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PC World

Maybe Linux should be your next desktop OS

A ping to Wintel's pong: Speedy, reasonably priced Linux workstations.

February 4, 1999
Web posted at: 6:00 p.m. EST (2300 GMT)

by Paul Heltzel

(IDG) -- Waiting for Windows 2000? While you're on hold, Larry Augustin, president of VA Research, would like to bend your ear about why Linux should be your next OS.

VA, which sells Linux-based servers and workstations, hopes to upgrade its profile as the buzz around Linux grows. The free operating system continues to gain prominence as bigger computing players start to support it. In the last few months, Dell, Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard have all announced servers or workstations with Linux preloaded. Corel is developing a Linux version of WordPerfect for release later this year (a free downloadable version is already available).

Augustin founded VA in 1993 while he was a Stanford University student, and he has always sold custom-built PCs running Linux. You can even buy a VA workstation (direct from the Web) that dual-boots Windows 98. And while Linux aims squarely at the enterprise market, which requires its stability, security, and remote management capabilities, Augustin insists Linux will end up on consumer desktops.

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It's so easy

"Linux guys give their parents Linux machines," Augustin says, likening them to WebTV set-top boxes. "They can configure them so their parents can't delete applications. They just log in and get their e-mail."

Linux isn't perfect, he adds. "It's got a long way to go. But it's intuitive. People can see the desktop and get to work immediately."

Does Augustin's mother use Linux? "Not yet," he says. Still, he's optimistic: "Intuit's looking to port (Intuit) Quicken," he says. That will be a boost for the traditionally rogue operating system. "I think you'll see productivity apps ported over the next two years."

But even now, most parents could probably afford a VA workstation. Augustin's entry-level model, based on a 300-MHZ Intel Celeron processor, 128MB of RAM, and a 10GB disk, costs about $1300.

Software blues

Lack of productivity applications is the primary problem with Linux, at least on the desktop, agrees Bill Peterson, research manager at International Data Corporation. When companies like Oracle and Informix start porting their software to Linux, that's a boost for business. But those high-end applications don't really entice the average business user.

And while several Windows-like user interfaces are available for Linux, it's still got a ways to go in terms of user friendliness. Still, several years from now, as we become more reliant on the Internet and less on what kind of desktop we use, who knows? Maybe Linux will be your operating system of choice.

"At this point, the interface isn't one that the home user would be comfortable with," Peterson says, "but more and more apps have a browser front end. When we get to the point where you just turn on your computer and the system is remotely managed, you don't need to know what's underlying. Whether it's Windows or Linux doesn't really matter."

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