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Constructing a Windows-Less Office 638

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the natural-light-is-for-the-birds dept.
joewakeup writes "This article at CRN analyses why today is the best time to consider building a pure Linux information system, from servers to... desktop. Among all the arguments, one of the arguments is the low cost of Linux offerings compared to Windows based-solutions. Worth a read."
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Constructing a Windows-Less Office

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  • A catch-22. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fucky Badger (535691) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:23PM (#2648492)
    1996: Linux was really fast on cheap hardware. But it wasn't ready for unclued office users.

    2001: Most Linuxes have a very friendly desktop, with lots of productivity apps, but I swear to Linus, it's about twice as slow as Win2K/XP on the same hardware.

    I'd love to have Linux running everywhere if it didn't require massive hardware to run smoothly.

    • You mean Staroffice? Every time I've ever used that thing it's like wading in mud. Mozilla has a very similar feel, though Galeon somehow manages to avoid it.

      Try some of the more native apps. They still have that nice snappy feel to 'em.

      • Re:A catch-22. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bfree (113420)
        Hmmm, StarOffice seems to take an eternity to load, but once loaded it runs fine (not stellar performance, but perfectly acceptable), and mozilla is getting close to responsive (some moments but....). Now this is on a PIII 500 laptop with 280M of RAM running Debian testing with kernel 2.4.16 with the pre-emptable patch (with 64M the thing struggled with mozilla or OO and especially both). Is this an unreasonable spec to run PRE-RELEASE SOFTWARE? Mozilla is 0.9.6 and expects 3 more releases before version 1 (and about 4 months of time) and in the previous 4 releases and months the reponsiveness has really improved. OpenOffice is about where mozilla 0.9.1 was IMHO. What do you want from pre-release software, performance that does nothing, or relative completeness with slow performance, I know what I want and I am looking forward to version 1 of both (even if OpenOffice calls it version 700 or something similar). I'm running them both on hardware which is really about 3 Years old and I say that Hardware depreciates currently in at most 3 Years, so anyone hoping to use worse hardware to run the latest software should now that they are asking to be smacked about the place vis-a-vis performance (could a web browser for the current net really be light-weight enough to run on a PII266 w/32M?)
    • That runs fast enough for me on moderate hardware (a standard 500 MHz sort of box). If Mozilla runs too slow for you, run Opera. FVWM may not have the nice desktop graphics of KDE or Gnome, but it doesn't have the overhead either. And learning to tweak out your .fvwm2rc file is half the fun!
    • Re:A catch-22. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Accipiter (8228) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:43PM (#2648672)
      it's about twice as slow as Win2K/XP on the same hardware.

      That really depends on what you're running.

      I'll probably never hear the end of it if I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: The most popular window managers for the XWS are also the most bloated.

      Have you ever used Nautilus? It is a very pretty interface, but it is slow as all hell on a machine of reasonable specs. (PIII 500 / 256MB) Now take Gnome and Nautilus, plop it on to a system, and yeah... it's not going to perform as well as it should. Granted, the XWS isn't the best performing GUI out there, but the 4.x rewrites are solving a lot of those problems.

      I've used Gnome/Nautilus as an example above, because I know less about the newer KDE releases with regard to frendliness, performance, and bloat. If someone would be kind enough to fill me in on how KDE is in these respects, I'd appreciate it.

      Anyway. Gnome is a pretty hefty download, and tries to shove all of the crap they think you'll need into the package.

      If you set your users up with something like AfterStep [afterstep.org] (which, by the way, can fit on a floppy), ditch the desktop pager, show them how to use Wharf and the Winlist, and install the apps they will need. Configure Wharf to make it easy to get the apps, then smack everything onto a kickstart server or something. Then whenever a new box enters the office, just kickstart the image on to the box and there you go. No configuring, and it would make administration much easier. (You could probably also hack in some cronjobs on the server and the workstations to automatically keep all packages up to date, but that's beyond the scope of this comment.)

      This way, they have a fast, clean window environment, the apps they need, and the benefits of Linux.
      • Re:A catch-22. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Otter (3800) on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:45PM (#2649153) Journal
        I'll probably never hear the end of it if I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: The most popular window managers for the XWS are also the most bloated.

        Sure, but that's the Catch-22 Fucky Badger (now there's a nick I wasn't expecting to see with a +5) was talking about. My 1200 MHz Athlon flies with WindowMaker and gcc running in a wterm. But that's giving up what's making Linux an alternative to Windows in the eyes of writers like these.

        I've used Gnome/Nautilus as an example above, because I know less about the newer KDE releases with regard to frendliness, performance, and bloat. If someone would be kind enough to fill me in on how KDE is in these respects, I'd appreciate it.

        The newer releases are definitely getting faster but you still need pretty recent hardware to get snappy performance. And it seems like because of the kdeinit hack, starting apps is considerably slower if you're not using the KDE desktop than if you are. Still, the load KDE imposes comes from the KDE 2.0 architecture. There's no major source of additional bloat in the near future and it's pretty clear how to make everything faster -- drastically improve the way a GNU system loads C++ apps.

        At any rate, the best way to get Linux going faster is to buy new RAM. I understand why people don't run and out for new processors or hard drives but RAM is so cheap now $20-30 will liberate you from the misery of hitting your swap.

    • on X (Score:2, Informative)

      by horster (516139)
      I think in general, Linux is more efficient and faster. X however is a different story, and it has nothing to do with the fact that it runs over a network.

