnome alternative, and can optionally install both). Both include easy customization, and reasonably simple file management. Corel?s File Manager will be especially appealing to Windows users, and on my system, showed the Windows drive partition and all its files without any special setup needed?the ability to easily get to my existing documents was a big plus.

Both systems include a collection of productivity applications?each is bundled with Linux versions of Netscape Communicator and the GIMP image editor, for instance. Storm includes two office suites?Sun?s StarOffice and Applixware Office, making it possible to open and work with Microsoft Office word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation files.

Corel, not surprisingly, focuses on its own application?the Linux version of Word Perfect. Corel users wanting spreadsheets or presentation packages may want to wait?the company is promising to Linusize the rest of its WordPerfect Office suite latter this spring, and to afterwards to the same to its CorelDraw applications.

Storm is justifiably proud of its Package Manager, which allows installation of Debian-packaged applications with just a couple of mouse clicks?even automating locating and installing installations and upgrades over the Internet. Their shrink-wrapped packages bundle a 30-day demo version of VMware, which allows running other operating systems, including various flavours of Windows, from within Linux?at least of systems with plenty of RAM and hard drive space.

If this all-Canadian East vs West competition was a football game, it would end in a tie?CorelLinux has a cleaner and simpler installation program and with its File Manager, may prove more appealing to current Windows users. Storm?s Linux offers more installations options and will appeal to users who want more control over installation and configuration.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan