Since the dawn of the new millennium, the coming of a next generation Desktop OS has been foretold. The folks in Redmond promised their own innovative and timely release that included enhanced usability, integrated search, new graphical effects–and an obligatory hardware upgrade. Wait a second; that was 2003; what happened? That question merits another article altogether–one that mentions viruses, malware, trustworthy computing, software assurance and integration issues among other things.
So without further adieu, let me introduce you to the next generation desktop OS: SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, and all the great open source software that accompanies it.
Released in July 2006, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 delivers on the promise of enhanced usability, integrated search, stunning new graphical effects, a comprehensive office productivity environment and more–all without having to upgrade your hardware.
How has so much innovation been achieved on the Linux platform in such short order? Two words: the Community. Because of the openness and flexibility of the Linux platform, thousands of individuals and organizations have contributed to Linux and to the many applications that leverage it up the stack. (We'll explore many of these in this article, so keep reading!)
As an active member of the open source community, Novell realizes several benefits. It has leveraged the development efforts of like-minded organizations and individuals to bring these benefits to end users. Novell products enjoy greater interoperability with a wide variety of platforms and applications because of the community's adherence to open standards.
Novell, in turn, demonstrates its good citizenship in the open source community by actively contributing to and maintaining a number of open source projects, including: GNOME, OpenOffice and the Linux kernel. (See Linux and Open Source Leadership in this article as well as Enjoy the Sensation! in this issue.)
Novell also sits on the board of Open Source Development Labs and is a member of the following three organizations:
- Open Document Format Alliance
- Open Invention Network
- Apache Foundation
Since the release of the 2.4 kernel (circa 2000), Linux has been on a steady march from the edge of the network, to a reference application platform, to the core of the data center. Linux has become a de facto standard on the server, shipping preinstalled from several hardware vendors and system integrators. Linux server shipments alone grew 20.5 percent from 2004-2005, compared to 15.3 percent for Windows servers for the same time period. (http://lwn.net/Articles/161433/)
Is Linux a viable platform for your desktops today? YES! To understand the best-use cases for Linux on the desktop, it's helpful to segment users into categories. Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has identified five key user categories:
- fixed function
- transactional worker
- technical workstation
- basic office
- power user desktop
Fixed Function: Felix, a grocery store clerk, uses a single point of sale application to perform his job. His machine boots and starts the application, displaying its first screen. Felix doesn't have access to any desktop widgets or menus. The only interface presented is the application itself. He interacts with it, but has no knowledge of the underlying Operating System and no way to access it.
A few examples of fixed function machines include modern cash registers, airline boarding pass kiosks and ATM machines.
Transactional Worker: Tracy, a hotel clerk, runs a few business applications on the desktop. One is a DOS-based application that manages guest check-in and check-out. Another is a terminal emulator that connects to a mainframe that manages billing. The third application tracks reward points and is Web-based, Tracy uses Firefox to access it and occasionally uses e-mail to send messages to other coworkers.
Typically, users of these desktops include travel agents, bank administration personnel and front office personnel.
Technical Workstation: Tom works for a movie animation studio and uses a specialized application to create animated characters and scenes. The animation application he uses is designed to run on both the operating system and the underlying hardware. Tom also uses a simple e-mail program and does some instant messaging. He occasionally browses the Web for technical information.
This segment includes animation studios and engineers using CAD/CAM. These applications are often written in C/C++ and are highly dependent on the operating system user interface environment.
Basic Office: Barry, a software analyst, uses his computer for a variety of tasks. He spends about two hours a day using e-mail and calendaring. He uses Firefox to do research and update his blog. He creates and edits internal- and external-facing documents and designs presentations for his company's sales force.
Generally, basic office workers require only basic compatibility, such as simple import and export functionality with other document formats, such as Microsoft Office. They require basic browser support (read Firefox) to access information such as corporate guidelines, parts information and loan information. They use e-mail to communicate information and to send documents via attachments. These users include loan officers and insurance agents who work in connected environments.
