Linux - The good alternative for home-users and micro companies

  • During the spring of 2004 I helped 12 micro-companies to get Linux up & running on their computers.


    The basic reason for it was that they felt that they couldn’t afford to upgrade their computers and their software just because a new version of MS Windows and MS Office hit the market. Of course, an alternative was to maintain the present hardware and the present versions but some of them had experienced problems with the “multiple version” -situation. To be honest, among this group some of them used illegal copies of both MS Windows and MS Office.


    It was also an ongoing discussion if they could take full advantage of MS Office visavi. The price they needed to pay for the software also made them to decide to move from the Windows-platform to Linux, i e they were not able to identify any special needs that supported the use of the Windows-platform.


    They kept the present computers and made an investment in Linux as their mutual platform together with an introduction course for running Linux and the Office suite.


    I’ve privately been using Linux for nearly 2 years now and both my wife and our children are using Linux on their home-computers. We decided to use Linux since we can’t afford to use MS-software at home and we don’t want to use illegal copies of any products. The present needs do not support the use of advanced software at home.


    The two mentioned situations above sum up the background to this post about using a Linux-platform as an alternative to the Windows-platform for home-users and micro-companies.


    The post itself should not be treated as a contribution to the ongoing debate Windows vs Linux and is per se not a criticism of Microsoft’s software.


    Operatingsystem
    The first things we need to decide about are which so called distributions we should install. Today there exists many different packages and among the most popular ones are Red Hat, Suse, Mandrakelinux and Debian. Most distributions offer an easy GUI to install the operating system with, unless we use some very specific hardware the installation itself shouldn’t be a problem.


    If we are experienced computer-users and have some basic knowledge about Linux then Debian would be a good alternative. However, most users will be satisfied with a less advanced distribution and I recommend to use Mandrakelinux and also to buy a commercial license of it rather than downloading the free version of it.


    One special nice thing about Linux is that we can choose a Desktop Enviroment (i e the GUI), personally I prefer to use KDE. Please take a minute to view some screenshots here:
    http://www.kde.org/screenshots/kde320shots.php. It also includes a good browser, Konqueror, which is also a filemanager.


    The more common distributions allow you to choose between KDE and Gnome so there is no additional software to install to get the options.


    Creating PDF-files does not put a demand that we have separate software for it as the following screenshot shows: http://www.kde.org/screenshots/images/3.2/snapshot29.png


    For more information about Mandrakelinux please see (free / commercial):
    http://www.mandrakelinux.com


    Office Suite


    StarOffice (Commercial)
    StarOffice is perhaps the most wellknown suite for Linux and it’s also available for other platforms as well.


    It includes good softwares for word-processing, calculations, presentations and so on. For some versions, a personal database-software is shipped with it.


    From my point of view this is the best choice for micro-companies while for home-users the KOffice and Open-Office are better alternatives.


    For more information about StarOffice please see:
    http://wwws.sun.com/software/star/staroffice/



    KOffice (Free)
    My personal favorite among the Office-suites!


    It includes many good types of software like KWord, Kspread, KPresenter, KOrganizer, Kivio, Karbon 14, Krita, KPlato, KFormula and KChart. It also includes a very nice e-mail client software, KMail..


    For more information about KOffice please see: http://www.koffice.org/


    OpenOffice (Free)
    This is the free version of StarOffice. The main differences between OpenOffice and StarOffice are that those with OpenOffice don’t get any startbook, less options for spellchecking and some picture-libraries are not shipped with the free version.


    For more information about OpenOffice please see.
    http://www.openoffice.org


    All three Office-suites are excellent and are easy to use. You will be surprised how much of your knowledge and skills with Excel that can be used with the spreadsheet-software!


    The spreadsheet-softwares can both read and save to Excel-files, however they can´t handle VBA.


    GNumeric
    I must mention a cool and an excellent standalone spreadsheet-software and that is GNumeric.


    This is indeed an upcoming tool for spreadsheets and the creators/developers have done great work so far:


    http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric/index.shtml


    It has even more built-in functions then what MS Excel have and propably ever will have.


    Highly recommended to check out and use :)


    PIM/E-mail
    The available office-suites do not always include softwares for PIM (Personal Information Management) and E-mail and therefore we may need to use a standalone program for it.


    The one I would like to recommend is the Novell Evolution, which includes e-mail, contacts, schedule, calendering etc and it’s also free to use. But this recommendation is only to be followed if you turn down KOffice ;). (See the following printscreen:
    http://www.kde.org/screenshots/images/3.2/snapshot14b.png)


    For more information about Novell Evolution please see here:
    http://www.novell.com/products/evolution/


    Note: The installation process may be difficult to do, so consider getting some help to solve it smoothly.

    E-mailclients are also shipped with different kind of browsers so if your needs is to only to send & receive e-mails then other software may be an alternative, like Opera (Commercial) (http://www.opera.com/) and Mozilla (free) (http://www.mozilla.org/).


    Images & Photos
    A large number of software exists for these kind of needs and personaly I prefer to use The GIMP (which is also available for free for the Windows-platform)


    For more information about it please see here: http://www.gimp.org/


    Datastorage
    The #1 database in the Linux-World is the swedish MySQL.


    Another great database is Mimer SQL, which is also from Sweden like MySQL.


    MySQL (Free for private use)
    http://www.mysql.com


    Mimer SQL (Free for developing and test purposes)
    http://developer.mimer.se/


    OK, since both mentioned databases are from Sweden it may have had some impact on me for deciding which ones to choose. But apart from this relation they are very good for the average user.


    I would like to mention the abbreviation "LAMP" here which stands for Linux - Apache - MySQL - PHP. The concept represent one of the most frequent solution for running a database on the web.


    Running MS Excel on Linux?
    The CrossOver Office offers us a chance to run our favorite software on Linux. It’s a cool and easy tool to use and I must admit I was surprised to see how well it works. The only objection I have for this tool is the price and therefore I find it a bit of a luxury to use. It also requires a legal copy of MS Excel.


    For more information about CrossOver Office (commercial) please see:
    http://www.codeweavers.com/site/products/



    #The end
    Life is too short to spend on computers so turn them off and try to enjoy the real life as well!


    Welcome to the Linux-world!