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ISSUE 537: The high tech office- Feb 8 2000


Would-be Linux users now have useful choices

The Linux operating system emerged from obscurity in 1999, if news coverage and wildly successful IPOs based on the technology are any indication.

If you look around most workplaces, though, you'd have a hard time locating a desktop running Linux. In 1998, research firm Int'l Data Corp. estimated Linux was on 2.1 per cent of computer desktops and predicts that share will rise to a still-humble 4.7 per cent by 2003.

However, Linux is having an impact behind the scenes, running the servers at many Internet service providers. It's widely seen as more secure and stable than more popular operating systems from Microsoft
or Apple, but it has a reputation
for being arcane. Add to it a scarcity of standard productivity applications, and the lack of wide acceptance becomes understandable.

As a country, Canada is used to existing in the shadow of a rich and powerful neighbour. So it is, perhaps, not surprising that a pair of Canadian companies are promoting Linux as an alternative to the hegemony from south of the border. Ottawa-based Corel Corp. (with CorelLinux -- and local startup Stormix Tech-
(with Storm Linux 2000 -- have both re-
cently released Linux-based systems aimed at showing that the system can be made friendly enough for just-plain-folks to set up and run on their computers. And each comes bundled with a set of applications so that once your computer is up and running, you can get some work done, too!

The competing products have
a lot in common. Both are built around the same Linux version, the robust and well-regarded Debian distribution. Both are distributed in similar ways. Users can download free versions of each from the respective company's Web sites if they have the patience for a 400-plus-meg download and the ability to burn it onto a CD-ROM for installation.

Perhaps a better option, from each company, is to buy a shrink-wrapped version. Each offers the product in a box, along with the third-party applications, for about $75 (Corel also offers a $120 Deluxe version with additional applications and a stuffed penguin). Each boxed version also comes with 30 days of free support to get over the initial installation hump.

There are some differences. Corel, of course, is a large, well-known company, offering other products such as WordPerfect and the CorelDraw graphics suite. Stormix is new on the ground, started up by the founders of Vancouver-based NetNation Web-hosting service, and housed upstairs in the Hastings Street Harbour Centre tower.

While both offer simplified installation, Corel's requires virtually no user input. Storm Linux's installation asks more questions and offers more options throughout the process. This is welcome if you want more control, but can be dangerous if you don't know the answers. One wrong click and the copy of Windows that's also on your computer may no longer start up when you want it.

Once they're up and running, both systems look pretty much alike. Again, Corel's is simpler to use for the large numbers of us used to running Windows. Its File Manager resembles Windows' Explorer, and showed the files on my system's Windows drive without any special set-up.

Once again, Storm offers more options, and while both include many of the same applications such as Netscape Communicator for Web browsing, e-mail and the like, or the powerful Gimp graphics editor, it's not surprising that Corel chooses to bundle a Linux version of its own WordPerfect word processor. Storm leaves out WordPerfect (though users could download and install it on their own), however it bundles not one but two other office productivity suites: Sun's Star Office and a demo version of ApplixWare Office. Any of these alternatives will do a reasonable job working with Micro-
soft Word documents, but Storm's offerings also let you work with Microsoft Office spreadsheets and presentation files as well.

Either product provides a powerful Linux system without too much bother. Overall, Stormix does a better job of producing a balance be-
tween ease of installation and use and access to a range of alternatives. But if you're used to working with Windows and just want to see what
all the fuss is about, or if you want
to work with Linux but also need
to boot to Windows or access a collection of Windows-based documents, Corel Linux may prove a
better choice. *


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