Friday, 2 February 2007

Linux in the Workplace: The Perfect Setup in One Day

Recently, I read an article by Jim Sampson about him trying to use Linux on his work desktop. To summarize, Jim tried to use Linux over an extended period of time, kept hitting problems with MS Exchange and MS Office documents and finally gave up. According to Jim:

"I was trying to use Linux on my laptop in Dell's corporate environment... For the next ten years, I would go off and on back to this thought: I wanted to support the Open Source community, and to use Linux, but every time, the reality was that Linux just was not ready."

Well, I was in a similar position about a year ago. Having used Linux at home for several years, I became tired of the limitations of Windows XP as a development machine. I knew how useful it would be to have virtual desktops, multiple tabs in Konsole, access to some great developer tools like Quanta and Umbrello and all the other benefits that come with running a Linux desktop. I really wanted to make the switch.

The first step was to get approval from my manager to run Linux instead of XP. Fortunately, our company develops cross platform software, mostly in Java, so getting permission wasn't too much of a problem. However, the company also uses the MS Outlook/Exchange combination and produces quite a lot of MS Office documents. Clearly, I was going to face some of the same issues as Jim. I decided to use Kubuntu (Dapper now) because that's what I used at home. I was pretty confident it would perform all the tasks I needed.

My basic requirements were as follows:

  1. Access to company email, calendar and contacts. I use Kontact which is an integrated environment. Email is retrieved using IMAP and calendar and contact information can be got by configuring Kontact with the Outlook web urls.
  2. The ability to create, view and edit MS Office documents. OpenOffice 2.x is excellent for this task. I've never had a problem with any of our Word documents or spreadsheets. Admittedly, we don't use many macros.
  3. Access to the source code repository. We use Perforce and they do an excellent job of providing Linux versions of all their tools.
  4. Access to shared printers and other machines on the network. Again, there were no issues. SAMBA performs very well.
  5. Access to application servers e.g. JBoss
  6. Firefox
  7. Eclipse.
  8. JDK 1.4 and 1.5
  9. The ability to IM with work colleagues. I use Kopete.
It took me one day to get Linux installed and the above requirements met. It did involve a little effort on my part, like Googling on how to set up Kontact properly and I won't pretend everything is perfect. Printer setup in Dapper can be a pain sometimes. However, I'm extremely happy with my current setup and probably won't upgrade again until KDE 4 is released.

I have absolutely no desire or reason to use Windows again. XP is simply not ready for my desktop.


Jeff said...

Surely you mean GNU+Linux??

Brian Boyko said...

Hey - thank you for reading the article - I'm linking back to this one and hoping that you read it as well.

-- Brian Boyko
-- Editor, Network Performance Daily

Anonymous said...

Like you, I too am in a Microsoft shop that lives and dies by MS Windows/Office and MS Exchange Server.

I did the same thing about four years ago, with Red Hat Linux 7.3. Everything worked. Like you, I bought the Evolution Connector from Ximian back before it went GPL. It was well worth the $69. From start to finish, it took me about four hours to have "the perfect system" on this 266MHz Pentium II box, and that includes installing This is about how long it took to get Windows 2000 set up as well.

The only issue with using GNU/Linux was that Evolution's Exchange Connector is known to crash, and that's been true from the 1.2 series to even certain patch levels of today's Evo 2.8 series. Having to sometimes restart Evolution might be slightly annoying, but the annoyance is slight, and it definitely is not a show-stopper for me at all. Note also that Evolution seems to be pretty solid; I am running DropLine GNOME's Evolution on Slackware.

Even with that one occasional issue, I prefer using GNU/Linux on my desktop over any version of MS Windows. Today, I can set up a perfect box in two hours, from start to finish, from scratch, and that's with Slackware (I'm a tinkerer). If I use something like Kubuntu, it takes me less than an hour. *All* of my five machines, including my three laptops, run a distribution of GNU/Linux. It Just's wonderful.

--Microsoft Free Since 2003!

Rory Curtis said...

It's great to hear you had success with your setup too. Thanks for the feedback.

