Linux, and the Path to the Desktop

There are enormous amounts of information now available about evaluating, and examining Linux for the desktop. Almost every vendor/distribution is making pitches for the desktop. The quality of the software has improved, and continues to improve. In my personal tests, there are still some missing elements that I thought I would convey to you the reader. Some of my points may have answers, and solutions available. I may not be aware of them
however, so be aware of this and I look forward to your responses in the comments area below the article.

Editorial notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of

Most of what I have seen in terms of Linux on the desktop, is the rough
guide to removing an OS, with a view to replacing with Linux/Other OS or
duel booting a box, and running the system. There is really no coverage in
the areas I am about to mention, and perhaps it is overlooked by many. But
it is very key to how successful Linux will actually be in the longer term.
In a moment I will provide a kind of rough overview about how companies
handle Windows, and installation and rollout of Windows, both to user and
customer. This is a vital element which I think has been overlooked and from
a business point of view, I think its one of the reasons people set aside
the plus points of Linux and stay with Windows.

Lets start with the suppliers. Lets see how the industry works currently.
You have the dominant player in the market.

You have the people who provide the systems.
Dell, HP, OEM, Other.

Microsoft works with a carrot and a stick method of getting the synergy so
it works in their favour. They offer the system builder the chance to use a
product they want to sell. But in addition, they offer extensive, and huge
assistance with handling of such products. They offer the tools, and
software that allows system builders to work with the OS. In terms of
special builds, drivers, specialist support and other areas such as joint
marketing, and product development. In return you will see aggressive
tactics such as not allowing the OEM to ship boxes without an OS. One of the
key aspects is imaging of the software, and the replication of an OS. The OS
is built for the consumer. (This applies to desktop Linux distributions).
Its easy for Dell/HP/OEM companies, and others to create a range of
computers. These computers are built and tested, and then the OS is built
and tested. Its a framework that works easily for those who then produce
thousands of systems, and simply make one or more software images of the
system that fits the need. This might include various OS options, and may
include office productivity tools, and other items.

I suspect that these companies use Norton Ghost/Other tool, for imaging, and
the excellent SYSPREP utility amongst others that Microsoft provide. SYSPREP
lets you build or install the OS and tools you desire. It then lets you
reset the machine to a factory state, you can on reboot select a plug and
play check for new hardware and regenerate the system SID, if you wish. In
additions, Microsoft also provide a bootable OS called WinPE. This is
basically the equivalent to a 32bit Windows bootable system with a shedload
of network and other drivers. Along side things like PXE enabled network
cards, BOOTP, and other standards, this gives very easy to use
packages/solutions, that allow the two parties who need these tools the
most, access to the tools that both system builders, and businesses need.

So, the OEM/Dell/HP/Other companies can build their OS, and replicate the OS
in a simple – easy to manage way. This also allows them to build the rescue
CD’s, and updates to the very images themselves in a simple, easily
manageable way.

As for business, many windows specialists simply work on the same basis. If
I have 100 users on site. And I wish to make a change to their systems, lets
say, I want to replace 3 year old systems. I talk to a supplier, Dell, HP,
whoever that may be. I talk to their business support teams. Within a few
minutes, I have a spec of machine I want, with the OS I want, with a
specific build I want. Lets say with a spec of 1 Ghz/40Gig/256mb
ram/gfx/sound/Lan + Windows XP, and Office XP. I talk to Microsoft and
within a few days I get a site license, which includes the system images of
Windows XP and Office XP that have no need to be activated. I supply the
information to my supplier and they build the boxes. Now whether I decide to
let Dell/HP/Other do the imaging, or I make a new image for my company which
we apply to our systems does not actually matter. What does matter, is that
in business I will be licensed. I have a manageable solution. With the tools
I have available, I can build a system image or update an existing system
image, and have it ready in minutes. In addition, if I do the extra legwork
myself, I can have the image so it logs on to the domain, and has all its
programs, all the domains printers setup ready from the get go. Further, I
can carry through a standard registry. If I want to lock down security,
desktop settings, internet settings, software settings, domain settings all
in a central build. I can kill of MSN messenger. I can lock the user down to
the corporate level of agreed services and systems. I can go as far as
making each users ‘My Documents’ folder reside on a server, or group of
servers, instead of the local machine.

Lets take this further, I can have the ‘My Documents folder’, and other
folders stored off the local machine. I can run an LDAP mail or MS Exchange
system which again resides off the local machine. I and the user therefore
benefit IF that local PC ever fails. By reloading an image to a new PC, or
the same PC with replacement parts I can get the user back to working
condition in very short time. You can go further. You can have roaming
profiles. The list goes on and on.

