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Office-Worker Linux: It's Here and It Works 615

A few weeks ago, featured a great why-should-this-be-amazing story about Linux being used as the day-to-day desktop operating system for city employees in Largo, Florida. Roblimo got a chance to see the system in action to find out how ordinary office workers are proving that the old "Linux is tough to use" shibboleth is nothing but FUD, and how a medium-sized city is saving buckets of money by minimizing the tax dollars spent on licenses and hardware. Oh, and they've also pre-empted the kind of costs (in hassle and money) that can face any organization that Microsoft suspects may have some licenses out of order. This is the kind of thing every elected official should have politely waved in his or her face by concerned taxpayers. The Largo system uses KDE on Red Hat, but since both KDE and Gnome are paying much attention to user interface, similar systems could easily be running on various combinations of hardware / distribution / desktop system.
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Linux: Not Too Hard To Use, Even In Florida

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  • I'm glad they're using Linux. Unfortunately, there's no way the medium-sized business I work for could do that. For us, the problem isn't usability, it's software. And I don't mean a lack of MS-Office. Let me explain.

    Like most businesses our size, we use a variety of custom, semi-custom, and prepackaged applications. While, yes, we could use free alternatives to our operating systems, office software, and email/scheduling software, there's no way in heck we're going to find a free replacement to our inventory, financial reporting, or human resource management software, for example, any time soon.

    Even if someone came up with one, the cost of switching to the new packages would be enormous, given the complexity of such software and its impact on day-to-day business.

    What's more, the specialized software we use requires that MS-Office be installed or it can't do simple things like generate reports. So, if we have to stay with these inventory, HR, and financial reporting packages, that means staying with MS-Office and MS-Windows.

    Oh, how I'd love to move the whole corporation to free software. But there's just no way that's going to happen until all the mid-size apps are moved to Linux.

    Until then, I'll continue to use FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and Linux on the server side as much as possible. But that's where they'll stay for the forseeable future.
  • City of Progress (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ronmon ( 95471 )

    This an excellent example of how Linux can get it's "foot in the door" for everyday office use. Most of us already know that using it is not really difficult, especially when dealing with a limited set of applications, though setting it up and administering it can be a little tough for the average user. Presenting office workers with a stable and predictable environment and allowing them to get comfortable with it is the best thing that can happen for the OSS movement and the central server/diskless workstation is clearly an efficient and economical way to do it. This applies to both the admin and the user side.

    Let's face it. Fear is primarily based on lack of knowledge and unfamiliarity. As more companies (and government agencies, etc.) get their employees to understand that our beloved OS isn't really so scary after all, and installation becomes increasingly easier, home users will eventually migrate on their own. Why? Because that's what they use at work and they're comfortable with it.

    Do we have a ways to go yet? We sure do. But the more oppressive M$ gets (and they are taking it to the limit with XP) the better chance we have of gaining ground. I applaud the "City of Progress", where I happened to spend my high school years. Go Largo!

  • by Kupek ( 75469 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:38AM (#2118094)
    One thing I noticed when I installed Redhat on a machine (I'm a Linux newbie) was that it was very usable by anyone, provided someone else configured it.

    Easily, my non-tech-savvy friends could get used to KDE and become comfortable in it, but I don't think they could set it up to be usable (nor do they care, and rightly so, they shouldn't have to). They could actually install easily--the Redhat install was exquisitley easy--but as far as installing programs, setting things up the way they like, etc., I don't think they could.

    Then again, many people can't do the same with Windows (installing programs and configuring it to their liking).

    • One thing I noticed when I installed Redhat on a machine (I'm a Linux newbie) was that it was very usable by anyone, provided someone else configured it.

      And that's a good reason to prefer Mandrake over its Red Hat cousin (or Caldera or Corel over either) in that situation. Half the bitching here and elsewhere about Linux could be eliminated if people would pick appropriate distros for the job at hand, rather than becoming too attached to a particular one, often for ideological reasons, which are often the wrong reasons. Try several - cheapbytes is your friend. When you find one you like, buy a boxed copy.

      The "right" distro depends on what I'm trying to do: I prefer Caldera or Mandrake on the desktop, Red Hat on servers (it reduces support problems), e-smith for garden-variety multi-purpose office servers, Turbo or Red Hat on mainframes, and Lineo or BSD for embedded devices. Choosing wisely (and widely) keeps you from the IT equivalent of hammering in screws with a pair of vise grips...
      Oh, and be flexible - the costs for switching between distros are low and becoming less as we move to LSB-land, so don't be afraid to switch when it makes sense.
  • by Forge ( 2456 ) <> on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:56AM (#2118379) Homepage Journal
    KDE was likely the most crusial choice. Even moreso than Linux. For the stuf office workers do all day KDE is realy the best Unix based solution (Not counting MAc OS X which I havn't seen myself but have herd good things about).

    I am all for being nice to "the other side" on these things but what I see is people strugling to use Gnome for ideological reasons and other people getting work done with KDE for financial reasons.

