Moving to the Linux Business Desktop
by Mirko Zorz - Monday, 13 September 2004.
Author: Marcel Gagne
Pages: 600
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
ISBN: 0131421921



Introduction

I've read countless articles debating whether Linux is ready for the desktop showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of this OS. This book goes beyond that discussion as the author doesn't think Linux is just ready for the desktop but for the business desktop. Did Gagne manage to guide the reader as well as in his previous books? Read on and find out.

About the author

Marcel Gagne is President of Salmar Consulting, Inc., a company that specializes in UNIX/Linux systems and network integration. He writes the "Cooking with Linux" column for Linux Journal, the online series, "Sysadmin's Corner," and is a regular columnist for other publications such as UNIX Review and Sys Admin Magazine.

An interview with Marcel Gagne is available here.

Inside the book

Since this is a book that targets beginners it's natural for Gagne to start off by introducing Linux, the GPL, and answering some very important questions like: "What do I lose?" and "What do I gain?" that every reader considering switching to Linux will ask. He also teaches you how to obtain a Linux distribution, run Windows applications under Linux and provides many links to useful websites.

What comes next is an installation guide where the author discusses some hardware considerations, gives a few notes on dual booting and provides you with an installation comparison of Mandrake Linux, Fedora and SUSE. What you should not expect here is a step-by-step installation guide you can find in many other Linux books. I think such detail is not necessary since Linux installations have become extremely straightforward and you should not experience any problems.

Once your Linux machine is up and running you are ready to personalize your working space. Gagne guides you through the login process and the customization of the KDE desktop, everything from changing the desktop background to changing your password. The text is extensive enough and complemented with a plethora of screenshots, something all new users will appreciate.

If you want to be comfortable using Linux you have to be at ease with the management of your files. This is where the author writes about Konqueror, the file manager for the K Desktop Environment. What I was pleased to see here was a security tip related to permissions where you learn how to change who gets access to a file or directory and what access they get.

As regards software, it doesn't matter what Linux distribution you choose, you're going to get lots of it. Despite that, sooner or later you'll want new versions of a specific software title or just to try something else. This is exactly why the next learning step in this book is dedicated to installing new applications. Here you also get some references to some good websites filled with quality Linux software. Next Gagne discusses devices and services by introducing tool and some clever tips on how to make your hardware work.

Since almost every business has to use the Internet in one way or another, everything related network and Internet connections was expected to be in this book. Your knowledge is complemented with a small introduction to TCP/IP, you learn how to setup your local network and get online with a modem or a DSL connection.

In order to get the most out of your Linux system you will have to use the shell at some point. This part of the book is a valuable introduction as the author did his best to explain the basic commands very clearly. Presented next is web-based administration with Webmin and then a chapter dedicated to users and groups. Discover how you can manage users and groups; add, remove and modify user accounts and more.

I'm one of those people that are think backup is a religion. There have been many times when the lack of a recent backup would mean many additional hours of work. I'm always pleased to see that also others realize this extremely important part of working with any OS. The author shows you how to perform a good backup and remember, if you're running a business, can you allow yourself to lose data?

Being able to print documents and work with e-mail ar very important for any kind of business and naturally Gagne teaches you how to setup a printer and implement e-mail on the server side. Later in the book you also see how you can work with two popular e-mail packages - KMail and Evolution.

With time the list of people you communicate with will grow and the availability of that data everywhere you go becomes a priority. This is where LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) comes in to the picture. The author provides a brief introduction on the subject but enough to get you started.

Even most of the readers of this book will have their company website hosted remotely because of today's low prices, you will see the benefits of running a web server on your own in the chapter dedicated to web services. Some of the topics discussed here include: the Apache web server, SquirrelMail and eGroupWare.

In the process of moving to the Linux business desktop you'll certainly want to take is slowly and learn as you go along. This means you'll probably have different operating systems working together at the same time. In order to maintain productivity you have to make them share resources, and what makes this possible is Samba that can provide file-sharing services between a variety of operating systems. Among other things here you learn how to install Samba and administer Samba. In case Samba is not available on your system or you don't want to use it, you can always use NFS, introduced in a standalone chapter.

In a situation where you don't have relatively new machines and therefore you can't take advantage of new Linux distributions running KDE and GNOME that demand a great deal of resources, you can always use the thin client approach. Linux thin clients are PCs that boot from an Ethernet card with a chip that asks for an address from the server or use a special boot diskette that performs the same function. This means that you can use older machines that offload most of the work to a powerful central server. Gagne shows you this works and how to setup both the server and the clients.

As with any operating system, your users are bound to encounter problems while using Linux. Instead of walking through the office or giving them a lenghty explanation over the phone you can always use remote control to gain access to their machine and fix the problem yourself. Presented here are a few ways you can do this.

And now - security. Although not much space has been reserved specifically for security issues, it's understandable because of the book's topic. Gagne did manage to teach you some basics though - use OpenSSH and control access to your system. Not nearly enough, but you need to get more material regarding security anyway if you're serious about having a production Linux server connected to the Internet. The links provided at the end of the chapter will get you started but there could have been more of them.

As we get close to the end of the book, the topics become a bit "lighter" as you see how to get organized (using KOrganizer and Evolution), surfing the Net (using Konqueror and Mozilla), using Instant Messaging (using Kopete and Gaim) and video conferencing (using GnomeMeeting). Last, but not least I have to mention four chapters covering topics that are very important for a business: word processing, working with spreadsheets, presentation graphics and office graphics. All the material is very easy to follow and complemented with many screenshots. Trust me, you won't get lost here.

About the CD-ROM

The bootable Linux CD-ROM that comes with the book contains Knoppix Linux. The version that comes with the book is not an official version but a version modified by the author. I didn't have the chance to try it out since I reviewed a draft manuscript of this book and the CD wasn't included.

Final thoughts

The author of this book, Marcel Gagne, is a prolific writer that with his witty articles and books has certainly enriched the Linux community and I must admit it was a pleasure to read another one of his books.

This book is not only filled with a myriad of useful details and tips but it's also very fun to read and easy to understand. I can recommend it to anyone that is considering switching to Linux as it will point you in the right direction faster than any other similar book I've read so far. If you are not considering the adoption of Linux, you probably will after you read this book.

Straightforward and simple, this book will help you see the big picture.



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