      X windows sends a refresh event every freaking time a damaged window is revealed. this doesn't make sense, and it means that switching windows and creating menus looks sluggish and cumbersome no matter how fast the hardware.

      other window systems like plan9 simply store the overlapping layers and let the server (read the display) do the work rather than sending a refresh event.

      now, there is work being done to resolve some of this. Keith Packard is implementing this in X as we speak, but it takes time, X is filled with a lot of cruft from years of being pulled in many directions.

      unfortunately, for now - X is just not the best example of Linux's effeciency. so anything that runs on top of it is going to be slow and big, at least compared to windows. then again, the killer feature that windows simply , can't do, and it shops should drool over is the fact that you can run it over a network! so all in all, I think it is a fair trade off, though there could be a better solution, granted.
    • Re:A catch-22. (Score:3, Informative)

      by jeffphil (461483)
      Linux in most default installations is a server not a desktop OS. That being said, I think if you are comparing W2K Server to Linux then they would be comparable. Sure the code for W2K server is exactly the same as W2K workstation, but the setup and services is the key. Here are some tips:
        • On W2K to make your GUI more responsive, change the environment to favor "Foreground" apps instead of "Background" apps.
        • On linux, renice your X to make foreground apps higher priority. Here's the command I put in my .xinitrc:sudo renice -10 -p `ps -aux | grep "[^grep].*X \(vt\|:0\)" | awk '{print $2;}'`
        • On W2K, turn off services that you don't need
        • Same thing for linux, lots of services get started -- but do you need them running all the time? (e.g. if you're not developing for your db app that day, turn off the DB server)
      • For some reason, at least with RedHat, all of the apps and libraries are installed with debugging symbols. Who knows what their reasoning is, but that takes apps longer to load and slower to run. Have you ever run a "Checked Build" NT or W2K that includes all debugging symbols? The same thing happens. What I do is boot to my rescue CD and strip every file on a regular basis (which also frees a ton of HD space). Be careful with this because you have to run ldconfig from the rescue CD before booting back to your default -- and it requires using params to ldconfig to point to the right mounted directories and spitting the ld.so.cache to the right spot. If you do it wrong, you will not be able to boot except to rescue CD.
      • Compile a new Kernel (preferably with the new VM) and take out all of the unneccesary items and compile as much as possible into the kernel instead of modules.
      I'm sure there are a hundred others, but these seem to do the most for me with least effort.

  • by programic (139404) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:23PM (#2648501)
    The article failed to mention the cost of support to Linux platforms. Heck, I'd like to see windows replaced in the work place myself. But the fact remains--windows based sysadmins are a dime a dozen, and most of the sharp linux/unix admins don't want to be resetting passwords for morons.

    It would be hard to find enough linux admins willing to do this kind of work.
    • by ichimunki (194887) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:30PM (#2648561)
      Just like it's hard to find people who are willing to man tech support call centers as an entry-level job in the IT industry? Besides, for some level of what's needed, admining a Linux office can't be any tougher than admining a Windows office.

      So guess who would be the first to undergo a quick training-- yes, the old Windows admins. I think it would be a pretty poor business policy to just can the folks who've been doing the sysadmin job up to this point just because they have a slightly different experience. Linux isn't advanced magic at the desktop/office LAN level.

      But frankly, I don't want sysadmins around anyway whose attitude is "you're a moron if you need your password reset"... sysadmins don't get paid to be wizards, they get paid to make sure the systems stay maintained and the users stay productive (from a technical perspective).
    • Well, in an office situation the cost of supporting Linux should be as low as or lower than the cost of supporting a Windows installation. The catch is that the system architects have to take maintenance costs in to account while setting up the office infatrsucture. Ideally, the applications could run off of an NFS (or similar) mount. The $HOME files could be local or remote, though remote is ideal. The operating system could be installed remotely or locally, as well as temp files. With proper user permissions, you can restrict users from installing programs other than in their $HOME. You can even use diskspace quotas. You can do similar things with Windows, but user installed software (think AIM, Napster, ActiveX/VBS problems etc.) always seems to be a problem except in the most tightly controlled installations. A well thought out Linux installation can be almost self maintaining, except for of course resetting passwords. But you have to do that for Windows too.
  • Really?!?!?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:23PM (#2648503) Homepage Journal
    low cost of Linux offerings compared to Windows based-solutions

    Linux is cheaper? Really?

    I wish that writers would make other points. This one is blatantly obvious, and every linux user knows it. How about some other points that most IT Managers don't know?
  • by van der Rohe (460708) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:24PM (#2648513)
    I work in an electronic music studio. I'd love to use Linux, but the apps just aren't there.
    The fact that there's almost no development community addressing this potentially enormous market amazes me to no end.
    But, until then, I'll use Windows. Not because it's great, but because it has the apps I need.
    • by CoughDropAddict (40792) on Monday December 03, 2001 @02:42PM (#2649582) Homepage
      I work in an electronic music studio. I'd love to use Linux, but the apps just aren't there.
      The fact that there's almost no development community addressing this potentially enormous market amazes me to no end.


      On the linux-audio-dev [linuxaudiodev.org] mailing list, many things are discussed and software developed such as Ardour [sourceforge.net], digital audio workstation software for Linux, JACK [sourceforge.net] (JACK Audio Connection Kit), a low-latency infrastructure for connecting audio applications, and several [sourceforge.net] wave [sourceforge.net] editors [stanford.edu]. Dave Phillips maintains a list of Linux sound applications [condorow.net]--many are not that advanced but some are.

      Work in this area is progressing, and many smart people are involved. In particular, Paul Barton-Davis, author of Ardour and the main force behind JACK, seems to be pursuing commercial possibilities of selling linux-based sound workstations under a company named Linux Audio Systems [op.net]. You can read Paul's slashdot comments [slashdot.org] to see some of his opinions on the situation of Linux audio.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:25PM (#2648518)
    Windows cause sun glare in everyone's monitor, hence decreasing productivity.
  • Cheaper? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Linux is only cheaper than windows if you don't value your time" - I don't know who said it, but it is true!
    • Re:Cheaper? (Score:3, Informative)

      by c13v3rm0nk3y (189767)

      Sorry, but if I added up all my time spent fixing broken Windows, and compared it with the cheerful hacking I do on Linux or BSD, Windows would come out far more expensive.

      Of course, YMMV, but in our 300-plus node network of Windows boxes, you can always guarantee one thing: they break when you need them most.

      Personal computer systems are brittle as hell, and, as far as I'm concerned, running Windows is no guarantee that your day won't be wasted. Perhaps NT decided to blue screen because there wasn't a PS/2 mouse plugged in (true story).

      My personal obsvervations indicate to me that it is a fallacy that Windows is easier to maintain. Tell that to our IT guys.

    • Wrong (Score:2, Informative)

      by schon (31600)
      "Linux is only cheaper than windows if you don't value your time"

      Wrong. Both in the quote, and in your assertion that it's true.

