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On The Desktop

Time and Space:  Having just returned to my Houston home from Colorado where I chaired the Colorado Linux Info Quest for the 2nd year, I'm swamped with ideas on what to write this week while left with little time to do real research. So while I lacked the time to find the news, I still have the space to fill, as always.

We received word this week regarding Hewlett Packard's announcement that drivers for their Deskjet series of inkjet printers would be available for use in the Ghostscript package.

These drivers aren't quite free software, but they're pretty close. The major restriction is that the code can only be used with HP products.

(Thanks to Andrea Fogazzi for this note.)

This is welcome news in the desktop world of Linux, since printing still remains a bit of a mystical function. HP isn't the first to offer drivers en masse, however. Oki Data and IBM announced printer drivers back in February for Oki's line of impact printers. Theses drivers were also created in support of the Ghostscript package.

Another printer maker with good Linux support is Lexmark, who announced support for their inkjet printers last year. Their web site does a reasonable job making those drivers available, as long as you include "Linux" along with your printer model when you search for your driver.

Printer driver support is a first step towards better printing on Linux desktops, but without a strong frontend, users will be stuck with the configuration nightmare that is Ghostscript. Fortunately, most distributions are providing Ghostscript (and other) drivers ready to go and applications making use of CUPS, such as the GIMP Print Plug-In will take printing to the level end users are demanding.

And my new desktop will be... (ZDNet). The author of this opinion piece from ZDNet News thinks Linux (or Unix in general) makes for a bad desktop choice. "The simple truth is that Linux, and the rest of the Unix family, simply aren't popular for desktop systems. Corel, the company that tried the hardest to bring out a commercially successful desktop version of Linux, fell flat on its face despite a pretty darned good package."

I don't agree with the authors sentiment here. First, Corel made a terrible effort at bringing WordPerfect to Linux. They spent more effort on fixing WINE than it would have taken to pull the guts from WordPerfect and stick it inside a native X interface such as GTK+ or Qt. Second, it assumed that the failure of Corel, who's success in the Windows world was marginal at best anyway, was a measure of how popular Linux would be as a desktop system. Perhaps Corel just did a bad job of making a product for an emerging market.

Linux doesn't have as many users as Windows or even (perhaps) Apple. But its growth rate is much higher than these two established players, and not all of those new users are running their boxes as servers. The Linux desktop is just emerging from its techy childhood. In time, it will mature to a system that even your grandmother will love.

High speed hotels  One final note before I get into the weekly news of note. This past two months I've done a lot of traveling, attempting on at least three occasions to use the high speed access provided by the big name hotels where I stayed. Unfortunately, not all high speed access is created equal. Both Hilton and Marriott hotels in Denver use the STSN (stsn.com) service. In both cases it took numerous calls to the support line to find out I needed a static IP number and hard coded DNS services. Rumors have it that DHCP from a Linux box was crashing the STSN servers located at the hotel. On one occasion the STSN support told me that the entire hotel was down - and it took 24 hours to bring it back up. Even then, I had to route mail through my own co-located server. AmeriSuites, on the other hand, uses a service from CAIS (cais.com) which requires simple DHCP configuration and a login to their web site to get started.

The moral of the story: if you travel with your Linux laptop, be prepared to set up static IP routing and have a backup mail relay available.

Desktop Environments

There was plenty of news from the GNOME front this week, including the release of the next major version of the complete GNOME environment, while KDE made it's splash, through the enthusiastic presentation of Kurt Granroth, at the Colorado Linux Info Quest.

GNOME 1.4 Released. The much ballyhooed release of GNOME 1.4 was made official this past week. Along with the much anticipated inclusion of Nautilus, the GNOME file manager from Eazel, GNOME 1.4 has added better support and interoperability with KDE and legacy X applications and made the Sawfish window manager a standard part of GNOME. Medusa, the search and indexing tool, was dropped from this release though the press release says it is included.

New version of GNOME desktop set to go (ZDNet). Wasting little time after the public release, ZDNet took an in depth look at the new GNOME 1.4. 'Not included in this release, but coming out in the next few months, is the Evolution mail client, currently in beta. "It also has much of the functionality of Microsoft's Outlook, like calendaring and scheduling," [GNOME release coordinator Maciej] Stachowiak said. "Other things you'll see are a lot more fit-and-finish and polish and usability features throughout the desktop."'