Power User: Paul, a hospital administrator, uses a variety of applications to perform his job. He uses an internally developed time card program, an expense reporting application and spends a healthy chunk of his time using e-mail. He likes a lot of the new features that are available with the latest e-mail client and uses them to drive better productivity with his staff. Gary has used his desktop for years and feels very comfortable and productive.
Power users use desktop computers to drive company processes. They use arbitrary Windows applications that are dependent on Windows application program interfaces (APIs) such as MFC, Internet Explorer and WIN APIs. They are highly skilled in the Windows user interface, and they depend on being able to interact with the Windows operating system and Windows-based applications to do their jobs.
Users of power user desktops employ several applications to create and modify complex documents for use within and outside of their companies. Often people in this consumer segment don't want to move away from Windows.
> Enter SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10
Desktop Linux has moved beyond geekdom and steadily meets the needs of a wider audience of users. Linux has been a more than ample platform for the first three user categories above and now meets the needs of the next user category: Basic Office User.
From the beginning, the design and engineering efforts of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 have focused on the needs of the basic office user. To this end, a full office suite, messaging and collaboration applications, and a full-featured browser are included out of the box.
To create a more usable and productive desktop environment, Novell has invested heavily in human factors and interface testing.To help meet these design goals, Novell founded the Better Desktop Project and the Tango Desktop Project. Other areas of focus include full plug-and-play support for iPods and mp3 players, digital cameras and pen drives.
Novell has also spearheaded development work on XGL graphics acceleration and the Compiz desktop effects framework. Technology that moves desktop usability and coolness into a whole new sphere...or shall I say, cube.
> Better Desktop (betterdesktop.org)
The Better Desktop Project is dedicated to sharing usability data with Linux developers. During the past year, Novell has conducted many usability tests on different parts of the KDE and GNOME desktop environments. Developers and users can watch videos of these tests on the Web site.
Test subjects are selected from a cross section of different user groups. The majority are users with moderate Windows experience with little to no existing Linux familiarity. Subjects are asked to complete several tasks including browsing to Web sites, sending e-mail, playing music files and creating documents. Their movements, reactions (verbal and nonverbal) and the time to complete the given tasks are recorded and analyzed. The data is then used to validate the effectiveness of different interfaces and directly influences the graphical interface design.
> Tango (tango-project.org)
The Tango Desktop Project was founded to create a consistent graphical user interface experience for free and open source software. The Tango Desktop Project defines an icon style guide to which artists and designers can adhere. In addition, the project provides transitional utilities to assist in creating icon themes for existing desktop environments, such as GNOME and KDE. What does this mean to your end users? They get a cohesive, consistent desktop experience with icons and tools in their anticipated places.
Because Novell is the #1 contributor to both the GNOME (gnome.org) and KDE (kde.org) desktop projects, it channels what is learned through its testing back into each desktop environment and quickly validates the effectiveness of any changes. You'll see this attention to detail in the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. (GNOME and KDE are graphically rich open source desktop environments for Linux and UNIX operating systems.)
> Office Productivity: SUSE Be Thy Name
A desktop OS is only as usable and productive as the applications it supports. To that end, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is a solid platform for a host of office productivity applications, let's explore a few:
> OpenOffice.org (www.openoffice.org)
With the release of version 2.0 last Fall, OpenOffice.org reaffirmed it's position as the premier open source office suite in the market. OpenOffice.org includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and database components and is compatible with all major office suites, including Microsoft Office and Corel WordPerfect Office. The office suite is also multiplatform, running on several operating systems, including: Linux, Windows, Solaris and OS X.
What's cool in Version 2.0? Bean counters will rejoice now that Visual Basic Macros and Pivot tables are now fully supported. (Now all those nifty Excel spreadsheet functions just work.) Open standards advocates will smile now that all native OpenOffice documents are based on Open Document Format. And end users will appreciate the native look and feel and user interface enhancements. For a more exhaustive list of what's new and what's cool, see UP:GRADED article in this issue.