      The quote is actually something like "Linux is only free if you don't value your time."

      Windows costs much, much more, both in initial purchase price, and in administration costs. (Downtime, fixing problems that shouldn't be there in the first place, etc.)
  • by ayden (126539) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:31PM (#2648564) Homepage Journal
    As reported in Slashdot this morning, Evolution 1.0 Released [slashdot.org] and ThinkFree Office [thinkfree.com] an MS 2000/XP Office compatible suite that works in Linux. Combine these with the TransGaming's [transgaming.com] WineX [transgaming.com] software, there is no longer any reason to use MS on the desktop.
  • dead horse (Score:2, Insightful)

    by flipper28 (473369)
    I think we're still beating the dead horse on this one - Linux needs consumer oriented apps that work the same as the microsoft ones. There's not going to be a Windowless office until consumers adopt linux, which means consumer oriented software, not just stuff for geeks. Why don't people use StarOffice on Solaris - because is too bloody hard to use.
  • by alen (225700) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:36PM (#2648605)
    This is OK for a small office, but what about a larger company? Many companies have deployed MS Exchange server partly because of the integrated global address list and the fact that you can store the email in a central database instead of downloading it to the PC like a POP3 server. Is there a Linux based mail server with these features?
    • 'IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. It is a method of accessing electronic mail or bulletin board messages that are kept on a (possibly shared) mail server. In other words, it permits a "client" email program to access remote message stores as if they were local.'

      www.imap.org
    • MailOne is a descendent of MailWORKS from DEC. Not only does it do what you want, it also has POP and IMAP servers and will talk Exchange/Outlook via MAPI. The only thing missing (which you don't mention you are looking for) is calendaring.

      www.openone.com
  • "The single biggest problem at the enterprise level is politics," said Leon Brooks

    Amen. I think Plato said it best (I think it was Plato) "those that do not engage in politics will be done in by it".

    Use it, or lose it + do unto others before it's done to you.

    Many things were done on 'nix workstations before the move to NT. It used to be full support for 'nix os's, min for NT, now the roles are reversed..sigh.
    Even the machine operators clamor for the 'nix days from time to time.

    But of course, I am prolly one of the few that think StarOffice 6 not being put out on the mac was a big mistake. I'd have chosen SO6 beta whatever over office v.X for os X out of principle and sanity reasons...but alas, twas not to be.

    Funny, that you get the same title with Mac OS X and if SO6 was here it would still be a "Window less Office".

    Huh...I'll be darned...who'd of thunk it?

    Cheers,

    Moose.
  • Seen it already. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Nikau (531995) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:37PM (#2648614) Homepage
    A company that I worked for earlier this year used Linux on the majority of its computers, servers included. The company (don't want to reveal too many details about what they do) designs chips for electronics, so there is a lot of CAD work involved for designing.

    All but one of the servers they were using ran Linux (the remaining two were running Solaris and NT for software requirements). I worked under the network admin, and during the whole time I was there we never even had a glitch with the network.

    All of the engineers were using Linux on their desktops and it worked beautifully. The remaining desktops were running Win98 for the HR, marketing and finance groups because the software they were using required it.

    It's not quite the Windows-less office that the article was discussing, but it was pretty close. I've seen the wonders of the Linux-based network and I like it.

    • We're on NT and it's the same thing. All of our developers and telecommunications people don't have any problems. All the HR and other admin people can barely type their password in without help. Linux isn't going to help.
  • by piecewise (169377) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:38PM (#2648619) Journal
    My office is now 100% Window-less as of about 6 months ago, but we're instead 100% Mac OS X (currently 10.1). It's great. I don't miss Windows at all, and the myth that you "can't get applications for the Mac" is such a load of cr@p.

    In fact, the new Office for Mac OS X is, in my opinion, much BETTER than the Windows version.

    Networking has been faster, too, and that's important to us. You'd never believe it, but it's cheaper too. No more calling for technical support or having someone on duty to fix problems with our systems. You just don't need it with a Mac because the hardware and software is so well integrated.

    The machines themselves have been CHEAPER for us. $1199 iMacs as clients and G4s to handle some of the heavier loads. It's worked great.

    And by the way... that 22" Apple flat screen is not only beautiful for working with, but it impresses customers too. I know it seems like a detail, but people have gotten the impression we're an upscale successful business because they see those screens and comment on them.

    I know I seem like a troll ranting about this or that, but I just want to get the word out, because I'm a very pleased Apple customer... and I'm laughing at myself for ever having used Windows for so long.
    • ...people have gotten the impression we're an upscale successful business...

      That's funny. It reminds me of a client of mine. They've got Herman Miller cubes, including the Aeron chairs. But their machines are a collection of cheap no-name beige boxes built by a friend of the owner.

    • and the myth that you "can't get applications for the Mac" is such a load of cr@p.

      Actually, for 97% of computer users out there you are right. But there are a few applications that are preventing me from going 100% MacOSX. Don't get me wrong, OSX is a major triumph. And I believe that the low to mid level workstation market will eventually go completely Apple because of OSX and some of the new features coming down the pipeline at Apple. SGI, HP, and others are in more trouble than they realize in the next few years.

      Back to my point. To go 100% OSX, I need Photoshop (coming soon), ImagePro from MediaCybernetics (M$ is deep in bed with these folks), PCI Geomatics (possibly, as they once were on the Mac and given that OSX is now the leading UNIX distro, they may once again be back), IDL (Currently on OS9, but there is some controversy over OSX right now). I would like very much to go 100% OSX but the absence of these programs prevents me from doing so, and the absence of any one of these programs will prevent others from going Mac and will keep them locked 100% in a Windows environment because they view it as simpler. However there are some very compelling features in OSX to make the trasition easier including built in SAMBA.

      As for the displays, you are not kidding! They are some of the most beautiful displays I have ever seen. And because of the image quality, fatigue is much less of an issue that with even other brands of LCD displays.

      The G4's are also competitively priced with other systems as well if you take into account all of the included features such as Firewire, Gigabit networking, built in wireless etc... And as for iMacs, they can be had by educational institutions and students for around $800. Not bad.
      • Oh, I long for the day that the big-name CAD packages are supported on the Mac platform. Even just AutoCAD would be a good start... but it'll take more than that to get my office to switch. We need 3-D modelling, and AFAIK, there just isn't such a thing available for Macs right now.

