Making Linux More Livable

Caldera's OpenLinux Base can be a pretty nice first Linux but it's still not for beginners

By Tom Yager
BYTE

July 1997

Linux might be considered Unix-for-geeks-with-PCs, but it has suffered from Unix's traditional obscurities and drawbacks. And if you don't already know this popular OS and aren't keen on spending several days learning about it, Linux can be a bit frightening. But the trouble people have with Linux has little to do with the software itself; Linux is as sturdy an OS as you'll find anywhere, provided you stick with well-tested versions and keep your patches current.

Caldera is one of a small number of companies (Red Hat being about as well known) that are attempting to package Linux for the masses. Caldera's packaged Linux distributions, all of which are enhanced with commercial software, sell under the OpenLinux banner.

The company plans to offer four levels: Lite (freeware), Base, Standard (for Internet/intranet servers), and Deluxe, a complete application server solution. For this review, only OpenLinux Base 1.0 was available, although at press time Caldera announced that Base 1.1 and Standard 1.1 versions were shipping.

The OpenLinux Base CD is bootable, which makes OpenLinux installation a snap if your BIOS supports it. My test system had an Adaptec 2940 SCSI controller, which recognized the CD and had Linux fully booted in approximately 15 seconds.

Installation of OpenLinux Base is easier than for any other Linux I've used. There are still minefields for the uninitiated, however. It gave me some trouble over my system's mix of integrated development environment (IDE) and SCSI controllers, for instance. Hardware probes try to find all your installed devices. But if they fail to find everything, you have to kick off more-detailed probes, a feature that is poorly documented in the manual. Finally, hard-disk-partitioning software can be rough; OpenLinux Base would benefit from an automatic-default layout and a friendlier partitioning tool.

Once it's running, OpenLinux Base includes some marvelous commercial features; the Visix LookingGlass graphical desktop, the Metro-X X Window System server from Metrowerks, the CrispLite editor, and a licensed copy of Netscape Navigator 2.02 are all standard. Caldera has also licensed software from Linux System Technologies that eases installation and administration. These enhancements give OpenLinux Base a slicker, more professional feel than some of its competitors.

OpenLinux Base performed reasonably well in my tests. The LookingGlass graphical shell relies too heavily on unlabeled icons, forcing you to look up their meanings. The small manual looks nicer than most Linux books, but it lacks the material new users need to make a comfortable start. And technical information can be a little hard to find on Caldera's Web site.

At $59, OpenLinux Base qualifies as an impulse buy. Its commercial enhancements make it an excellent place to begin using and learning Linux. Caldera ships only one CD-ROM, so you might also want one of the many inexpensive, multidisc Linux distributions to round out your software library.

New Linux users will find OpenLinux Base friendlier than other Linux distributions. However, you'll still need plenty of time and some good third-party documentation. It wouldn't hurt to have a geek handy, either.


Product Information

OpenLinux Base 1.0......................$59

Caldera, Inc. Provo, UT
Phone:    801-229-2675
Fax:      801-229-1579
Internet: 
http://www.caldera.com

Enter 977 on Inquiry Card.

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Not For Beginners

OpenLinux offers a full-featured windowing environment that GUI-oriented users will welcome.

 

Tom Yager is a freelance writer in north Texas. You can reach him at mailto:tyager@maxx.net.

 

Copyright 1997 CMP Media LLC,