So, to look after my hundred users+ is straightforward. Yes, Windows does have some issues as all OS’s do. But that is a side issue in the real world. For the average user working in an office, they know Office, and they know
Windows. As an IT person supporting those people, it is my duty, my professional reputation that hangs in the balance. Not providing a good solution is simply not an option. But add to this, the various tools and weapons that Microsoft provide to me, my business, and my suppliers, and it is an excellent package. Its also the very same reason why I am sitting here and saying ‘Sorry, I can’t do it.. at least not yet’. Could it also be a
reason why most OEM/suppliers simply don’t offer Linux?

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe Linux has all the Ghosting, Imaging, Business and software tools to do the same as windows offers. But its not visible. It looks like its missing in action. It looks to me an outsider like it doesn’t exist. And while it doesn’t exist, at least in my sphere, its hard for me to understand just how Linux will make it fully onto the desktop, beyond the area of the enthusiast, or hobbyist. Beyond the odd server, or workstation. So you have my comment. Now I hand over to you for a moment and ask some questions:

How would a company like Dell/HP/OEM/Other support a Linux build, its updates and support at least as well as those it gets when it works with Microsoft?
How would companies who then buy those systems from the supplier be able to do the same kind of images and updates in a similar painless way?
Why does there seem to be no Linux RISprep/SYSPREP tools available to both builders and business/users with strong support from the Linux Distributions, to do this level of support?
In addition, Windows XP is remarkable in its level of recovery during replication. You can change the hardware to a greater degree than anything I have seen, and by and large it works, or can be corrected. For me, it would
take days to prepare a Linux system to such a level, and worse still, there would seem to be no easy way of offering the positive benefits of running Windows, a Windows domain, and the tools my users would wish to use, along with the problem /system recovery I get with my current setup. Do you know of a way I am not aware of?

My main caveat with the Linux desktop idea is that I am not dealing with one particular computer. And neither are hundreds and thousands of IT veterans and specialists who work with Windows, often not because its the best
technically (even though its very good), but because it is the most manageable. IT managers, IT Directors, Company bosses and boards have to deal with the reality. They have to comply with the law. They want simple,
straightforward solutions. They want business solutions and providers who do that. They want solutions and provisions that work. I have not seen a Linux
desktop that would be acceptable for me to even try and roll out in any area of the desktop. Its not that any of the software is not good enough. Its not
that its not capable. Its not that it can’t do specific targeted work. It can probably do all that. Nothing I have seen even indicates tools, and management, recovery, centrally held data storage, user control, management
and integration that I can get with Microsoft Windows.

Everything Microsoft have done ties together. From the desktop, through to domain and server. It ties in and it works. That is why people use Windows. That’s why Dell/HP/OEM/Other sell Windows. That is why most of the
corporations round the globe choose Windows. Until that is addressed, I do not see Linux making inroads on the desktop. If it was easy, it would be occurring by now. Its lack of uptake seems at least to me to be an indicator
as to why. Perhaps we need a new distribution. Lintigration might be a good name. And what would it be ? An integrated Linux solution, that ties in to a
server, offers bootable network installation, package and management solutions, user handling, data placement. Everything a ‘Professional ‘ would need from Server, Desktop, Printer, Network and integration perspective.
Linux replacements for areas like:

Central server or domain creation.
Then the ability to create images that can be delivered to any PC on the network. SYSPREP/Automated install/update across network.
Specialised routines for locking down systems, desktops, tools, data storage on the ‘domain’. System failure/recovery.
The tools for building and working with Windows desktops would be of great benefit. Its time Linux stopped looking at the desktop as an individual issue, and looked at a far more complete solution. If you can get that, the
desktop comes in range.

Myself and my fellow staff continue to evaluate Linux, and its various distributions. We have had to swallow Microsoft’s License changes and are very unhappy about it. I think that is repeated up and down companies around
the globe. But Linux doesn’t give me the tools that I need to handle the ‘desktop’ – tied and operational INTO our and other peoples business systems. Its falling short, and that’s why I thought I would post this article.

About the author:
Darren Stewart is the network manager at the Gray Cancer Research Trust. He has worked in IT for the past 10 years with systems ranging from AS/400, Unix, Microsoft Server and Desktop OS’s and systems, and for notable
companies as AXA Equity and LAW, Old Mutual, MCTWorld, Circle International, Finance and IT Expertise Ltd. He is married with an 18 month old daughter.”


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