        If I'm wrong, PLEASE let me know. I'd love to get rid of my f*&#ing Wintel box...

  • by Eloquence (144160) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:38PM (#2648624) Homepage
    While I agree that the time for moving stuff over is near (although a lot of business software is still missing), I would suggest waiting for the final release of Open Office 6.0 (or Star Office if you prefer the commercial variant) before switching a real-world office to Linux (designing a new one from scratch I might use Linux, but only with Win4Lin). Star Office 5.2 and Open Office 6.0 use different data formats, and Open Office is missing certain Star Office applications. KOffice may still require a few years to be recommendable, but the Open Office final should be relased soon. Also, by the time Open Office is finished, Mozilla is probably also ready, and most new PCs will come with more than enough RAM to handle KDE easily.

    One important component I still find missing is a free desktop database a la Access. This is a very important tool for every company, and it will be missing from Open Office 6.0 (not sure about Star Office 6.0). There's a commercial contender called Rekall from theKompany (and a port of Paradox 9), but only a couple free beta apps. This should not be that hard to write, though, since scripting languages, database backends and form designers already exist in free versions.

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PyroMosh (287149) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:43PM (#2648674) Homepage
    Why is everyone trying to shoehorn Linux into something it's bad at? I use Red Hat Linux exclusivly for my web servers. It scales well, I'm happy with it's security and it simply works helluva well? in that capacity.

    However, I use exclusivly Win32 on the desktop. I have a digital studio box that uses Me, and will soon be upgrading that to XP. A couple dev boxen with 2000, and an older box with 98se. For my needs Win32 works helluva well? on the desktop. (Not to mention that I like to play games).

    Now, *I* use win32, because I have a choice and I pick win32. But that's not why I think this is a bad (and stupid) idea.

    Show of hands, how many of you have parents and grandparents could go to work tomorrow and use *nix without a hitch instead of Win32?

    Business want their workers to be *productive*. And yes, I know you can argue that many of the powerful features found in *nix desktops make a user *more* productive. But only the top 5% or so that will ever figure them out. I'd venture to guess that 99% of *windows* users never figure out *it's* features.

    Right clickable context menus are something that the average secretary or insurance broker or customer service rep has probably never heard of.

    The file structure on win32 is a mystery to these workers. If their copy of word somehow winds up pointing to a diffrent working directory than C:/My Documents/ then half of them will have no prayer of navigating back to where it was and will declare their files "lost". Until someone comes along and fixes it for them.

    It all boils down to this: If I gave my mother a Porche 911 Twin Turbo tomorrow, I know that she would drive it to work every day exactly the same as she drives her Subaru Outback station wagon. It's only certain people that will take advantage of the extra power. This analogy isn't less applicable to computers, it's MORE applicable.

    The point? Win32 is easier than *nix. And Win32 is STILL TOO HARD for the masses. Yes, I am well aware of the fact that your average geek can use it. Your average IT guy can use it, but they're not 99% of officeworkers world wide. So why would you want to take a step backwards and make these poor saps use somethign that will make them hate computers even more?

    It seems a lot like cutting off your own nose to spite Microsoft's Face to me.
    • You are right on the money here, and if I had mod points today I'd mod you up. If more people actually understood the structure of the system (even simple things like directories), then there would be far fewer problems in a Win32->Linux migration. Unfortunately, I've seen too many people that read every step to save a file in Word off of a sticky-note attached to their monitor. God help them if a step doesn't give them the expected response; they're stuck until, as you say, a tech comes and straightens them out. Then it's back to the sticky-notes.

      What we really need here is a little training. Anyone(!) can learn to use a file system to keep their stuff organized and find it on their own. The vast majority of people can pick it up in under an hour of patient, hands-on instruction. But very few companies actually provide that sort of most basic training, and so their techs have to spend time getting these people back onto their little sticky-notes. Switching to Linux will present almost no problems at all, if, and ONLY IF a little basic training is provided first. But I don't believe it will take much more than that.
    • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by c_chimelis (120443)

      So why would you want to take a step backwards and make these poor saps use somethign that will make them hate computers even more?

      Perhaps we shouldn't try to make the like computers at all...maybe we should just ignore them. Put your argument into a different context for a moment and say that driving a car is too difficult for 95% of the population of the world (which it was back when cars were first around) because of the complex actions needed to drive (let's face it, to a five-year-old, there's too much to keep track of and too much to do). Now, according to your argument, we should try to make driving simpler for the average person and if we have to modify the car to do that, we should, correct? Well, then, why have cars become increasingly complex since their inception, yet many more people are capable of driving them now?

      The key is to your argument is that the average computer user's skill (and intimidation level) will always remain the same. I disagree and say that the "average user that is afraid of anything but Windows" is around 35+ years old and have much less of a "career lifespan" in today's world anyway. Eventually, the knowledge base shared by that generation will be replaced by the younger, more computer-friendly generations that have followed. It's very rare that I find kids that don't at least know (or have tried) Linux yet, but I'd be hard-pressed to find an over-40 businessman that has even heard of Linux. The key thing is, how much longer do you think the over-40 businessman will be running the show? The mentality of that generation is already fading fast and being replaced by the more technology-aware principles of the 20+ generation. My grandmother is afraid of email...should I try to make a friendly email client for her, or just write her a letter on paper? There's no need to force technology at all on those who fear it, but this is what you're attempting to do by dumbing down software in a vain attempt to satisfy the aging generation's mindset and fears. Let them use typewriters or WordPerfect, if they want...it still gets the job done for 99% of today's office tasks...as would just about any text editor (let's face it, only 8% of the Word users actually use more than just the basic functionality of the software anyway...they wouldn't care if you gave them a text editor, so long as they could bold or italicise characters, spell-check, and indent paragraphs here and there). As for me, I'd prefer something a bit more advanced because I can cope with changing technology better than most of them can.