    You know Finacial reasons like "Less money spent on Asperin", "fewer monitors shot at" and best of all you can fix the problems that do come up for less than it costs to fix the stuff you pay a grand more per seat for.
    • There *is* a lot of bloat in today's GNOME, far too much to run it on a terminal server. Can you imagine 230 people running Nautilus on the same machine, inside 3GB of RAM? Me neither!
    • by Skeezix ( 14602 ) <> on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:26AM (#2139651) Homepage
      I am all for being nice to "the other side" on these things but what I see is people strugling to use Gnome for ideological reasons and other people getting work done with KDE for financial reasons.

      What are you basing this on? As a consultant in St. Louis, MO, I have had the pleasure of working with a few firms who provide Red Hat/GNOME solutions for corporate desktops and workstations. And GNOME use is rapidly expanding from Red Hat (and other distributions such as Debian and Turbo Linux) to other Unix variants. With Solaris switching to GNOME 2.0 in place of CDE as the default desktop environment, and HP-UX likewise embracing GNOME, you're going to see even more validation for GNOME on the desktop in the next 6 months to a year.

      All this is to say, where are the facts that support your statement?

      • All this is to say, where are the facts that support your statement?

        I didn't make the initial statement, but I will respond. All my GNOME systems are up to date as of today.

        The GNOME 1.4 release significantly diminshed speed and functionality to achieve only a baic file manager / web browser type app. Its very unusual that someone would create a new version that does LESS things than then old did, but I still can't create a new application launcher from the desktop or edit an existing one as with KDE

        * The current GNOME control center (yes there's a new one on the way, no it isn't here yet) is confusign with its `test' `OK' implementation. This isn't consistent with many other GNOME apps

        * 48 x 48 icons that are `supposed to look good' at 20 x 20 often don't. One size does not fit all.

        * AFAICT there's no MacOS / Windows / KDE type style guide which can be used to define consistency between applications

        * Defining a filetype -> program mapping is difficult in KDE but especially more so in GNOME.

        * GNOME still has many programmerisms within it. Sawfish and GNOME might be seperate apps but from and end user viewpoint they should work seamlessly. Having a `meta' button under the GNOMECC which only defines options avaliable for the Sawfish branch is one such programmerism. And what does `meta' mean to a non tech?

  • "This is the kind of thing every elected official should have politely waved in his or her face by concerned taxpayers"

    Huh? Why? I love Linux as much as the next /. geek, but why should we expect any reasonably large government office to be swayed by this? If this were for servers, sure. The admins should have the experience to make a transition pretty smooth. But offices?

    I've worked in government offices, I've seen these people first hand. They aren't the most computer-literate bunch, and they are doing well to navigate Windows. Not to say that they couldn't navigate KDE or Gnome, but why spend the time and money to teach them?

    Bottom line (and it always comes back to the bottom line) is that it would cost too much to make the transition.
  • by navindra ( 7571 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:41AM (#2119216) Homepage
    This is exactly what I needed -- a Slashdotting so that I can finally try to optimize the dot server to handle it. (no joke) :-)


  • Second paragraph, quoting one of the admin assistants:

    "...but I like to do it this way on my computer."

    'nuff said!

  • I have a collegue working for a corporate ISP who use this and run all of their desktops as thin clients under linux (slackware) and win terminal server and it seems to work very well - its not a 100% solution but its stable (they still use MS Office). We looked at this for our environment but decided that with 1500 users its a dog with new flea -, requiring increased bandwidth and server usage and more support on the back end (and more knowledgeable thus more expensive staff in this case - and its hard to quantify skillsets) - but its a step in the right direction.

    But unforunately it's not Linux for the corporate desktop, something i am always chasing. What corporates want and need is a Linux distro that is easy to set up, easy for users to cope with, does everything their windows box does and with software that can save in the same formats, ie word, excel (so they can still communicate with the outside world) and which is secure and user friendly as well.

    I have looked at a couple of solutions and some of the distros (Red Hat, Corel) are almost there but the back end software isn't there and besided here and many things dependent of the next kernal release etc etc, this may be good for a home machine or a Terminal server implementation but its no good for over 1000 desktop machines.

    Stability, Ease of Use, Ease of Rollout and Cheaper support costs - thats what we want, Linux is Stable - (im not talking uptime as this is NOT relevant for a corporate desktop) but not easy to use for beginners, isnt easy to rollout and IMHO the support costs increase even thought its free as the ratio of support staff drops - (i think i read something about it bein 1 support person to 10 staff rather than 1 to 20 for Win)

    That said i watch with bated breath praying for the day i can move to a new OS for my corporate desktops and get rid of the MS attitude - i dont hate their products i hate their arrogance.
  • And no one gave a crap when we formed in 1995. We are Out of Business now, but we were 100% Linux (a couple of freeBSD servers too) until Oct 2000.
    My MOTHER uses Linux (Corel) and was happy that she can leave it running for days and no glitches.
    My fiance uses Linux (she prefers mandrake) and i have now set her up with a Diskless PC using our network. She had ZERO problems, she is not a computer geek (she's a writer). Our secretaries were told "The icon for yuor browser is here, the icon for the word processor is here", and this was when Linux was still raw! I have been preaching the joy of Linux for years, but I'm talking to deaf ears. The company I work for now was a 100% M$ house..I secretly changed over all the servers to Linux. People were saying how fast the file server shows up in Net Neighborhood SOO fast! Well, this did cause a big problem with management (and the NT admin) because what I did, made their decisions "wrong", and it became a pissing contest. They didnt care that the network is more reliable and i was able to RETURN 5 servers because they were no longer needed. I hurt some egos, so now I am on "indefinite" leave...oh well, The new company I will be working for WANTS a Linux network..maybe i can secretly switch over the user pcs too :)
  • ...everything's based on rsh! Haven't these people learnt *anything* from the last few years of security catastrophes? I'm amazed no-one else has picked up on this.

