Linux Advantages and Disadvantages: Part 1

This is the first article in a series on the advantages (and disadvantages) of Linux desktops over alternatives. While our magazine is all about how to accomplish things with Linux on your desktop, it is important that the why side is also addressed.

There are lots of studies of such issues as stability, security, performance, and reliability of Linux vs. Microsoft Windows. They can roughly be divided into two lists:

  • Studies paid for by Microsoft
  • Studies that conclude Linux wins

Now, before you get excited that I am about to trash the other guys, this is stuff I won't bother you with. Read what you want. Then, if you feel Linux will favorably address your issues, you are ready to start reading here.

I assert that the biggest practical concern is whether Linux will do what you need on the desktop. Rather than, once again, get into a discussion of studies, it is much more direct to just see what you want to do and then see if the tools to do it are available for Linux. Any other approach is more like concluding you can't own a car made anywhere but the U.S. because you don't have metric tools.

If you look at how desktop computers are used in a bank, you will likely find them doing four tasks and only four tasks:

  • Word processing
  • Spreadsheets
  • Email
  • Running a terminal emulator to access a database

Let's start here and see if Linux is ready for this environment.

Word processing is clearly a non-issue. Many Microsoft Windows users are already switching from Word to OpenOffice.org. OO.org offers compatibility to handle Word documents, a familiar interface and a non-proprietary file format as an alternative to Microsoft's .doc format.

The advantages of OO.org go way beyond this, however. With Word, it is common for a whole company to have to make a costly upgrade so that older systems can read documents created with newer versions of Word. This is a good sales approach for Microsoft but it is both costly and troublesome to desktop users and their administrators. As OO.org is free, there is no financial advantage for introducing incompatibilities.

A second advantage is security. For example, the quick save option of Word has resulted in many embarrassments and some serious security problems. Imagine someone taking a love letter to their girlfriend, deleting the text and then writing work correspondence. The quick saved file will contain the original letter and then the transactions to update it to the new letter. Enough said.

File size is another issue. Word documents tend to be much larger than the text they contain. This means more disk space, more complicated backups and, if you email these documents, slower email transfers and/or the need for more bandwidth.

On the matter of choice, in an environment where compatibility with Word documents is less of an issue, KWord and AbiWord are worth taking a look at. Smaller that OO.org, these free products generally do everything that is needed in an office environment.

Spreadsheets are, once again, addressed by OO.org. There isn't much to say here other than they work and users will find a familiar look and feel.

Email is the most complicated on this list--not because Linux doesn't offer an excellent email client but because it includes so many. In a business environment, this decision should be a global one. That is, everyone should be using the same email client. Choices include Mozilla Thunderbird and, Opera's built-in mail capabilities as well as many stand-alone choices. The two most popular are Evolution and KMail.

Evolution is a functional clone of Microsoft's Outlook Express. If that is the current environment you are using, Evolution is the most likely solution for you. On the other hand, if you just need a clean email client, take a look at KMail.

In many business environments, encrypted email is a necessity. PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is the standard for mail encryption. gpg, an "under the hood" program is a free tool which is compatible with PGP. You don't have to learn how to work with gpg directly, Kgpg can be used to manage your encryption keys and interacts well with KMail as well as other clients.

The last item is a terminal emulator. This is just a program that makes a portion of your display act like an old CRT terminal. Much banking software which actually does the transactions runs in text mode in such a window. Most of the rest just requires a web browser.

There are two reasons for this. First, it means the application program can be independent of the computer being used by the bank employee accessing it and, equally important, it is more efficient for the person using it. Teller transactions, for example, are usually no more than entering account numbers, amounts and a few special key presses to send the transaction on its way. A graphical/mouse-based alternative significantly increases the amount of time the teller must spend to perform the transaction.

There are no shortages of answers here. There will be different default terminal emulators depending on your Linux configuration but any of them should satisfy the needs of these database applications. The same is true for web browsers which include Konqueror which is part of the KDE suite, Mozilla, FireFox and Opera.

You may not be running a bank but it is a well-defined business so I felt it a good choice for a place to start. The whole point is to sit down and figure out your requirements and then see if Linux offers a solution.

In the next article I will be addressing the differences to the user between Linux and other systems you have used.

fyl - Wed, 2005-05-18 18:24.
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QUOTE: " I have seen that

QUOTE: " I have seen that most linux users are in fact ppl who try to show off proving that they are "advanced" users and know a "Lot" abt computers. I have myself seen these guys resort to M$ applications to do thier work" Wow...... again you impress me with your "knowledge" .... basing your lame opinions on your limited personal experience which is obviously REALLY limited. I do work with Linux everyday, I don't use Windows (ever) , and i get by just fine. In fact I converted my entire office over to Linux, and the people that use the machines actually prefer using software that just works.

Well, as a Linux only user for about 14 months now, you lose this one. The only thing holding Linux back now is the Linux community itself. While there are exceptions (I know a couple myself) one can rightly generalise that the Linux community is definitely top heavy with self absorbed small minded egocentric showoffs whose only REAL interest is showing the world how much (read little) they know. Every LUG is full of them.

My advice for newbies - I count myself as one still - forget LUGs, buy Xandros and a copy of "Linux Made Easy" (Rickford Grant) and get productive in a day or 2. Google is only your friend if you already know enough to do what you're searching for anyway. Most of the info you can get through Google was written by LUGgers as described above.

Go to it!
Kev

Kev (not verified) - Tue, 2006-01-31 19:40.

re:I am not convinced that linux is good

Well it is true that the person who has written something that doesn't really exists. Might be the person is not aware that he need all those softwares to prevent his production system from unauthorised, illicit use if those softwares are not there it results in loss of data and sensitive information. without understanding the finer nuances you can't enjoy the software so I request the person to first get to know why those softwares and additional functionalities were provided.

bharat (not verified) - Tue, 2005-12-20 12:48.