For organizations that use Windows desktops and want to leverage OpenOffice.org, Novell provides a fully supported Windows version of OpenOffice. This is also a great transitional step to migrating to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. (To read about how Novell transitioned its own employees from MS Office to OpenOffice.org, and gained a seven-figure savings in the process, check out the Building Blocks series of articles in Novell Connection magazine online at novell.com/connectionmagazine/2004/09/tech_talk_5.html.
|Linux and Open Source Leadership
Novell has the greatest number of dedicated engineers working on Linux-related and open source projects than any other organization. Here's a partial list of projects Novell is a key contributor for:.
|AppArmor 1||Open Invention
|BetterDesktop 1||SAMBA 3|
|Evolution 1||OpenOffice.org 2||X.org 3|
|GCC 3||OpenSSL||XGL 3|
|GNOME 1||openSUSE 1||YaST 1|
|Novell iFolder 1||Open WEBEM 3|
|Linux Kernel 3||Perl|
As the number two contributor to the OpenOffice.org project, Novell addresses defects found by customers and the community and drives these enhancements back into the project. Novell also includes additional fonts in both the Linux and Windows versions of OpenOffice.org, achieving greater document fidelity and compatibility with other office suites. If you evaluated OpenOffice a few years ago, take another look. It's arrived and here to contend!
> Novell Evolution 2.6 (novell.com/products/evolution)
Arguably more important than an office suite, collaboration through e-mail and calendaring are must-haves in today's workplace. Enter Novell Evolution 2.6. Evolution sports a comfortable look and feel and consistent user interface. Calendaring, e-mail, contacts and tasks are all in the locations you would expect. (See Figure 1.)
Evolution tightly integrates with several e-mail and calendaring back ends, including Novell GroupWise, MS Exchange and any POPor IMAP-enabled system. (For a list of supported platforms, see novell.com/products/evolution.) The e-mail client can deftly manage multiple e-mail accounts and apply uniform rules and filtering to all received e-mail.
What's cool? Full iCalendar support. iCal is an open standard that allows independent e-mail systems to share calendaring information. This is great for cross-organizational meetings and recurring events. Evolution also natively integrates with the GNOME desktop calendar. When the desktop calendar is clicked, the day's appointments and tasks also show up for the selected day. Appointment and meeting alarms also appear as an integrated part of the desktop.
For users that are comfortable with the GroupWise user interface, a full cross-platform GroupWise client is also available that supports Linux and OS X desktops. And you can also get a native Lotus Notes client for your Linux desktop.
> GAIM (gaim.sourceforge.net/gaim)
Instant Messaging, love it or hate it, is fast becoming a necessity in cubeville. What OpenOffice is to office suites, Gaim is to instant messaging, plugging natively into several instant messaging services. GAIM supports all major messaging protocols today including GroupWise Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, AIM, Yahoo!, ICQ, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, SILC, Lotus Sametime and Zephyr networks. (See Figure 2.)
What's Cool? A host of plug-ins include real-time spell checking, smiley shortcuts and file transfer support (depending on the system).
GroupWise users can use the native GroupWise Instant Messenger Client. And the progressive, peer-to-peer types can download a full Skype client.
> Firefox 1.5 (mozilla.com/firefox)
Mozilla Firefox is fast becoming the rising star of the open source movement. With 10 percent of the market (both Linux and Windows desktops), Firefox is driving innovation with features like tabbed browsing, RSS news feeds and integrated search capabilities. Novell is the #2 contributor to the Mozilla Firefox project.
What's cool? Firefox extensions: small add-ons that offer additional functionality. My favorites are gmail notifier and flash block. For a full list of available extensions, visit addons.mozilla.org/firefox/extensions/.
> Novell iFolder 3 (novell.com/products/ifolder)
An integrated secure storage solution for desktops and laptops, Novell iFolder allows you to back up, access and manage your files from anywhere at any time. Once installed, when you save files locally (no change in routine here), iFolder automatically backs them up and delivers them to other machines you have designated that have iFolder installed. Novell open sourced iFolder in 2004 and leverages the community to continue to drive new features and functionality into the product. (See Figure 3.)