    The developers of this setup should have their fingers smashed with mallets... well OK that's a bit extreme, but I mean, really - if this is people's idea of a reference site for deploying Linux... god help us all. *head in hands*

    • Did you notice that the entire system runs the X protocol? I doubt they are even using XHOST auth on the NCD terminals (Of course I don't actually know anything). With the entirety of the X sessions going over the network in the clear I doubt that they are as worried about the security of their big beefy servers. Those can be kept on their own switches and under tight administrative control. I suppose that they could use SSH and maintain keyfiles for each user across all hosts serving X apps, but this wouldn't help with hosts that are serving Citrix apps and any user who can break root on one of the servers has access to all accounts on all machines anyway. It might give you warm fuzzies but I think that it would only add overhead.

      Of course, I could be wrong. I'm just playing devil's advocate.

  • Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Auckerman ( 223266 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:16AM (#2128705)
    This proves nothing.

    The complaint that Linux is hard to use is not one necissaryly of GUI per se, it's set up. Basic quality assurance questions are hard to answer: What hardware are you going to use? What software are you going to use? Where is that software located? How do you install that software? Where is the software located on the Hardrive after you instal it? How do you get OpenGL to install? Why did it take me 15 minutes to find the PPP dialer? How do you set up a network where hard drives are shared? How do you put things into the menu?

    If a sys-admin takes the time to form a planned approach for Linux installs, makes a custom CD for installing the "supported apps", then Linux can be usable. Problem is the Linux approach of shipping not only with the kitchen sink but 10 different kitchen sinks to choose from, all of which are disassembled and in their boxes is not one for newbies.

  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:35AM (#2131023)
    The story about how Mexico was going to deploy Linux in all their schools everywhere...

    Followed up a year later by another story stating that never happened because Linux was too hard to use.

    I say /. should revisit this city a year or two later when the current support tech leaves and find out if the decision to use Linux is still in place.

    • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:45AM (#2139430) Homepage Journal
      1) Largo has been running a Unix shop and thin client network for years. Only the switch to Linux and KDE 2.1.1 is new. I doubt that one or two sysadmins leaving would change things.

      2) This is a done deal, not a "someday" or "we plan to" thing. I wandered around Largo city hall and talked to actual, everyday users.

      3) I'd like to go back and speak to Dave and Mike in a year, yes -- to see how their plans to use OpenOffice pan out. The biggest holdup (as I wrote in the NewsForge story [] linked to above) is the lack of a good OpenOffice filter for WordPerfect files.

      - Robin
    • by wct ( 45593 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:50AM (#2143484) Homepage

      That's twisting thet truth significantly. The major reasons cited in the Wired article for the failure of Linux adoption were:

      • Problems with hardware compatibility with theexisting computers in use. This would not apply if compatible hardware had been initially targeted upon purchase of the system, as it had been done with Windows.
      • A lack of local Linux expertise among teachers. Just because the teachers are not experienced with using Linux as opposed to Windows does not draw the conclusion that Linux is more difficult to use - just that the knowledge base is not there yet.
      • Political movements from the Government. Of course proprietary vendors weren't going to just sit back and lose out on a contract this large.

      Furthermore, it appears the ScholarNet initiative is not over yet. The current progress has not achieved the penetration desired, but future iterations hold more promise, as hardware compatibility improves and the "seeded" Linux knowledge from the successful installations trickles down.

      Anyone interested in the attractions of Linux implementations in developing countries might want to have a look at a paper I wrote for a final year Engineering unit: postscript version []. It has some mistakes in it I haven't corrected yet, but I'm open to revising it :)

    • by poiuty ( 66274 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:16AM (#2143517)
      That raises an interesting point, which I find is often overlooked - documentation.

      I'm not talking about man pages/how-tos etc (which I personally find are usually of a much greater standard in terms of usability in an open source arena), but outlining:
      * the exact steps taken to build the environment in the first place,
      * maintenance steps (the where/why and how of upgrades, bugfixes, sec pathces etc)
      * new user tasks - from both the admin and user perspectives
      * general usability guidelines

      If these tasks are done at the beginning, and tailored for whatever particular business environment you are in then I've found it is much easier to get it accepted by management and perhaps even spread to other departments.

      One common stumbling block I've come across in trying to build these types of office environments is management fear that if I (or the admins with experience with open source setups) were to leave then they'd be stuck - after all it is much easier from a corporate view to find someone familiar with setting up/running a wintel / nt backend environ than linux.

