Corel Linux poised to challenge desktop rivals

It's obvious that Linux, the "operating system that could," is well suited for server-based tasks. In large agencies, Linux also is highly viable as a mid-tier platform, and it is equally qualified to tackle server functions at smaller agencies or in a departmental setting.

But for all its reliability and strong adoption rate to date, Linux can afford to mature and grow in new directions. Among other things, Linux will need to gain additional power to successfully take on the tasks associated with back-end servers. Likewise, Linux needs some added usability features to increase its appeal to end users.

Current Linux distributions from companies such as Red Hat Inc., Caldera Systems Inc. and SuSE Inc. can most certainly be run on the desktop. However, the installation procedures and software that is bundled with those Linux distributions often can be confusing to the average end user.

The folks at Corel Corp. are preparing to move ahead of the pack with their forthcoming release of Corel Linux, which is due out at year's end. During tests of the Preview 1 version of Corel Linux, we found the operating system and application bundle appealing on several fronts.

Corel has neatly solved a problem that has stymied the growth of Linux on the desktop - namely, installation. Corel Linux can be installed via bootable CD-ROM or floppy disk and then can be installed across the network. In testing all of those installation types, the desktop machine was up and running in less than 30 minutes. The process is simple and does not require adjusting graphics adapter settings or other geeky parameters.

When it comes to the Corel Linux desktop interface, you might say the folks at Corel have "Window-ized" it. If you didn't know better, you'd think you were running Microsoft Corp. Windows.

Corel Linux offers File Manager, which is much like Windows Explorer. You can use File Manager to drag and drop files between your local and network drives, access World Wide Web pages, minus using a Web browser, and access FTP services as needed.

We especially liked how well the test Corel Linux desktops fit in with a mixed network configuration. We could graphically access the Solaris, AS/400 and Windows NT servers using Corel Linux. And, like the Windows event viewer, the Corel Linux Event Viewer could be used to see what was going on under the covers on the desktop.

Corel Linux's Control Center is marvelously easy to use and is much like the Windows Control Panel. And you can add other applications to your desktops by using the Corel Linux Package Manager, which is much the same as the Windows add/remove programs option. The Package Manager is capable of graphically installing and un-installing applications whether the applications are on CD-ROM, floppy disk, hard disk or on the network.

Several applications come with Corel Linux that will fit the bill for many end users. Corel includes its WordPerfect 8, Netscape Communication Corp.'s browser, e-mail, graphics applications and more. We were able to easily add Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice, Applied Information Systems Inc.'s Xess spreadsheet and a 5250 emulator. Corel expects to add several of its applications to the Corel Linux bundle while partnering with other third parties to increase the number of available end-user applications.

Corel is still in the process of flushing our remaining issues with Corel Linux prior to its release at the end of this year. However, company officials have indicated that they will offer both free and fee-based support options once Corel Linux ships.

Corel Linux has resolved many of the issues that have kept Linux from being widely adopted on the desktop. Corel Linux will certainly be a viable alternative to the higher-priced Windows platform. Agencies seeking end-user computing cost reductions without losing out on functionality should definitely take Corel Linux out for a spin early next year.

Biggs is the InfoWorld Test Center's technical director and enterprise computing acting section editor. She evaluates enterprise technologies, has more than 15 years of IT experience and writes the enterprise toolbox column.

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Corel Linux

Corel Corp.(888) 267-3548linux.corel.com

Price and AvailabilityCorel Linux is expected to be available in production form at the end of this year. The company will charge an open-market price of $49 per desktop for the standard edition and $79 per desktop for a deluxe edition. Support plans will be available. A free download of Corel Linux will also be made available.

RemarksCorel Linux is an ideal desktop alternative for those agencies seeking a reduction in end-user computing costs. The low price tag includes both the operating system and end-user applications. Installation is a breeze and end users will forget they are using the Linux operating system, as the interface is similar to Windows.

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