What's cool? Full integration with Linux, Windows and OS X. Simply right-click on a folder and choose to make it an iFolder. Access your files through a browser when iFolder is not installed on the machine. Integrated sharing allows you to give others on your team read, read/write or full control privileges to your iFolders.
> Tomboy (tomboy.org)
Think of Post-it's without the clutter. Tomboy is an easy to use desktop note-taking application that lets you rapidly capture ideas, information and notes as they come up throughout your day. Tomboy also helps to tie all this information together in a readily searchable and organized way.
What's Cool? In-line spell checking. You can also easily print and export notes to HTML.
> Beagle (http://beaglewiki.org)
This is a very cool integrated desktop search for which Novell is the #1 contributor and maintainer. We've understood searching for a long time as it applies to the Internet, but it's now being leveraged to its full potential on the desktop. Enter Beagle; never lose another document, Web page, chat or e-mail again. (See Figure 4.)
Beagle combs your personal information space to find whatever you're looking for. More than just filenames and extensions, beagle can search file contents of any type, such as documents, PDFs, Web histories, source code, images, applications, RSS feeds, IM chats and music and video files.
What's cool? Beagle is integrated into the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 experience. You can search from the main menu or from any open Nautilus file browser. The results are lightning fast, include full file previews and display the context of the match. You can search for the name of a coworker and immediately, all e-mails, chats, blogs, documents and other files containing that name are displayed. You can also save frequent searches and they are updated on the fly when you reopen them or another file that matches the query is saved.
> Network Manager
New to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is the Network Manager applet. Gone are the days of command-line enabling your wireless or wired Ethernet cards. Network Manager detects the fastest connection available and chooses it for you. If you're at your desk and your laptop is wired to the wall socket, your wired connection is used. If you disconnect and roam to a meeting on another floor, it automatically chooses a wireless connection based on the availability of wireless networks.
What's cool? Integrated VPN support. From the same Network Manager applet, you can configure your VPN connections (multiple if needed). Out of the box, it supports Nortel, Cisco and OpenSwan VPNs.
> Seamless Network Integration
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 not only coexists, but also tightly integrates with your existing network infrastructure. The desktop can authenticate to Active Directory, eDirectory, LDAP or NIS credential stores. A full Samba client–integrated into the GNOME Desktop–allows mapping to Windows shares. You can also use the Novell Client for Linux to allow users to authenticate to eDirectory(NDS), run login scripts and map drives.
To print, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 supports CUPS (Common Unix Printing Standard), Windows printing through Samba and IP-based printing. You can also use Linux iPrint client.
> Full Laptop Support
Yes, it's here, full support for the advanced power management features in modern laptops. Hibernate and suspend are fully supported and you can initiate them from the Power Manager applet found in the system tray. Bluetooth is also supported and completely configurable through YaST. Bluetooth is great for transmitting files back and forth from Bluetooth-enabled devices. It's also great for wireless headsets, mice and keyboards.
> Application Compatibility
Today, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 meets the needs of the vast majority of desktop use cases. Users that run applications requiring Windows components can effectively get around that hiccup by using a variety of solutions, such as emulation, virtualization and application publishing to decouple the applications from the underlying operating system.
Often, equivalents such as OpenOffice already exist in the open source community that offer full compatibility with proprietary applications and formats. If a Linux application with the required functionality is not available, you should evaluate emulation as a possible solution. Wine and CrossOver Office are two solutions that actually leverage each other and allow Windows apps to run on Linux by translating Windows APIs to equivalent Linux APIs. CrossOver Office certifies several applications to run in its environment. For example, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and Adobe Photoshop are all certified to run on Linux through CrossOver Office.
Cedega is another emulation solution targeted specifically to Windows Games such as WarCraft, Splinter Cell and others. Like CrossOver Office, Cedega continually certifies Windows Games to run on Linux.