      Providing detailed outlines covering conception through to delivery/expansion really helps make a choice like this seem much less risky from the management view. After all if you are the only open source 'evangelist' in the company it is going to be a tough sell no matter how convincing your arguement.

      When it is time to move on the steps you leave behind can help less experienced admins really get a grasp on not only the how, but the why of 'open offices'. Its how I really started, and I've now left many converts in my wake.

      • One common stumbling block I've come across in trying to build these types of office environments is management fear that if I (or the admins with experience with open source setups) were to leave then they'd be stuck - after all it is much easier from a corporate view to find someone familiar with setting up/running a wintel / nt backend environ than linux.

        This is what happened at the last place I worked at (an IP Law firm). They wanted robustness in their Servers so I implemented both a Linux firewall and a Samba Server for home directories. WELLL! they didn't like that since if I got hit by the proverbial bus they felt they wouldn't be able to find someone qualified (course this is Ottawa where the two biggest employers are the government and High-tech) so I had to rip them out and implement boxes running NT 4 and Proxy.

        The ironic thing is that before I left they were way over the amount of licensed workstations/servers they should have had and this place does intelectual law!! Sooner or later I am going to snitch on them to CAAST ( just need a job first.

        No I'm not bitter ;)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:42AM (#2138064)
    "Ummm...yeeaaahhh...if you could come in on saturday and ummmm...recompile the kernel with the latest USB patches so that your scanner will work...ummmmm...yeahh...that'd be great. Ummm...I'm also gonna need you to come into the office on Sunday gotta get Linux printing Pantone colours to that Winprinter over there...yeaahh...that'd be great too. Oh...and don't forget those TPC coversheets! When you've figured out how to make Linux print as well as Windows, go print yourself out a dozen copies. Grrreeeaattt!"
    • Recompiling a kernel is unnecessary for desktop users. The default kernel comes with most drivers they'd need in low overhead modular form and if you don't like it, run `up2date' (KMenu -> System -> Update) and install any new ones (yes, up to date can now do kernel upgrades).

      Linux printing Pantone colours to that Winprinter over there

      WinPrinter? The one which breaks down every five days under Windows? Here's an idea: rather than using a hundred dollar desktop printer designed for a single user who doesn't print often, lets act like very other business in the world and use large reliable laser printers (invariably HP Laserjet models). I've never found one which doesn't work under Linux.

      Oh...and don't forget those TPC coversheets!
      If I knew what these were (Transaction Processing Council?) I'd respond.

      When you've figured out how to make Linux print as well as Windows, go print yourself out a dozen copies.

      Use a business printer rather a home one. But if its an emergency, add a printser shared from a Windows PC to your Linux box via printconf.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:20AM (#2139695) Homepage
    I just had to shove Windows 2000 down the throats of my sales force. Transition from NT4.0. You should have heard the bitching/whining/crying/demands/etc... It doesnt matter what you put in front of them, they will piss-and-moan if it is different in any way. (Hell 2 years ago when I got here and made NT4.0 erase the login-name from the login screen for security they tied to hang me!) Changeing them to KDE or Gnome is no harder than any other change. In fact the Linux change will make the admin's life a dream. (No more idiots installing software that makes the system unstable!!! Damned AOL on NT!)
    • and apply policies. In win2k you can tune down a system as much as you want, from one single machine for your complete network, per user, per system, doesn't matter, you can.

      So if you don't want AOL or other crap installed, apply a policy that the user can't install it. You can cry all you want that OS A is better because on OS B you can't prohibit a certain action, but all you have to do is read a couple of docs and get your butt in gear.

      • That would be nice, and in your world it probably is true. But in the corperate world it dont work that way...

        we run 3 seperate vertical apps that require, (that's right REQUIRE) administrator access to the machine. Now this is the Traffic and Billing software (also requires Admin access to the SQL server!) which by the way is the largest T&B software package out there... it is the de-facto standard in media, you use it, discussion over.

        Second we have an AVID. everything MUST be run as administrator. Dont log in and use as admin? too bad.. you don't get to work.

        finally. I have a nice self updating Software package for the sales software suite. Now I am 1 IS/IT guy that supports 3 offices spread about 2 hours apart and over 100 machines. If I were to do it your way I need to spend every thursday and friday installing software via VNC or by drivig there.

        It may work for you in your small computing environment, but in a large scale corperate environment NT cannot be configured to keep the cluebies from demolshing the hardware....

        Oh, and management responds to my request to reprimand users that trash their desktop pc's?
        "What did we hire you for? go fix it and shut up."

        so... I am doing my job... better than any MCSE ever has here (awarded 3 times for productivity and excellence) and NT cannot do what I need. Linux can. Hell Linux can force the user to drop everything in their user directory (documents and files) instead of spreading documents all over the machine. NT? not possible.
        • Most large corporate environments would have software purchasing guideliens that forbod the purchase or implementation fo any software which requires administrator priveliges for end users.

          And your problems would be the same for Linux if your badly written app required root priveliges to run.
  • skeptical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flatrock ( 79357 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @02:52PM (#2141452)
    As I read the articles I started out very skeptical, went on to be very impressed, and ended up pretty skeptical again.

    It sounds like the system definately meets the City's needs, but it also seems like the Newsforge article is trying to overstate what those needs are. Lets look at the system specs.