Kontact has been absolutely rock solid and performs superbly well. I can't remember a single crash. I've only tried Evolution a couple of times (didn't like it) but I have read many stories of the Connector being unstable. It's good to hear that things are getting better in more recent releases.

Anonymous said...

I too took the plunge and am running Linux on my main work desktop. I even wrote a couple of articles about my experience ( I made the switch in August 2006 and have never regretted it. We are a software development company that writes VB6 and ASP apps and are the typical "Microsoft shop". I keep a second desktop running XP which I RDP into to access a couple of applications, but 90% of my day is spent in Linux.

Anonymous said...

I also made the switch. I work for a small company that has standardized on Windows Office format files but I have been using openoffice without a problem. We don't use an exchange server so my mail problems were simple. I just installed Thunderbird and away I went.

I grew tired of how slow my xp box was, frequent updates with one costing me two days time while I couldn't connect to the server. I used a Red Hat clone and have never looked back.

Anonymous said...

I converted my work desktop system to Linux back in 2002. I had never seriously used Linux before, although I am a Unix administrator. I knew nothing about which distro to set up. All I knew was that RedHat at the time was very slow on my hardware. I decided to go with Debian 3.0 stable. In retrospect, that may not have been the best/easiest choice. It was fast, but outdated. I wasn't long before I upgraded to Unstable.
I now use a laptop and Debian Unstable. I stopped having to compile my own kernel a few years ago when 2.6.15 came out. The OS meets my every need, from MS VPN (MPPE) to Cisco VPN, to wireless support, to automounted Windows shares. It was a long road, and there were bumps along the way, but my Linux laptop is now a perfect match for my business needs. I would hate to have to change back to Windows.

Rory Curtis said...

Ah, good point about the Cisco VPN. I'd forgotten that one of my requirements was remote use of the desktop via VPN. Perhaps that's another article. Thank you for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

I too have been a very happy Linux-in-a-Windows-World user for some time. The only problems I have not solved are NetMeeting and Visio which we use heavily here. Has anyone discovered ways around these?

Anonymous said...

Regarding Visio, if you have to share files with other users than I´m afraid that you won´t find anything OSS that can use its file format. But if that is not a problem, why don´t you try Kivio? It is amazing.

Now, for Netmeeting you can use Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting) which is 100% compatible win NetMeeting as far as videoconferences using H323 go. It won´t offer those shared desktop or file transfer features of Netmeeting, though.

Rory Curtis said...

Is there an option in Visio to Save As Jpeg? I seem to remember something like that. Alternatively, you can simply take a screenshot of the diagram and save as jpeg. You just have to keep pushing the people creating the Visio diagrams to create them in a more Linux friendly way. Education is key.

I've a similar problem to NetMeeting called LiveMeeting.

One interesting way around all the issues is to run Windows inside VMWare but only when absolutely necessary. For example, I use that approach when testing sites with IE7.

mdawkins said...

The comments sound like an AA meeting.

My comment has to do with Kontact vs Thunderbird and little to do with Konqueror vs Firefox. I started using Kontact because it was the default application installed on Mandriva 2007 and I thought it was great. A little unpolished, but very usable. Then, I had to setup a windows user and I decided Thunderbird would be a good choice because I could support it on my desktop as well. I found it to be more usable than Kontact, minus two things (check server for certificate type and system tray icon). My point is this, I like the integration of Kontact and Konqueror into KDE, but both lack polishing and features that the Mozilla camp has. The killer feature for me on Thunderbird that I couldn't do on Kontact was move folders around (And tell me if I am wrong). The other is themes and extensions.

Rory Curtis said...

I don't quite understand your remark about the "AA meeting". Everyone has left valuable comments.

I did use Thunderbird for quite a while and liked it. However, the killer feature that Kontact has is Calendar integration with Exchange. I just can't do that with Thunderbird.

Jon said...

The latest version of Visio will read and save XMI which is an XML document type with a publicaly available spec from OMG. Any modeling program worth using will support XMI and UML 2.

If you can convince your coworkers to use this format, then you should have FOSS alternatives.