      Times change..as does the world and the "basic" skillset of the working populace. I don't see adopting Linux as "taking a step back", as you put it, but rather in adding a bit more complexity to everyday office tasks, but it's the complexity that will eventually allow them to be even more productive than the supposedly idiot-proof MS interfaces (in other words, there are people that use more than just the basic features of MS software...for those people, it takes infinitely more time to get work done simply because MS has purposely hidden those needed, but advanced features in an effort to make it simple for the novice user). When it comes to idiot-proofing things, it just can't be done. Every time you think you've idiot-proofed something, society will come up with a bigger idiot and you will also end up alienating the more savvy users. Now, if you force the curve up a bit, then perhaps we'll actually reduce the amount of idiots rather than encouraging them to develop.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PyroMosh (287149) on Monday December 03, 2001 @03:09PM (#2649809) Homepage
        Your arguments are completely baseless and outright wrong. Cars WERE more complicated TO OPERATE when they first started to produce them. How many cars on the road today do you have to do the following to:

        Manually turn on the electrical system to crank the engine.

        Manually adjust the timing of the engine WHILE DRIVING with a spark timing lever(!)

        Manually crank the engine (!)

        Manually shift gears (some)

        Manually operate a choke (most of you'll probably ask what that is)

        Wait for the car to "warm up" (recommended but not necessary for most cars on the road today)

        Actually use a parking brake. (most people with automatics never use them any more)

        Just for fun, try going here [hfmgv.org]to try and go through the steps of starting a Ford Model T. A bit more involved than just getting in your car, turning the key, putting it in gear and going, isn't it?
        Now, to address the statement that cars have gotten more complicated. In a sense they have. But only in unnecessary things. Not to operate. The oldest car I've owned was an '81 Chevy Camaro. My current car is a '97 Olds Aurora. Let's compare the two:

        The Camaro had a carburetor. It was finicky to run and to start. It had drum brakes that needed to be adjusted from time to time. It had a coolant system that had to be changed every 40,000 miles. Oil, every 5000.

        Now my Aurora, by contrast has a modern sequential fuel injection system. I don't have to give it gas to start it. I don't have to let it warm up or worry about it stalling (but it's a good idea to anyway for reasons outside the scope of this post). I believe the recommended interval for coolant changes is 100,000 miles. Oil is something like 7500 miles, *but* the really cool thing compared to my Camaro is that it *tells me* when to do these things. It has a computer on board that takes into account how many miles I've driven AND how hard those miles were (city / highway). Then it lets me know when to do these things. I still don't listen to them, I change my oil every 3000 - 5000, but it's certainly a more complex system that is more simple for the end user.

        What else is more complicated about my Aurora? The onboard computer has lots of features for calculating fuel mileage, ETAs, etc. But do you need to know how to use it to drive the car? No, not at all. Even the switch for the power seats is simpler than the manual levers in the Camaro. The seat switch is in the shape of a seat: _/ just push the part of the seat in the direction you want it to go and the seat moves. The car turns the lights on for you when it's dark out. IT has power mirrors which are a lot easier to use than rolling down the windows and adjusting them manually, I could go on and on...

        The only things the newer Aurora adds to the complexity are things that you can pretend don't even exist and still be able to drive the car. (The computer for instance)

        The point is that GM and Ford and Toyota, and everyone else are making cars simpler to use. Many cars can't be had with a manual transmition any more. I know of no major production cars built since the Jeep CJ5 (I believe 1986 was the last year) that can't be had with an automatic in some trim level. And The CJ5 was a special case since it's wheelbase was too short.

        Next to address the notion that old people don't understand computers, young people do. Why I must agree that the number of youth that embrace technology vs. the number of older generations is disproportionate, it's not nearly as much so as you are assuming.

        A couple of months ago, I would have agreed with you, but something changed my mind.

        A couple months ago, my best friend who works for Bristol Meyers Squib as a Java / Perl programmer / general intranet developer. Built himself an Athlon box. When he did that, he decided to send his old Celeron box, which had served him though college to his younger brother who's about 14 and is a very bright kid. He packed it up and mailed it to him. About a week or two later, he got a call from the young lad. Apparently he was upset because in the state the box was sent to him, java was turned off. This upset him as he was used to going to certain sites to play java Tetris or some such nonsense. Well, my friend refused to tell him how to turn it back on. Saying instead to figure it out for himself. He never did. He just gave up. It's still not on.

        This kid isn't alone. My ex-girlfriend is currently going to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University studying Aerospace Engineering (literally rocket science). When Napster shut down, she ran to me to help her find MP3s. With much reluctance, I set up a Gnutella client for her. She had trouble using it. Then when ERAU blocked whatever port it used, she was completely lost. She no longer downloads MP3s. She's 19 years old and quite bright. But she's lost when it comes to computers.

        I don't know where you are meeting all these kids that swarm all over Linux, but it sure isn't anywhere *I've* ever lived. Most kids today think they're "leet" by using macro programs in AOL chat rooms. Why? Because a big percentage of kids today aren't evolving beyond AOL. Let alone ditching windows for Linux.

        These examples above serve to illustrate a trend:
        15 or so years ago, being computer literate meant knowing how to program. Then it meant understanding a command line file system. Then it meant being able to navigate a GUI. It's rapidly reaching the point where it will mean being able to use a handful of standard applications such as AOL, Office, and Solitaire.

        You're anti-Microsoft bias comes through loud and clear in your post. Wake up!!! This isn't *about* Microsoft. Making things easy for the novice user isn't something only Microsoft is trying to achieve. It's something EVERY software company with a product aimed at the novice user are trying to achieve. If they're not, they're fools. It just so happens that Microsoft is one of the leaders in that field with OSes. Weather it's because Windows is what people are used to, or weather it really is more intuitive is debatable, of course.

        You're right, times *do* change. But you're absolutely backwards in your assertation that making things harder will encourage people to learn more and will make people embrace a technology. There is a difference between core usability and extended feature sets. The idea, weather you're designing a car or an OS is to make the basic usability foremost and s-i-m-p-l-e. Then you can start adding bells and whistles so long as they are not necessary to use the basic product.

    • Re:Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

      Why is everyone trying to shoehorn Linux into something it's bad at?