    400 Clients (800 Users)
    Dual 933MHz system
    3GB of Memory
    18GB Hard Drive Space
    Peak of about 230 concurrent users (from the first article)

    Each concurrent user gets 11 to 12MB of system memory in which to work. They stated that they designed the system so they didn't have to hit the swap space. The 18 GB of hard drive space needs to be split between the OS application software and user storage space. Some users will need less space than others, so lets just ignore the space for the software and divide the total by the number of users. 18 GB/800 users = roughly 22.5 MB. How many people can here can honestly say that they don't have more space than that used for their email. The numbers tell me that the secretary they interviewed that was using Word Perfect, and email at the same time was one of their power users. I wouldn't be surprised if several hundred of their users don't even know how to access their email.

    The big question is, so what? It's still a real system, that's meeting real users needs. The problem I have is that the article goes on to make tons of apples to oranges comparrisons.

    It compares the cost of a thin client system in which users have very limited needs to a system with Windows desktops for everyone. How about Windows Terminal Server or other solutions that are more similar. I just don't buy the $300,000 a year hardware savings either. THese users have very limited needs, they don't need a new computer every year and a half, and $300,000 / 400 = $750 a year. Even if your buying new systems with monitors, that's way too much. $400,000 or $500,000 to run Exchange for their user base? Bullshit. I'm not saying that a Microsoft solution is cost effective, or even better excluding costs. It sounds like they found an exelent solution to their needs. The Sourceforge article however was too full of FUD to have much credibility.
    • All the apps (WordPerfect, etc) are kept on different servers and run with rsh. They use memory and hard disk space on a different machine. I imagine the /home directory is an NFS mount on a different machine with TONS of disk space. That server runs KDE, and only KDE, all the time, nothing else. It's not their file server.
    • Re:skeptical (Score:2, Informative)

      by flbeachlf ( 514817 )
      The 18GB of disk is used for just KDE and not other applications. Those are on other servers. The server could run on far less than 18GB, but you can barely get your hands on smaller drives now. WordPerfect, email and other items that are saved are on the other servers. The 300,000 savings comes from projecting out having about 450 units, and swaping them out on 3 year rotations. 150 per year, budget 2000 each. 3 year upgrade cycles is not 'aggresive', and in fact about 1/3 of your users will be disatisifed with performance in the last year of the user of their machine. While thin clients are 750 dollars, they have a 10 year duty cycle. That comes to 75 dollars a year. A 2000 dollar machine every 3 works out to about 700 dollars a year. Plus you know darn well you have thrown a few extra parts into each of those machines during the 3 years. Some extra RAM, some extra harddrives, etc. The 750 dollar price for a thin client is a sealed terminal, with no moving parts. No extra costs, because nothing is upgraded. I wish as you mentioned that no one here at Largo used email, because it should would make my life easier! ;) In fact, all 800 employees have email and probably 600 of them are heavy users. Around 200-250 users are in email during the day. Email comes from another server, currently GroupWise on OpenServer. This isn't a shop where people just have a few green screen windows open. We have graphical software running all over here, some from NT and most from Unix. The price quoted for Exchange is accurate, and perhaps could go higher. Everyone forgets that you have to start up the Win32 *client* software on NT then too in order to use it. It isn't just bringing up Exchange, its bringing up 250 concurrent Outlook sessions too on WTS. That means 800 NT logins, CALs. Centralized NT doesn't hold as many users, so then we have to bring up clustering, and *hope* we can run 50 users per server....and run 7 servers just to provide Outlook. Instead, using Bynari/Insight the server AND gui Client will all be brought up on the same machine. The post office will deliver email, and the 200-250 clients will all run on the one machine. The cost savings is high, along with much better stability. Anyone that doubts this model is welcome to fly to Florida, we would be happy to give you a tour! ;)
      • The 18 GB for KDE makes a lot of sense. I'll agree that a 3 year lifespan isn't aggressive for PCs, but your people don't need the power of a PC. Thin clients are are the right solution for your place. I think the idea of a ten year duty cycle on the thin clients is laughable. The screens and keyboards won't last that long. PCs don't cost $2000 any more, and they have warranties to replace failed hardware, just like the thin clients do. This is all a moot point, because the real advantage of the thin clients is being able to configure and do software upgrades from a central location. This alone could result in $300000 in savings. You don't have to convince me of the benefits of thin clients, I once did PC support in a place that had 1200 users. I love the idea of thin clients.

        I have almost no experience with Windows Terminal Server. The cost of running Exchange still sounds high to me, but I'm too far out of my limited area of expertise to know. It sounds like you've designed an exelent network that meets your users needs well. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.
        • I think the idea of a ten year duty cycle on the thin clients is laughable. The screens and keyboards won't last that long.
          The keyboard I use at home is the same one I bought with a 486 in 1992. The keyboard on which I'm now typing is an IBM 'clicky' made in May 1993. So I'm shy of ten years, but neither keyboard is showing signs of age. Likewise, I still have the 17" monitor I bought with that 486. I don't use it much because I have 21" monitors now. However, it works.
          Anyway, even if the display/keyboard wear out, the thin client (less display/keyboard) has a better lifespan than the PC (less display/keybaord). But I agree that it's a moot point.
  • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:30AM (#2142894) Homepage
    While the article definately has a Linux vs Windows angle to it (and you have to admit, it's hard to talk about one being deployed without considering the effects the other one may have had, had it been deployed), I'm simply more interested in hearing secretaries extoll the virtues of KDE.

