Vol. XV, No. 1
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Spring, 2002

Linux as a Desktop Replacement? - Not Yet! Back to the Mac

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

In the last issue of the CSA Newsletter I wrote about my experiment with Linux as my desktop computer of choice. My comments were quite favorable. Since that article, however, I have returned to the Macintosh as my desktop computer.

I want to be clear that I did not stop using Linux because of the operating system. I changed back to the MAC for the sake of its applications. Linux was excellent as an operating system -- not unreasonably difficult to use or to adjust for personal preferences. I was more impressed with its ease-of-use and general user-friendliness than I expected to be, much more impressed.

The operating system may be excellent, but the applications are simply not ready for prime time. I tried several word processors and could not find one that was able to compare to Microsoft Word® or Nisus®, both of which I had been using on the MAC before turning to Linux. Even more modest programs such as those in the low-priced office packages are far superior to the Linux offerings.

While spreadsheet programs (I used two) and the image editing program called the GIMP® seemed excellent, the email program turned out to have a serious flaw -- the absence of any form of file export for the email saved by the program. In addition, I could find no way to link my Handspring Visortm (a Palm Pilottm clone) to the Linux machine -- and thus to the calendar and address book included in the email program. Though the Handspring and the computer could be physically connected, there was no communication over the wire. I suspect that I could have made that connection function properly, had I been willing to spend a couple of days tracking down the necessary software and instructions. I was not willing to do that, absent any certainty as to the outcome of the work, and, surprisingly to me, that inability to connect my Handspring to the computer became more and more important over time. I do expect to be able to enter calendar events and names and addresses just once -- and to have them available to me on the desktop or in my briefcase.

Returning to the MAC, I installed OS X on both the old desktop MAC and the laptop. It seems to be excellent, though I do not think it is superior to Linux. The applications make the difference, and that may serve as a reminder to us all. In the end, computers are tools. All the hype notwithstanding, it is the ability of the computer to let us do a job better and faster that makes it worth using. Other issues -- particularly some of those involving privacy and security -- may also be important, but computers must be good tools first and foremost. Linux did not provide me with good tools for word processing, email, or personal information management. Those are the tools I use not just daily but constantly.

Because the operating system itself is so impressive, I will continue to experiment with Linux, but I will not try to make my principle machine a Linux workstation until the applications have improved.

-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II

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For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of Linux on the desktop, consult the Subject index.

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