      This just plain isn't true. The basic structure of Linux is so versatile that it can be used anywhere for anything. Perhaps the user interface leaves something to be desired for the completely clueless, but my parents and grandparents could be given a Redhat 7.2 CD and be running it by the next day, no problem.

      Windows architecture isn't what makes it clueless-friendly, it's the pretty picture they put overtop. It would be trivial to make KOffice always point to a "My Documents" folder in the user's home. To steal an example from a previous poster, is it any harder to have a sticky-note that says
      K-Menu -> StarOffice -> Word
      To Save : File (up at the top) -> save

      than the windows equivalent?

      If that's all people want from a system, I don't think that it's anything that Linux can't handle. No, it's no better than Windows for these applications, but it *is* cost-effective, which was one of the main thrusts of th article.
  • I'm all for fully Unix/*BSD/Linux systems, including the desktop (although I still think MS Office, as much as I hate it is more user/idiot friendly than most offerings like StarOffice or KOffice).
    A business running all *Nix actually not to hard to achieve now, provided that your business is the type that isn't heavily reliant on users who must use Office like their lives depend on it.

    Unfortunately, most of the struggle is getting Linux/*BSD/Unix systems integrated with existing networks and programs - especially those which have been touched by Microsoft's embrace and extend philosophy, or run on a closed protocol, or use closed file formats.

    Many businesses are not going to start from scratch with Linux/*BSD - and are more likely to want to move piecemeal away from Windows if they decide to do so.

    As much as we'd all love Microsoft to open up their "standards" they know exactly what they're doing, and the anti-trust case doesn't look like it's going to help all that much.

    It's a bit of a Catch 22 situation, and one with shifting goal posts - but easier integration with existing systems - with projects such as SAMBA and Ximians Vapourware Exchange plugin for Evolution might are the sort of thing to persuade PHB that moving to Linux/UNIX/*BSD is easier.

    This post seems to be yet another anti-Microsoft rant - but in most cases these are the sorts of things that make life hard for people to shift their IT intrastructures - vendor lock-ins.

    But yes, moving to Linux (or other free *Nixes) has probably never been easier.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:47PM (#2648700)
    It's been done.

    Most geeks work in offices without windows. The window offices are usually reserved for upper level execs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The single biggest obstacle to Linux everywhere is specific Windows applications with no direct portable equivalent, like AutoCAD or MS-Publisher.

    These are only tip of the iceburg for linux
  • by Xzzy (111297)
    ..because I've lived it.

    A year ago I was working at a smallish startup. Cheap was king, so linux was the desktop of choice.. except for a couple PHB's who wanted their Outlook and were running NT.

    It was a hassle, day in and day out. In the interests of brevity I'll leave out details, but suffice to say that linux is NOT the best choice. This isn't to suggest that there's a "best" choice out there, I'm just saying linux is still too unstable and too quirky to make life easy for a desktop support guy.

    What you save in software costs ends up in costing support staff more in terms of headaches. "Cost" is not always defined by how hard something hits the pocketbook..
    • In the interests of brevity I'll leave out details, but suffice to say that linux is NOT the best choice.

      If you really want to make your case, you're going to have to include those details. No offense intended, but without them your argument boils down "Linux on the desktop doesn't work; just trust me."

      TheFrood

  • My "boss" (read:wife) won't consider switching to linux unless I can show her something she can use that is equivalent to Macromedia Dreamweaver. Netscape Composer didn't impress her.

    Any other options I can look into?
  • by gUmbi (95629) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:53PM (#2648749)
    It seems like every year I get infected with the pro-linux bias of slashdot and rip Windows off my machine.

    I ripped Windows off at about the same last year and installed Linux. I wasn't impressed. The desktop managers seemed slow (I was running a P3-800) and the web-browser sucked and generally, the applications weren't as good as their Windows counterparts. Not to mention that I managed to crash the system and have ext2 throw away some files.

    So, this weekend I tried it again. I ripped off Windows 2000 and installed RedHat 7.2. In one year, Linux (and Gnome / KDE) has improved ten-fold. The KDE browser rocks, KMail is very good and the ext3fs filesystem is much better. However, it still took me hours to get ADSL PPPOE and a VPN client up and running and the soundcard (VIA 8233) and tv-card (Brooktree) still don't work. Apparently, the concept of writing a device driver without patching the kernel is still impossible even though Windows/Mac have been doing it for many years. And the system (now an Tbird-1.33) is still slower than Windows 2K (ex., the mouse gets jerky when my apps thrash the disk).

    I'm a developer, so I'm thinking of writing support for some of these things (such as an easy VPN installer). Or, maybe a universal driver installer that would automagically patch the kernel and say 'You must reboot now', ala Windows. But the thought of having to support different distributions and versions makes me cringe.

    Alot of the problems in Windows can be attributed to Microsoft trying to be backwards-compatible. But with Linux, the kernel and major libraries (ie. glibc) are always changing underneath your feet. This is a major design flaw that I not sure can ever be rectified.

    Jason.
    • You *can* install drivers in linux without rebooting. They're called kernel modules. You can either download an rpm with a collection, or else compile the exact modules you need from the kernel source tree. No rebooting required, in most cases.

      You do have a good point about ease of install, though. For systems that are in the M$ databases, the installer wizards are pretty slick.

    • And the system (now an Tbird-1.33) is still slower than Windows 2K (ex., the mouse gets jerky when my apps thrash the disk).

      My system (PII-350, 192M RAM, KDE 2.2.1) has never done that. Do you have enough memory? Large swap space on its own partition?

      In fact, the only reason I've considered getting a faster system in the past few years is because vmware runs Windows a bit slow on this one. If your 1.33 GHz system can't handle disk reads/writes without slowing down, something is probably misconfigured.

      Note that I'm not trying to convince you linux is better than Windows. Use whatever meets your needs. I use both.

      -Legion

    • Apparently, the concept of writing a device driver without patching the kernel is still impossible even though Windows/Mac have been doing it for many years.

      In other words, they offer the same functionality as modprobe by dynamically loading kernel modules. Guess what - your Linux install has been capable of doing that for years now.