    While this issue has been in full-fledged war mode for years, I think *nix proponants such as myself would have far more success focusing on the suitability and usability of KDE and Gnome than always boiling it down to a Xwindows vs Windows debate. Sure, Windows does the job, I run it at home; but if this article proves that End User X, dumb as a post, doesn't mind KDE (I'd use it daily if my audio-apps ran in *nix), force it on em! Well, at least in situations where it's my tax dollar ...

    Of course, the long term upside is that newbies 'n average users would finally have some variety in their computing experience before they blindly pledge allegience to the only OS they see commercials for; thus helping solidify *nix and KDE/Gnome as a viable platform for the Everyday Joe in the minds of the consumer.
  • by Karmageddon ( 186836 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:50AM (#2143850)
    The key here is Total Cost of Ownership: Windows boosters and shills like to point out that a free-purchase-price does not mean cheaper overall cost. But this article points out that the savings Largo is looking for are not the licensing costs, but the support costs. In Largo, the network is the computer. The idea that you could see "your" desktop from another workstation is just a dream in the Windows world.

    This is not a victory for Linux. This is a victory for one old variant of Windows: yes, X-Windows.

  • by trcooper ( 18794 ) <> on Monday August 13, 2001 @10:54AM (#2144013) Homepage
    Roblimo got a chance to see the system in action to find out how ordinary office workers are proving that the old "Linux is tough to use" shibboleth is nothing but FUD

    We all know that the truth is, linux is hard to use for novices, and a good portion of linux users are not inclined to help newbies out. Read a few usenet posts to see this. "Linux is tough to use" is not FUD, it's the ugly truth. The people who realize this, and don't shrug it off as "FUD" are the ones who are positioned to correct this flaw.

    Don't get me wrong, there's been tremendous progress made in linux usability, but the majority of it has been in the initial install area. There are still a lot of problems with UI consitancy, and any usability [] expert will tell you that this isn't a minor flaw. There's also the problem with installing software, because there's not the same one-click method for every program that Mac and Windows have.

    Progress has been made, but we are certainly in no position to dismiss problems with linux' usability as FUD. When we do that, the progress will stop.

    • We all know that the truth is, linux is hard to use for novices, and a good portion of linux users are not inclined to help newbies out. Read a few usenet posts to see this. "Linux is tough to use" is not FUD, it's the ugly truth.

      This simply isn't true, and my mother is a perfect case in point. Not terribly computer literate and with no desire to be, she simply wants her email, her web browser, and her word processor. Oh, she was delighted by the Bach, Beethove, and Mozart ogg's I ripped from her CD collection and made available on her hard drive ... with xmms she can now listen to hours of music without changing CDs, and some of the other toys in her KDE menu she enjoys playing around with, but in truth her desires were relatively simple.

      I bought her a $50 copy of applixware so she could read and write word documents, and guess what? She prefers her GNU/Linux box over her windows box at work by orders of magnitude. In fact, she has become much more zealous in advocating GNU/Linux and disparaging Windows than I ever was. Why? Because she, as a user, has found GNU/Linux to be much easier to use, much more stable, and much faster than her old windows install (to which she has never returned and which now provides additional storage for her burgeoning ogg-vorbis collection as she, herself, rips her own CDs using grip). Indeed, her discovery that it wasn't her, or her "stupidity" that was the root of nearly all of her computer mishaps, but the underlying instability of the operating system itself, has made her positively scathing when speaking of Microsoft. I guess she took Microsoft blaming the shortcomings of their products on her, and the denigration of making her feel stupid in the process, a little personally ... not that any rational human being could blame her.

      GNU/Linux is as easy, if not easier, to use than any version of Windows out there, and as others have pointed out, many GNU/Linux distributions are easier than Windows to set up and install as well.

      Yes GNU/Linux is different, and yes, users must be willing to take an hour or two to learn those differences (ie "something new"), but new isn't the same as "difficult" or "tough to use." I spent an hour with my mother showing her the basics of navigating the KDE desktop and the differences between it and Windows, as well as the differences between Applix and MS Office. Again, this wasn't because GNU/Linux is "tough to use," this merely because it was a little different, and therefor new to her. Indeed, according to my mother, Linux is actually easier than Windows to use, so yes, saying GNU/Linux is "tough to use" is FUD in no uncertain terms. Saying "we all know it is tough to use" is adds a whole new level of dishonesty to the discussion, indeed it could be said that such as claim is FUD to the second power.

      Now my mom's non-computer savvy friends are bugging me to come and set them up with GNU/Linux as well, so it looks like Microsoft's worst nightmare is in fact slowly coming true: regular, non-savvy Microsoft users are defecting to GNU/Linux in increasing numbers despite all the FUD Microsoft and its shills can possibly muster. Sometimes justice can be poetic.
    • by topham ( 32406 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:21PM (#2142868) Homepage
      Linux is hard to use as a hobby system with no *nix experience.

