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    Novell makes Linux an approachable OS alternative

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver Business in Vancouver March 15-21, 2005; issue 803; High Tech Office column

    Recently we looked at security alerts, most concerning users of Microsoft's Windows operating system. And "concern" should be the word. Users of non-Windows computers have been spared the continuing attacks that are productivity-sappers for Windows users.

    Apple's space-saving Mac Mini makes it affordable to move to Mac. Alternatively, Linux, the poster child for the open source software movement, offers worry-free computing using hardware you already own.

    Developed over the past decade by volunteer programmers, Linux can be distributed and installed freely. Software companies as big as IBM can charge for support and services. Linux has become increasingly popular powering Internet and network servers. The growth of its acceptance with users of desktop computers has been slower.

    Desktop users dabbling with Linux have found that it might not support all their hardware and that critical pieces of software lacked Linux equivalents.

    Novell Inc. bought Linux software developers SuSE and Ximian, and has been busy ensuring that its well-known networking products will work with Linux servers. This winter, it released Novell Linux Desktop 9 as an alternative to Windows on corporate desktops. US$50 per system gets a year's worth of support and updates.

    I installed NLD's three CDs onto my two year-old Dell Inspiron 8200 notebook. Installation was straightforward, though I had to fuss with video settings. (As with all operating system installations, your mileage may vary).

    All the Dell's hardware was supported, including its large screen resolution and the built-in sound and ethernet hardware.

    An older WiFi card I plugged in was automatically recognized, though a new dLink WiFi card lacked Linux support. It automatically located and installed drivers for networked printers connected to both Windows and Mac systems, and let me access files across my Windows network.

    A graphical control panel lets users customize the look and feel without needing to resort to the command line or editing obscure text-based configuration files.

    Unlike many other Linux variants, Novell has deliberately simplified these options, limiting them to what most users will want to see. (The command line and configuration files are still available for those in the know).

    And like other Linuxes, a wide range of applications are bundled with the installation, letting users get right down to work.

    Novell has again set up its system to make it easier for new users to know what's available: the menu item for Open Office's Text module reads "Word Processor." Other applications are similarly labelled by function: CD Burner or Instant Messenger, for example, rather than by less recognizable program names.

    Also in the package: Ximian Evolution, an open source analogue to Microsoft Outlook, addressing many business users' need to connect to a Microsoft Exchange server, and like Outlook including e-mail, address book, calendar, task lists and more.

    Novell's ZENworks Linux Management software allows network administrators to configure and manage Linux desktops centrally.

     Despite Novell's simplifications, some learning will be required, but Novell has produced a system for people who just want to sit down at their computer and get to work.

    I've been living with Novell Linux Desktop for a couple of months now. By putting less in the user's face, Novell has crafted the first Linux that I can live with on my desktop, letting me get my work done without having to work too hard learning the quirks of a new system. It's well worth a look. The full version (three CD images) can be downloaded, along with 30 days of free support at

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