    • Others have said it, but I'll add:

      I run a Celeron 433 with 320 of RAM. Can't remember swap size. I run sshd, samba, apache, and a few other things (all with only one client). I had been using Progeny and now use Debian Potato. I run KDE 2.x Things seem fine. The only time things really bogged down was when working with a 10 MB image in gimp. (That was when I had 192 megs of ram. Things are better, but not perfect with 320). My root partition and /home are reiser. /boot is ext2.

      So, maybe you are having problems. Or, maybe you are more picky than I am. I DO admit that on my wife's K6/2-233 with 32MB, things are a bit slow. Slow enough that I'm thinking T-Bird, and she gets the handme down Celeron.

      I used to have a BT848 tv tuner card of some sort. Worked okay, but I uninstalled it, figuring that TV is better watched on the 36" screen in the living room.

      PPPOE? Simple. Roaring Penguin. I believe it is mentioned frequently in the HOW-TO's. I dl'ed it before needing it. Installed per directions. Been working for months with Verizon. (That's at work. I have Comcast at home. Had to recompile the kernel. I originally had the ethernet compiled in, which was fine with one card, but it didn't like to do two cards. Had to load as modules, it seems. Of course, if I hadn't put in a custom kernel in the first place, I wouldn't have had that problem.)
  • my office (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hyperstation (185147) on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:59PM (#2648785)
    windows clients, i can live with it. however, samba has evolved to the point where it's a better domain master than NT, so NT is gone. all of the other misc servers (mail, a few databases, web) are linux. everyone can use the databases from windows with the simple ODBC drivers and our custom VB (ack) programs. everyone is happy. i am happy.
  • yet again (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2001 @12:59PM (#2648792)
    this is getting old. how many times are we going to go over this?

    - the people reading slashdot are not the ones who need convincing, this audience is well aware of the capabilities of linux.

    - if you need articles like this to convince your boss, you don't know enough about linux and wouldn't be able to implement this type of solution.

    thank you, good night.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:03PM (#2648821)
    is getting it to work with all the hardware. by the time i got all my stuff configured on my own systems, my head was swimming. hunting down drivers on google and editing config files by hand was very educational, but not particularly speedy. when i imagine doing the same for every machine in even a small organization, my head wants to explode.

    of course you could just buy a machine with linux pre-installed, but then you get the choice of a dell latitude model X, or dell latitude model X. and installing linux on a machine that came with windows on it rather mitigates the lower cost argument, since you've already paid for the windows license. or you could buy individual components that have linux support and form a santa's workshop to assemble machines. again, not particularly cheap or speedy.

    so, it's not the lack of windows app alternatives that's holding linux back in the workplace, because staroffice, gimp, etc., cover 99% of what your average user would need to do. it's also not the vaunted inertia that everyone makes a big deal out of, because the interfaces for open source alternatives almost completely mimic their windows cousins. believe me, the learning curve is no higher for telling people how to use the OSS version of a spreadsheet program than the windows version itself.

    imho, once it's as easy to get linux running on a given machine as it is windows, the major obstacle to moving your business platform from windows to linux will be gone. until then, all the security, stability, and financial arguments in the world are not going to outweigh the perceived headache of having all your tech staff running around for years trying to get the workstations config'd properly.
  • by Animats (122034) on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:09PM (#2648861) Homepage
    There's no open-source software replacement for PowerPoint. I'd suggest writing an authoring tool for Macromedia Flash format, which is openly documented. Then you can show the same content on web pages and presentations, or run the presentation from a browser. The files would be much smaller than PowerPoint, too. For some wierd reason, PowerPoint files are huge.

    It's a good open source project. The initial version doesn't have to support animation, but design in the hooks, and it will probably be added by others. Perl code to read and write Flash exists, so there's something to look at. A good student programming project.

    • by Moritz Moeller - Her (3704) <mmhNO@SPAMgmx.net> on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:59PM (#2649290)
      Both OpenOffice Impress and kpresenter are stable mature applications that can do most things a rational person would ever expect in a presentation.

      So if you write
      " There's no open-source software replacement for PowerPoint."
      you are right. There is not one, there are TWO GPL apps to replace powerpoint.

      Now if I look at the fact that SVG is a vector format (not a presentation format) and the fact that openoffice641 opens all ridiculous powerpoint stuff I get mailed by people, I think you should look harder before you propoese new projects to other people.

      See http://www.openoffice.org and http://www.koffice.org for the apps.
    • StarOffice makes PowerPoint-type slide shows, no problem. Saves them in .ppt format, opens .ppt format, even. I've given *many* "Linux on the Desktop" demonstrations to Windows users whose Linux-loving friends have told them (falsely) that there is no way to make/present slideshows in Linux. They are always surprised when I show them slides and, if time permits, make a few as part of my demo to show them how easy it is.

      I also have trouble with the people who run around saying Flash Web pages won't open in Linux. They do for me, no problem. Netscape + Flash plugin.

      I use Linux to perform common home and office computing tasks all day, every day, without even thinking about it. Right now my net connection is through a Wavelan card that worked "out of the box" with no fuss in Mandrake 8.0.

      What am I doing wrong with Linux? Apparently there is *something* I haven't figured out that makes Linux hard to use. I have grandchildren who use Linux without any problem (we're talking five years old). My wife's great aunt, who is in her 90s, learned how to make at least minimal use of Netscape on Linux in a few minutes. Her biggest problem is that arthritis makes it hard for her to type.

      Perhaps what I'm doing wrong is using point/click "user friendly" distributions like Mandrake and SuSE. Yeah, that's it! Maybe if I dump this silly X Window thingie and use Slack from the command line only, I'll have trouble performing simple home/office tasks with Linux.

      Now, I can see an ubergeek sysadmin or developer trying to teach a bunch of journalists or other non-tech people how to type in a string of commands that look something like 0adsfkf($#@!) to open and edit a simple text file and getting a lot of bemused stares in return. Mr. Geek affirms his superiority, and everyone else decides Linux is too hard for them and goes back to Windows.

      My wife, an artist-type person without a tech bone in her body (psych major, spent most of her working life before she met me as an IRS clerical employee), learned to use Linux as an online working tool in (I swear) less than two hours.

