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COMPUTING

Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 even better than its predecessor

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:13 p.m. EDT (1613 GMT)

by Nick Petreley

From...
LinuxWorld
image

(IDG) -- By George, Caldera has done it again. Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 not only continues to leapfrog over all other Linux distributions for ease of installation; it also proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Linux can be easier to install than Windows.

And since Caldera 2.3 is based on KDE 1.1.1 (you can download the upgrade to 1.1.2 from Caldera's FTP server), some would argue that Caldera 2.3 is easier to use than Windows, too.

Put simply, Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 was a work of art -- but Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 is a masterpiece.

Caldera 2.2 made Linux history by delivering the most friendly installation program for a Linux distribution. The best features of that installation remain intact with Caldera 2.3, but the rough edges that I discovered with the prior distribution have been smoothed out, and Caldera added some nice extras.

As with Caldera OpenLinux 2.2, if you start the installation in Windows, it can automatically partition your hard drive to make OpenLinux coexist with Windows. Or, if you already have your partitions set up (or want to set them up during installation yourself), you can boot from a floppy or right from the Caldera CD-ROM.

I booted from the CD-ROM to install my copy on two machines. The whole installation process went flawlessly both times. Each installation took about 15 minutes, which is about as long as it had taken to install 2.2.

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Both test machines are based on ASUS motherboards. One is a IDE-based P2B-F with a 400 MHz Celeron; the other is a SCSI-based P2B-S with a 333 MHZ Pentium II. The former is configured with two IDE hard drives, one IDE CD-ROM, a Matrox G200 AGP video card with 8 MB of RAM, and two network cards -- the Linksys LNE100TX and a 3Com 3C905B-TX.

The latter is configured with three SCSI hard drives, a SCSI CD-ROM and a Yamaha SCSI CD-RW drive. It has a Diamond Viper V770 TNT2 Ultra video card with 32 MB of RAM, an Intel Ethernet Express Pro 100 network card, and the Creative Labs SoundBlaster PCI64 sound card based on the Ensoniq ES1371 chip. Both machines have 128 MB of RAM.

There's a reason I mention all of this hardware -- bear with me for a moment.

Sound and picture

Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 now attempts to auto-detect your sound hardware during installation. It had no problem finding and configuring my SoundBlaster PCI64 card.

But Linux support for sound cards isn't as good as it should be. As a result, in some cases you'll have to install the included commercial OSS sound package in order for your sound card to work. (OSS is the 4Front Technologies Open Sound System. You can get more information from its Web site -- see Resources for the URL.) If your sound card falls within the list of those which Linux can recognize, the OpenLinux installation program should be able to detect it.

I was most impressed by how much improved Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 is when it comes to detecting video hardware. Version 2.2 correctly identified my Matrox G200 AGP card, but didn't detect the memory on the card or configure the resolution properly. Version 2.3 has fixed both problems.

And while I had to tweak Mandrake 6.1 to handle my Diamond Viper V770 correctly, Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 got everything right the first time. It even probed the RAM and scan frequency on the card correctly the first time. After picking my ViewSonic P815 monitor from a list, it allowed me to use my favorite settings -- 1,600 by 1,200 with 32 bit color.

Checking the list twice

Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 gives you a range of preselected groups of packages to install. You can choose from:

  • Minimum installation
  • Standard installation
  • All packages
  • Business workstation
  • Development workstation
  • Home computer
  • Network server
  • Web server

You can also create a custom list, store it on a floppy disk, and use that to select the packages to install.

If you are a Linux veteran who wants to install individual packages, I recommend that you start with whatever predefined configuration you like best and then run the kpackage program or the RPM utility to add whatever else you want.

Outside of hardware detection and configuration, most of which is usually pretty automatic, there are really only a few configuration options you have to deal with during installation. You need to specify your root password and create at least one user account.

You'll have the option of specifying a network IP address, hostname, DNS server, and gateway. If you don't have the information (or if you are planning on using your computer as a dial-up workstation), you can skip the network configuration step and do it later if you wish. You need to specify your time zone. And you have to tell the OpenLinux installation where you want the Linux Loader (LILO) installed.

Caldera installs your software packages in the background as you perform many of the configuration steps, which is one reason why the whole installation process can be very quick if you have a fast CD-ROM drive. If you manage to make it to the end of the configuration options before OpenLinux is done installing, you can still play Tetris while you wait.

Administration

Once you have Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 installed, it is very easy to manage and reconfigure. OpenLinux provides the Caldera Open Administration System (COAS) for most tasks. COAS consists of several separate administration modules: one for managing user accounts, another for configuring printers, another for setting up and maintaining your network configuration, and so on.

COAS does about the same job as Linuxconf, which you'll find in Red Hat Linux and other distributions. While COAS isn't as complete as Linuxconf, Linuxconf does tend to be overwhelming and confusing. I found COAS much easier to navigate and use.

If you select a COAS module from a normal user account within KDE, COAS will ask for your root password before it allows you to administer the system.

The source code for the installation program (Lizard) and COAS are available online; see below for the URL.

More goodies

Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 comes with assorted commercial programs, including the Applix office suite v4.4.2, StarOffice 5.1, WordPerfect 8, BRU 15.1, and the Open Sound System. It also includes a good number of KDE applications, including a CVS-enabled version of KOffice.