      Ok, I'll accept that.

      Linux isn't hard to use. It's a pain in the ass if you screw with it for fun. But it isn't hard for most users. They just need Email, a Word processor and solitair.

      And those run just fine.

      • Not my point.

        My point is to dismiss some very valid complaints as FUD, is ignoring the problems that do exist. Most criticism of linux should be taken as constructive. We can correct the problems that exist by identifing them, and addressing them. I think several distros have done that in the install process.

        Sure, Email, Word Processing work just fine, but can't they be better? Can't they be a lot easier to use? Can't the word processors have better on-screen rendering of fonts out of the box? Can't all these tools have tighter integration with each other? Yes they can. 'Good Enough' never is.

        Do we want to strive to have a product that is acceptable, or a product that is superior?

        Beyond that, people need to be able to screw with it for fun. People who have computers at home, and play with them, in my experience, tend to be more productive with them at work. UI and Software installation problems can be addressed and correct these problems. Installing Mozilla on Linux isn't like installing it on Windows, but it should be, because there's no reason it can't.

  • by whjwhj ( 243426 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:43AM (#2144593)
    When I saw this post I thought "something's up" because I have a hard time believing that people accustomed to running Windows could switch to KDE and not absolutely HATE it.

    That's when I read they've been running Unixware for the last several years. Hell, they're accustomed to clunky interfaces! Moving from one clunky interface to another is no big deal. They simply don't know what they're missing.

    I've seen secretaries and the like jumping through hoops trying to use poorly designed character/terminal interfaces in corporate environments who were PLEASED as PUNCH! Why? They didn't have a better system to compare it to.

    So before you all start patting yourselves on the back, I think you need to give those secretaries some credit: Anybody can learn how to do most anything given time. There's no specific reason why a secretary can't learn to deal with clunky interfaces like KDE or Gnome just as easily as they can learn to deal with some hideous 1980's character based interface.

    This says nothing about KDE's usability. It's still clunky. These folks simply don't know what they're missing.
  • by mwillems ( 266506 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:37PM (#2144900) Homepage
    Being both CTO of a small company (100+ employees on 3 continents) and husband of a non-technical wife :), I am desperately trying to do the same in our company, and at home. Seeing the roadblocks I am hitting may be interesting to some of you.

    I see two types of objection to switching.

    The "Necessary Condition" objections are mainly "Office", "Outlook", and "IE". Which is, alas, what everyone spends all day using. And until MS gets spilt up, this will not change. But also "that new accounting package", "my scanner", "our new CRM software", "our ERP project", and so on. And these are actually much harder to overcome. I think maybe we can identify a small group of users who do not use accounting, ERP, CRM etc. If we have to change all those, implementing Linux would actually cost us a lot of money.

    Eh, before you say it:

    StarOffice etc do not work well enough. Always some problems converting Word and Excel files.

    VMware is slow, but it also defies the entire object (you still have to pay for an MS license)

    Anyway, then there's the...

    "Usability" objections. These are easy to fix in time - or they should be. But we are not there yet! I just spent a whole weekend setting up a new desktop machine for myself - Athlon 1 GHz, 512 MB RAM, RedHat 7.1. I had to do a kernel upgrade before it would see my Envidia graphics card. I still cannot print to my samba printer. And having installed machines ([pre-]CP/M, DOS, Win, Novell, Linux) for 20 years, I am not new to PCs or to Linux, but I still cannot figure out how to rewrite the Gnome/Ximian menus! And the config tool core-dumps: I have had 20-odd core dumps in the first day alone. And the lack of "OLE" drives me mad - an experienced PC user spends his life cutting and pasting, and the lack of this in common Linux desktop environments are a real obstacle.

    So now I am looking for small groups of "expert users". Our (mainly hardware-) engineers come to mind first. But I am looking hard for real interoperability so we can roll out across the company. My estimate: 2 years out. I hope I am wrong.

    • I don't have the complete answer, but some points:
      1. Re StarOffice: Apparently City of Largo agrees with you, as they're using Open Office.
      2. Re miscellaneous and legacy Windows apps: It's very feasible to concentrate these on one or more Citrix servers. The coolest thing is to load balance several identical Citrix servers and create a .ICA file that points to the load-balanced IP. That way when one of the servers crashes, the impact is minimized and users are still able to start application sessions while the sysadmins reboot/fix the machine. This setup works so nicely that I'd recommend it even if your desktops are 100% windows. However I'm not sure it's worth the work for 100 users. I've seen it deployed for 60,000+ users, and it rocked. Once you encapsulate these odd little applications on Citrix servers, they're available to Linux/Mac/Windows and the desktop options are much more open. I would not recommend serving Office/Outlook/IE via Citrix, however - it's a little too sluggish for primary application use.
      3. Re Gnome/Ximian: I think KDE is more mature. However I have to wonder if a conventional window manager like WindowMaker wouldn't be a better choice. The conventional window managers are quite straightforward for a sysadmin to configure, and they're way past the core dump stage of development.
      4. Re Outlook: Have you checked out Bynari's products? They seem to be nipping at Microsoft's heels with Unix-based Exchange-like servers and multi-platform clients.
      5. Re ERP: This is a serious issue, as ERP is the heart of a company and the decisions you make now might lock you in for a long time. If it's already looking Windows-centric, you could be heading into long-term platform lockin that will outlast all the other software. I guess ERP breaks into three parts: client, server, and data store. The data store should be a real relational database - therefore you should be able to put it on Sun/Solaris or other solid platform. As long as you have the table definitions and ER diagram, you avert complete lockin. If you have to abandon the application server in the future, it will be painful but at least your data is in a usable format. I'm guessing it's too late in the process for you steer the selection towards a more cross-platform product. Sadly, in ERP Unix == expensive. Maybe Linux will change that, as vendors seem to price Linux apps like NT apps.
    • but to get there, I had to take the difficult step of getting people to stop sending me Word and Excel files. Sending around insecure, application-specific files is a bad idea anyway unless it is absolutely necessary.