Eazel making its way forward in a sea of change (LinuxPower). While GNOME 1.4 became available this past week, Eazel kept a much lower profile, hoping to downplay criticisms of the 1.0 launch of Nautilus. Eazel's ups and downs are the subject of this LinuxPower interview with Eazel's Bart Decrem, Darin Adler, Ken Kocienda and Maciej Stachowiak. Decrem commented on the recent hiring of John Harper, the main author of Sawfish. "We hired John because we were really impressed with his work on Sawfish but also because we are very interested in the applications that affect the core desktop, and obviously the window manager is an important part of that. Having John on our team means that we don't have to worry about the file manager and the window manager fighting over who gets to draw the desktop, for example."

Digital baroque (Economist). And speaking of Nautilus, The Economist posted a story comparing the upcoming Windows XP and Mac OS X interfaces. While these two "baroque cathedrals" maintain strong user shares, the Economist thinks that Nautilus might be a better solution when it comes to handling upgrades. The only question is whether Eazel can establish and maintain a working business model for open source. "Nautilus is a snazzy graphical desktop environment for Linux, the free operating system developed by programmers collaborating over the Internet. Eazel, the Silicon Valley firm behind the software, hopes to make Linux easier to use than the Mac OS or Windows, and thus to boost Linux?s share of the desktop market above its current 1%. Eazel is giving away Nautilus, but hopes to make money by charging users for services such as online storage, regular backups and--cleverest of all--automated software upgrades."

KDE 2.2 Release Plan (Revised). Waldo Bastian, release manager for KDE 2.2, posted a revised schedule for the KDE 2.2 core applications. The first Beta release is due May 14th, to be followed by a June 18th Beta 2. Final release for 2.2 is set for July 16, but that is very dependent on the success of the beta releases.

Office Applications

KOffice 1.1 release schedule. The KOffice web site has posted its own partial plans for the version 1.1 release schedule. The first beta set for April 12th and the second for May 21st, though the schedule doesn't go past that as of now.

Corel adds tips for WordPerfect on Linux. Corel has added a few tips for using WordPerfect on Linux to their web site.

Desktop Applications

Parallax concludes purchase of VistaSource from Applix. A press release posted to the Applix web site states that VistaSource, the makers of the ApplixWare office suite, is now officially a Parallax company. No details were given on the future of the ApplixWare office suite. Email sent to the listed company and public relations contacts asking for clarification provided no responses. We'll just have to wait and see.

Aethera 0.9.1 for KDE. While no formal press release has been published, Apps.KDE.com noted the release of Aethera 0.9.1 from theKompany.com. According to theKompany's web site, this release includes IMAP and MBOX support as well as a number of UI and back end bug fixes.

Kapital Finance Manager for KDE updated. Similarly, theKompany posted an updated version of Kapital to their website. Kapital is a finance manage for KDE.

GIMP-Perl Tutorial updated (GIMP News). Alex Hartford, author of "GIMP Essential Reference", has updated his online tutorial for writing Perl scripts for GIMP.

GTK+ based Sketch 0.7.8 released. After a modestly long (as these things go) development process, Sketch author Bernhard Herzog has announced the first development release of Sketch running under GTK+. While we look forward to the GTK+ version, it wasn't too happy compiling under the same Python environment the 0.6 version worked under.

Talking about the desktop...

.comment: The Developers Haven't Heard (LinuxPlanet). Right before GNOME 1.4 hit the streets, LinuxPlanet took a closer look at KDE. Their opinion: KDE is just the right tool for the average user, even if distributions are only targeting businesses. "The printing issue is being addressed in what looks to be a very robust fashion through a new printing architecture contributed by Michael Goffioul. The Kprinter class seems to effectively replace Qprinter. It's based on plugins and is accompanied by a printer management tool. The library itself is split into core and management parts. It is very CUPS-friendly (indeed, CUPS was the first system to receive full plugin support, and CUPS is good enough, and freely available, so an obvious solution for many if not all users is simply to get and install it), but the hooks are there for any other print engine, spooler, or system one wants and is willing to hack his or her way toward."

Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel

April 5, 2001

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