It's tempting to think of Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 as the ultimate desktop client OS because it puts so much emphasis on ease of installation and ease of use. Many experienced Unix administrators feel that real servers don't need easy installation programs or graphical interfaces. Heck, sometimes they don't even connect a monitor to the server, since it can easily be administered remotely through Telnet or X11.

But many IT customers are looking to Windows NT and Windows 2000 specifically because they are based on graphical tools. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, it still makes Caldera an ideal version of Linux to give Windows a run for its money at the server.

Indeed, Caldera offers the best of both worlds. It is usually easier to install than Windows. You can use the graphical desktop for easy administration. But unlike Windows, you can exit back to character mode to conserve resources when the server is busy doing its thing, or to restart a stopped daemon without having to reboot the whole darned machine (or reinstall the OS).

And, like many flavors of Linux (but unlike Windows), Caldera automatically installs and configures all the services you'll need for most situations. Depending on the configuration you choose at installation, your server can boot right up to provide Web, FTP, mail, and other Internet services. With a little more effort, you can add various file and print services, including native Windows file and print serving via Samba.

If you don't want your computer running Internet services that can invite security leaks (and you don't know enough about Linux to seal up your system against crackers), then install the home computer configuration. It won't start up Web, FTP, or other Internet services, but it will leave the Telnet daemon enabled so you can manage your workstation from another computer. If that doesn't sound like something you are likely to do, disable it.

Quirks

If there is any downside to OpenLinux, it may be what it lacks for the ambitious power user who wants everything. You won't find GNOME or the half-dozen window managers you get with some other distributions, for example.

Then again, I had no problems downloading, compiling and installing one of my favorite window managers, WindowMaker. So it's not as if you can't have what you want if you want absolutely everything -- you just have to work harder to get it.

So it is very hard to find anything not to like about Caldera OpenLinux 2.3. But I did manage to find a few minor things to complain about.

First of all, Caldera fell victim to bad timing in at least two areas. Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 ships with KDE 1.1.1 and the Star Division version of StarOffice 5.1 -- because KDE version 1.1.2 and Sun StarOffice 5.1 were released a bit too late for them to make it onto the CD-ROM.

You can download KDE 1.1.2 specifically for Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 from ftp.kde.org or one of its many mirror sites. And you can download StarOffice 5.1a (the Sun version) by following the links from www.sun.com. KDE 1.1.2 has a few frills which are lacking in 1.1.1, like a theme manager. And the Sun version of StarOffice 5.1 is a little more trouble free than the Star Division version because it doesn't require you to register your copy.

An earlier version of the KDE theme manager is also available on the Caldera CD-ROM under /col/contrib/RPMS. Regardless of whether you install the older version or upgrade KDE to 1.1.2, you'll probably want to install all the optional KDE themes on the Caldera CD-ROM. These are not installed by default.

Caldera the librarian

Outside of that, I only have complaints that are more or less common to all Linux distributions. For example, I ran into a few library problems with Caldera, some of which were self-inflicted. I noticed the mail client Pine was not in the /col/install/RPMS directory, so at first I assumed Caldera doesn't include Pine.

I discovered later that Caldera includes Pine in the /col/contrib/RPMS directory, whence I eventually installed it. But first I tried to install Pine from my Mandrake 6.1 CD-ROM. The Mandrake Pine RPM complained that my ncurses libraries were too old. I tried to upgrade the ncurses libraries from the Mandrake CD-ROM, but that RPM refused to work because it couldn't find other libraries upon which it depends.

The RPM file was mistaken -- the libraries were there. It just couldn't find them. This is a common problem you run into when you try to mix and match RPM installations from different distributions. It's a relatively easy problem to solve (you can use an RPM option like --nodeps, for example), but it can be frustrating if you don't know what you're doing. And it doesn't help to improve Linux's image as far as perceived compatibility between distributions goes.

I ran into yet another library problem when I downloaded and installed Netscape 4.7. Caldera comes with Netscape 4.61, so I downloaded Netscape 4.7 from the Netscape FTP server. But Netscape 4.7 needs version 2.8 of libstdc++, and Caldera only installs version 2.9 of libstdc++ by default. So Netscape wouldn't start up and it complained about the missing library. I found the 2.8 version of libstdc++ in the /col/contrib/RPMS directory on the Caldera 2.3 CD-ROM and installed it.

Finally, when I tried to install HP OpenMail, it complained that a number of libraries were out of date.

You're going to run into situations like this with every distribution. OpenLinux may be a little skimpier than some other distributions in the library department, however. So Caldera really should make every effort in the future to install several versions of every library, and to include the latest versions whenever possible.

The bottom line

As of today, Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 is the best candidate for Windows-killer of the year. Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 is by far the easiest Linux to install, even when compared to the latest versions of Mandrake (6.1) and Red Hat (also 6.1). Never before has it been possible to install, configure, and use Linux with so little effort, and with so great a chance that your hardware will be supported.

If you're a seasoned Linux user who is looking for the most options and flexibility, you may not find everything you want on the Caldera CD-ROMS. Then again, if you are a seasoned Linux user, then downloading and compiling your own stuff won't faze you -- and you will still find that Caldera can be an excellent foundation on which to base your custom environment.

The bottom line is that Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 is a winner, no matter where your needle rests on the Linux experience-o-meter.


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Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 product information
Source code for Lizard and COAS is available
KDE
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