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The Great OS Experiment

The Great OS Experiment

A celebrity CIO reviews the desktop operating system contenders in search of the next-generation office computer

SIDEBAR: Hardware's the Issue

by David Torre

A Linux expert weighs in

Having read of John Halamka's experience using Fedora and RHEL on an X41 tablet PC, I was not surprised by the mixed results. About 90 percent of Halamka's issues were hardware-related. Coincidentally, the X41 is not listed as officially supported by either Fedora or RHEL on Linux vendor Red Hat's Web site.

My Dell D600 Fedora laptop has the same network card as Halamka's X41, yet I always achieve network connectivity immediately. My suspend to disk (sleep) feature works flawlessly. As for USB thumb drives, my laptop happily recognizes my Cruzer Micro with every insert. However, in the business world, end user perception plays a key role in acceptance of new technologies. I couldn't agree more with Halamka's opinion: If it is to be successfully deployed on end user systems, Linux must be able to function in heterogeneous environments with as little tweaking as possible. It's simply not practical to spend countless hours building one perfectly compatible laptop.

One alternative is for hardware vendors to provide the necessary hardware specifications to the Linux and open-source developer community. This is already commonplace, but some companies are more inclined to provide specs than others.

It's the hardware companies such as Dell or Lenovo that will put the final seal of approval for Linux support on their machines. As a consequence of many variations, hardware vendors will likely pick a small handful of Linux OS versions to officially support for their various systems. If you work in an organization where support and compatibility are not optional, then you'll need to choose one of the officially supported distributions from your hardware vendor.

However, the beauty of Linux is that you can take the more corporate officially supported path, or you may opt for the "some assembly required" approach. Keep in mind, not all organizations can afford commercial operating system licences and expensive hardware support contracts. The "problem" of having so many Linux versions is also a strong point for Linux users because they're not bound to one OS vendor. This is not the case in the Microsoft world.

In summary, my hope is that Halamka continues to entertain the idea of using Linux. I would recommend using an operating system more suitable to desktops such as Ubuntu or Linspire, as opposed to the more server-oriented distributions such as Fedora or RHEL. He could also consider a non-Linux open-source alternative to Microsoft Windows such as FreeBSD, Skyos or Haiku on end user systems.

David Torre is the founder and CTO of open-source consultancy Atomic Fission.

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