When emulation is not suitable for the target application or environment, application publishing using Ericom or Citrix is probably the right option. Leveraging Windows Terminal Services, Ericom and Citrix allow an organization or team to host applications on a central server and deliver them as needed to desktops and laptops using a Citrix or Ericom client. (See Figure 5.) The experience seems like a regular app to the user but allows you to centrally manage iton a remote server. This lowers administration cost and headaches and lets you more tightly control the environment in which the application operates. Great candidate apps for application publishing are those that heavily leverage databases and have a lot of traffic flowing over the Internet. Using application publishing, you can strike the right balance between user experience and application performance.
Individual users can take advantage of Remote Desktop Services either through Windows Terminal Services or individual Windows XP Professional Workstations using rdesktop on Linux. Rdesktop allows users to connect to Windows Desktops and Servers and have a full Windows desktop experience from a Linux desktop.
In some cases, full OS virtualization might be the best solution for a target app. Virtualization, using a product such as VMWare, allows you to run multiple guest operating systems on top of a single host OS. (See Figure 6.) The classic scenario is running Windows XP virtualized on top of Linux. This gives you access to the full operating system and all of its features along with the target application. Other open source solutions, such as XEN and Qemu, provide similar functionality to VMWare. (Check out vmware.com to download the free vmware server and/or player.)
To choose the best scenario for your environment, ask yourself these questions: Can the application become a Web service? Is the application certified for Wine or CrossOver Office? Can the application be run on an existing Windows desktop and use rdp to connect? Can you use VMPlayer, VMServer or VMWorkstation to host Windows on top of Linux. Can you use application publishing with Citrix or Ericom?
I'm hearing the groundswell now: "Alright, Alright, I get it. SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is a platform that meets my office productivity and collaboration requirements. What about this enhanced usability you're touting? What about my iPod and my camera? What about burning CDs and DVDs? What about watching the latest movie trailers?" SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 can deftly perform all of these functions as well. Bottom line–you won't have to maintain a second PC with that other operating system.
> XGL and Compiz
Yes folks, it's all about the cube. The XGL graphics subsystem and the Compiz composite manager are the biggest things to hit the Linux Desktop–ever. XGL and Compiz bring stunning visual effects and enhanced usability to Linux on the desktop. This includes windows translucency, drop shadows, a true 3D desktop environment and application animations. You have to see it to truly appreciate what it can do.
Several current and legacy graphics cards support XGL and Compiz. (For a list of supported cards visit opensuse.org/xgl.) The lowend supported graphics card is an ATI, Nvidia or Intel card with 32MB of on-board RAM, which is well below (400 percent) Vista's published specs of 128 MB minimum for full graphical effects.
"That's cool that I can spin my desktop, but what do XGL and Compiz really do for usability and productivity?" From my own experience with the XGL/Compiz environment, I've noticed a few things I'd have trouble living without on other desktops:
- 3D Desktop Cube: The virtual desktop concept has long been around and is not new to Linux. What is new, is the presentation of these desktops in a visual cube. (See Figure 7.) Now I have more desktop real estate (without requiring another monitor) and can drag applications from one face of the cube to another. This helps me logically separate the tasks I'm working on and allows me to quickly transition between them. Using Ctrl+Alt left or right arrow, I can spin the cube with a few keystrokes; adding Shift moves the focused application to the new face. If I want to see all my desktops, aka all faces of the cube, at once, I can use Ctrl+Alt Down Arrow to see an unfolded, movie-reel-type view of all my desktops.
- Alt+Tab: Pressing Alt+Tab allows you to quickly move between open applications. That's not new either; but what is new are live thumbnails of my open applications on a pallet in front of my existing desktop. In other words, if a movie is playing in a window, it continues playing in the thumbnail too. As I toggle through the applications, the program that has focus is opaque and the others surrounding it are semi-transparent allowing me to see position and content of the focused window.
- Scale: Scale allows me to choose a "hot" corner of the screen that takes all of my open, cluttered apps and tiles them neatly on the current desktop. I've also assigned a hotkey to do this: Pause. (See Figure 8.)