      I mentioned my wife's great aunt. She's black, she grew up in rural poverty, only got through 4th grade, and has been a cleaning woman/maid for damn near her entire life. When I hear someone with a college degree, working in a white collar job, complain about Linux being hard to use, something is wrong with either the person doing the complaining or the person who taught them.

      But to each their own. I am not as smart as most Slashdot readers, so I have to do things the simplest way, not the most technically elegant, and I have learned to accept the fact that this makes me uncool, even though it allows me to get one hell of a lot of work done in Linux without having to know very much about what's happening behind the monitor screen,

      - Robin
  • The main problem is financial capital. First off, most companies lease their offices, and I'd expect, can't afford not to. Larger companies that own their campuses are less likely to try something so radical, unless there's a specific purpose to doing so (testing light sensitive products or something-- but why in an office setting?).

    If the money is there, simply give your contractors that are either modifying or building your office building instructions not to include any windows.

    More economically, you could try putting tin foil over the windows. If you put the foil on the inner panel on the inside and the foil on the outer panel on the outside, you can even open the window if you wish. If that defeats your purpose, put bars on the windows.
  • It Worked For Us (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bamm (244595)
    Our small initiative started out using systems that could no longer support the corporate desktop. Our workstations run Linux, as does the main server (uptime of 132 days BTW). Our Firewall, VPN Concentrator, and IDSs are FreeBSD. Our lone, non-opensource system is a sparc/solaris DB server. We still keep dual boot laptops around for PowerPoint (StarOffice still doesn't render PPT well), although I cannot remember the last time I had to boot into Windows. Linux and FreeBSD have migrated to the local corporate side of the house too, recently replacing the mail server, web server, name servers, and BDC. It seems the biggest obstacle facing our admins in getting Linux to the local corporate desktop is a true standards based document exchange.
  • I have a corner office and found that thick canvas curtains provide a decent substitute for a windowless office.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Riiight...

    When will you stuck up geeks realize that 90% of "REAL" office workers (those that work in education, state agencies, insurance offices, etc.) are still confused by e-mail.
    My god, just the other day it took me 45 minutes to explain the difference between Outlook and Eudora to a guy.
    Most people barely understand the concept of a left-click and a right-click. Calling Linux or ANY of its desktops user-friendly is complete bs.

    Do us all a favor and keep Linux on servers where it belongs.
  • The article mentions lower total operating costs, but then goes on to say that they installed win4lin / vmware to get windows compatiblity.

    Think about that for a moment.

    How can windows + linux be cheaper than just windows?
    • It's not. What the article was really replacing was MS Office. They could have just as easily simply installed the Windows version of StarOffice and the Gimp. They called it a Linux comparison because Linux still rakes in the hits.

      The only real reason to run Linux desktops is if you are planning to leverage X Windows and use thin clients. Saving money on client licenses is good. Saving money by lowering administration costs is golden.

  • The single biggest obstacle to Linux everywhere is specific Windows applications with no direct portable equivalent, like AutoCAD...

    I can't say that disappoints me really, I personally hate AutoCAD. Granted, it's as easy as anything else once you've learned it, but it's the most difficult software to learn that I've ever worked with, and I've never been able to get the alleged 3-D design tools to work. All in all, I can't say no AutoCAD is a bad thing. I know AutoCAD has it's place, but for what I do (mechanical design) it's only the tool of choice for Engineers who are too old to learn a new software package. I do like the option of a CLI, but that's the only positive point I can think of.

    I recall, though, that AutoCAD used to be available for Unix, and many of the CLI commands are named after standard *nix commands. Is this not still the case?

    I haven't used it since R14, so my info may be a bit out of date...

  • by bmeiers (191662)

    I think that the major hurdle to overcome in the transition to an all Linux office environment is the office worker who does not want to learn.

    I have actually heard people say that they "can't use Macintosh, because I only have experience with Windoze".

    Equating lack of knowledge with lack of ability is a fallacy that many users allow themselves to fall into.

    Managers are aware that their is a learning curve, and a lack of desire to learn, so they will often avoid making changes that may cause the lowest common denominator (office drone) to stress.

  • by Bikku (531345) on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:49PM (#2649191) Homepage
    (dons PHB beancounting suit)

    Things "get into" the office environment when they make business sense to do so. Which happens when the benefits exceed the costs, the reward exceeds the risk, and when these are exceeded by an amount greater than the next best alternative.

    In the case of office platforms, the big "corporate IT" issue re this analysis in representing the complete true costs - Total Cost of Ownership - which includes the relative expense of good Unix sysadmins or the cost of retraining Win admins (clue injection), the cost of managing the environments, the cost of supporting moronic end users, the costs of reduced application availability (sure you can have a nice GUI, but where's the Linux industrial-strength Accounts Payable system?), or of building interfaces to whatever the rest of the world uses (eg., the cost of reverse engineering .doc format for word processing). The actual cost of the OS (free beer) is almost irrelevant.

    On the risk side, corporate IT departments value stability of the infrastructure above all. So, the corporate IT folks are herd-following conformists. No one will move to Linux office until everyone else does. And there will have to be a huge TCO advantage before that inertia gets overcome.

    It's actually a rational position, but not very cool or fun. Sticking with the herd, and moving en masse with the herd has advanatges. The herd is big enough that it gets what it wants: robust techinical support, business applications developed for the platform of their choice, peer groups and conferences in Boca Raton, whatever.

    Of course, you lose out on the advanatges of doing something different/better than competitors. It all depends on what you value more.

    (PHB off)

    Just kidding of course. This was posted from a Linux system hiding in a 50,000 person company.

  • File compatibility (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ChrisWong (17493) on Monday December 03, 2001 @01:52PM (#2649216) Homepage
    I'm surprised the article does not even try to address the basic issue of file compatibility. Fact is, a normal office would have tons of documents in MS Word or Excel files. Excel is a complex and powerful piece of software: people write applications in it complete with menus and buttons. I know document conversion programs exist, but they never do a good job even with simple documents, let alone mega-apps-in-Excel and such. In addition, your business partners, suppliers and clients will want to collaborate with you using Word/Excel/PowerPoint files, and you are not in a position to dictate what they use. This is the reality of business. Even if you want to switch, and even if suitable Linux apps are available, you may not be able to.

    Besides, StarOffice is a bloated monster.

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