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March 17, 1999


Conscience for the poor. Free! Most Indian PCs run illegal software. For many, honesty could only mean a free meal. Srikant Sreenivasan cooks one with open source and freeware. The open source revolution of 1998 saw Linux emerge as a strong alternative operating system that is both high on performance and free.

This in turn led to a host of applications to be ported on Linux. Consequently, Linux has now become a viable alternative to other competing systems on the desktop too.

Email this story to a friend. However, except for a few brave souls who have actually replaced Windows or Macs with Linux on their desktops, most installations of Linux run as application servers.

The freeware PC
Supercomputing centre
More Net gateways
Videoconferencing job
But the best thing about Linux is that excellent desktop applications can be had for free.

This should appeal to those who are left to choose between not having a PC or having one with illegal software on it. Now, for the first time, there is one such thing called a free meal!

Let us first draw a list of what regular PC users look for. An informal survey by this author confirmed larger statistics as to what 'typical' small-office-home-office users do. These are:

  1. Office applications such as word-processing, spreadsheets and to a lesser extent presentation and database software,
  2. Business accounting packages,
  3. Games and multimedia and
  4. Internet browsing and email.

For this kind of user base, replacing popular operating systems like MS Windows with Linux would have been quite impractical a couple of years ago.

But with the continuing maturity of Linux, many software companies have now started taking Linux seriously as an alternative platform.

Support from industry majors like IBM, HP, Oracle, Informix, Corel and Sybase have only added to Linux's momentum.

In fact, the Linux community is very much aware that to "achieve complete world domination" it is important to make Linux friendlier.

Already companies like e.IT are distributing extremely friendly versions of Linux.

As far as usability is concerned, Linux with X Window easily fits the bill.

Advanced window managers such as 'K' Desktop Environment (KDE), GNOME, Window Maker and Enlightenment give users a powerful and extremely friendly graphical interface.

Plus, unlike MS Windows that forces a user with its single interface, under X Window a user is free to change the look and feel of the interface at any time simply by replacing the window manager.

In fact, there are window managers available under X Window that mimic the MS Windows 95 interface.

Now let's take each typical SOHO application and see the Linux equivalent of it.

Office applications

There are several top-class office suites here like Applixware and StarOffice. Both Applixware and StarOffice are Commercial software. However, StarOffice is free for personal use.

If you use the KDE as your window manger, check out KOffice for a reasonably good Office Suite. Also definitely worth looking at is Siag Office.

Business accounting and MIS

The choice here ranges from industry-strength RDBMS based applications on Informix, Sybase and Oracle to personal finance and accounting software like GnuCash, CBB and Moneydance.

Games and multimedia

Action games, strategy games, card games, you name it and it's all there under Linux. Check out sites like LinuxGames to download the latest versions.

The same applies to multimedia applications like streaming audio and video, tools for creating and mastering CD-ROMS, MIDI players, media players and sound recorder.

Internet applications

This is one area where Linux is perhaps at its best. Being Unix at heart, Linux enjoys the benefits of being Internet-ready with every conceivable software available natively.

Using nifty dial-up networking tools like X-ISP or Kppp, connecting and staying online cannot get any simpler.

Once you are online, use the Linux version of the Netscape Communicator / Navigator Web browser and utilities like ICQ.


If the tens of thousands of software packages available for Linux are not enough to satisfy you, check out the DOSEMU and WINE emulators. You can run many of your MS-DOS and MS Windows applications on Linux by using these.

Final thoughts

For Linux to really catch on in the SOHO segment, Indian hardware vendors will have to start shipping PCs preinstalled with Linux and X-Windows. Using a freeware OS like Linux will also help hardware vendors to keep costs down and become more competitive.

There is little risk in changing over to Linux at the desktop. So, should you take the plunge?

One thing that can be assured straight away is that you will not lose any money because all the software involved is free.

Besides, you will be amply rewarded with a fast, reliable and absolutely legal system.

The views in this article are those held by the author personally. They do not reflect views of Rediff. Readers are cautioned to experiment at their own risk.

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