- Window Translucency: Being able to make the window in the foreground transparent so I could see the content on the windows behind was just plain cool to begin with; but I found when authoring a document, I used to move windows back and forth to see the content I needed. Now I just make the foreground window semi-transparent so I can see the content I need on the window behind. This comes in quite handy when adding something extra to an e-mail or OpenOffice document.
To enable and change your XGL/Compiz settings, go to Desktop Effects under Control Center (from the Computer menu in the lower left of the task bar). For the geeks in the house, you have access to extended compiz functionality using gconf-editor. For example, one thing you can do is put a background image behind the cube. (For a complete list of effects and keyboard shortcuts, visit opensuse.org/compiz.)
Novell's own David Reveman started the XGL project which is now being leveraged by a host of Linux distributions, including SUSE, Ubuntu and Gentoo. Novell continues to be the number one contributor to the project.
> iPods, Cameras and Pen Drives
In the past, using peripheral devices with Linux was definitely not for the faint of heart. SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 changes all that. Your devices truly become plug-and-play with a host of feature-rich applications, such as Banshee and F-spot, to get the most out of them.
> Helix Banshee
Banshee is a full-featured audio player and library application. With Banshee, you can import CDs, sync your music playlists to your iPod (or mp3 player), create both audio and MP3 CDs and more. (See Figure 9.)
What's cool? I plug in my iPod and it's recognized immediately. I drag the tracks from my library and hit synchronize. Simple as that. Banshee also supports a number of plug-ins that expand functionality, from integration with Audioscrobbler/Last.fm to a meta data searcher that automatically updates your songs with the correct track information and album art.
Photo Management on a Linux desktop? Yes, it's F-spot. F-spot is a feature-rich, photo management application that leverages the goodness of mono to deliver a very usable and refined experience. Plug in your camera, F-spot lights up and asks if you'd like to import your pictures. Again, it's that easy. (See Figure 10.)
What's cool? You can quickly tag pictures, create slide shows, burn pictures to CDs and export to Flickr and other photo sharing and publishing Web sites.
Again, Novell steps up to the open source plate as the #1 contributor and maintainer of the F-spot project.
> Real Helix Player
Real Media does open source? Yes, back in 2002, Real started the Helix project. An effort that included a full-featured media player and server. Helix is now at the core of the Linux, Mac and Windows Real Media Players and provides full support for a number of audio and video codecs including Real, MPEG 1, 2 and 4, MP3 and Ogg.
What's Cool? It has full streaming support and integration with Firefox. Visit real.com to check out all the latest movie trailers.
> GNOME CD/DVD Creator and K3b
You want full CD and DVD burning capabilities out of the box? You've got it! SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 ships with the integrated GNOME CD/DVD Creator and k3b (a CD- and DVD-burning app based on KDE). Both applications provide a full suite of features including creating and burning CD and DVD images, audio CDs and data DVDs.
What's Cool? GNOME CD/DVD Creator is integrated into GNOME Nautilus, GNOME's default visual file browser. When you insert a blank CD, a dialog appears asking if you want to make an Audio CD or a Data CD. If you select Audio, it launches Banshee so you can create CDs based on your playlists. If you select Data, it launches your file browser so you can drag and drop your various files and folders onto the CD layout. Once the disc layout is set, just click Write to Disc and it burns the data to the CD.
The Open Source Community has delivered yet again and Novell stands ready to deliver the best desktop experience for office users and geeks alike. With the full office suite functionality of OpenOffice.org, users can easily collaborate with peers within and outside the company. With full iPod support in Banshee, you audiophiles won't have to maintain a second PC to enjoy your music. And for the inner nerd in all of us, we can use the enhanced capabilities of a 3D desktop to drive greater productivity in our work day.
With a list price of US$50, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 makes all this innovation easily accessible. You can download a 60-day evaluation from novell.com/products/desktop/eval.html. Compare that against the cost of the competing operating system and Office suite. Is there really a comparison?
Yes! The Next Generation Desktop OS has arrived and it's packed with open source innovation and enhanced usability; it's ready to be unleashed on your desktop (and laptop). SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is ready for you. The question is, are you ready for it?