      At least 95+% of the time someone sends me a Word file or Excel sheet, it is something that I only need to read, not edit, modify, and send back.

      I'm an independent contractor, and whenever I receive a Word or Excel file that I cannot read in StarOffice, I politely reply back that I don't have Microsoft Office and I cannot read their files. I suggest that they resend the document either in PDF format, or RTF if they can't generate PDF. For Excel files, If they can't save as PDF, I suggest saving to an older version of Excel that StarOffice can read, albeit with some loss of formatting.

      I have been able to change the file sending habits of a surprising number of people, especially when they realize that PDF files actually look more consistent on other people's systems, especially if they use non-standard fonts.

      I do have one system with VMWare and one copy of Office for those very rare occasions that I receive a Word or Excel file that I actually have to modify and send back, or if the sender absolutely refuses to send another format, but this option doesn't get used very often, so I don't need it on all my systems.

  • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @11:07AM (#2151851) Journal
    I'm not going to comment on the relative costs of the hardware/software, because it's all true: Linux vs. Windows will win out, pure and simple. But the story (about Roblimo's take) is comparing apples and oranges.

    Look at how they talk about backups: it sounds as though their concept of backups in the Windows world is to have users saving documents on their local hard disk, rather than to a server. The users have become accustomed to system crashes and network failures. I'll address at least part of the former complaint in a moment. The latter is the fault of either poor network administrators (as opposed to systems administrators, or a flaky server that hasn't been set up correctly. One of the biggest reasons people think NT is unstable is because the pretty GUI encourages rank amateurs to call themselves systems engineers. Blame this on the paper-MCSE syndrome, or on Microsoft's psychology, or whatever: but let's at least be honest and admit that, should the quality of admins increase, so would the quality of experience.

    The other problem I have with this, and what really prompted my subject line, is that the comparison is between a Linux-based thin client network and a MS-based fat client network. Hello? If you took away all the Windows desktops and put in something like Citrix MetaFrame, then guess what? You'd realise several of the same benefits that the article touts or implies as being advantages unable to be put forth in a Windows-based system.

    If you take the article as being a good example of how simple it is to migrate users over from Windows to Linux, then fine. But the system level comparisons are obfuscatory at best, and dishonest at worst. Yes, there's no way you could get the same level of performance out of the hardware they use if you went with a Windows implementation; but an article that compares a 10-person IT staff supporting Linux (or any OS) on 400 thin-client devices with supporting that many devices all running Windows on individual desktops is simply not a valid comparison. Is that really fair? By all means, let's point out the advantages for Linux in terms of ROI, open-source, and so on -- there are plenty of valid bases here -- but let's also be intellectually honest. Pretty please?
    • We have over 200 staff running Citrix Metaframe on wyse terminals with Win2k Terminal Server on the back end and heres the rub.

      Its a great solution BUT
      1. Be prepared to increase your bandwidth A LOT - most of these users are on remote sites and we have one here with a 320 k link and 20 staff that is slower than a wet week -Citrix admit (off the record) that runing a full desktop and apps sucks up as much as 32k each desktop
      2. Servers - Minimum has to be a dual pentium with a gig of ram - we specced all ours to be quad xeon with 2.5 gb and they work - but the costs hurt
      3. No FDDs, no CD roms, Palm Pilots are shit to set up and much of the software doesnt run properly - Flash for one, printer driver unsupported etc etc.

      But i agree with the comment on admins - the MCSE as god syndrome has fucked this industry and left us with morons - but dont blame MS for that totally, the training companies and the corporates did it.

      I agree lets see an honest comparison
    • by topham ( 32406 ) on Monday August 13, 2001 @12:10PM (#2143981) Homepage
      It is fair. why? Because the alternatives are all screwy too. The alternatives for 400 full windows machines is to have Terminal Services clients on all the desktops. So, compare it to that. Go out and buy 400 TSC capable systems and support them on however many machines are required.

      You can compare these apples and oranges because, simply put, in the end the job they are to accomplish is the same. Supply the required office/administrative capabilities to 400 people in a work environment for the least amount of support headaches and cost.

      There are a dozen of ways to try to accomplish it. This just happens to be one way that works well.

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