Linus Torvalds, the primary author of Linux, once referred to a picture of Bill Gates when he prophesied the outcome of the Linux vs. Windows battle. He quipped, "Anyone who stands out in the middle of a road looks like roadkill to me." In case the significance eludes you, the cover of Bill Gates' book The Road Ahead has a picture of Gates standing in a road. (Gosh, it must have taken someone all night to think of that cover idea.)But whenever you hear even the most enthusiastic Linux supporters talking about trampling Windows, they are careful to point out that they are talking only about the server market. Everyone knows that Linux is too difficult to install to give Windows any competition on the desktop. I said that just last week on Andy Graham's "Computer Beat" radio show (http://www.compbeat.com). I predicted that Linux wouldn't be competitive on the desktop for at least another year.
It turns out I was off by 51 weeks. I just installed Caldera OpenLinux 2.2 (http://www.caldera.com). I have to say this product really caught me by surprise. I was under the impression that Caldera had put Linux on the back burner in favor of its DOS products. But the company has obviously been working overtime getting this product ready, and that work has paid off.
Linux is in a disadvantageous position against Windows because you usually have to install Linux yourself. Most computers today come with Windows pre-installed. (Strictly speaking, a fair number of Windows users end up having to reinstall Windows one or more times to solve growing instability problems, so the pre-load market doesn't completely eliminate the Windows installation experience.)The Caldera installation program has not only leapfrogged other versions of Linux in usability, but it now surpasses the Windows 9x installation for friendliness and efficiency. For example, it installs all of your Linux programs in the background while you continue working with the installation program to answer common configuration questions. Ain't multitasking wonderful when programs are smart enough to use it?
Caldera OpenLinux accepts the fact that you'll probably have to install the product on a Windows machine. So it includes a Windows-based installation program that will start automatically when you insert the CD.
Caldera also assumes you won't necessarily want to get rid of Windows. So it automatically partitions your hard drive to dual-boot Windows and OpenLinux. This is an excellent idea because there are still some good programs that are available only on Windows.
If you're thinking those good programs are the office productivity applications, however, you need to think again. Caldera comes with two excellent offerings: WordPerfect 8 and the StarOffice productivity suite. Caldera also comes with Netscape Communicator 4.51, the K Desktop Environment (KDE) complete with integrated browser and a handful of KDE-optimised applications.
And get this: OpenLinux is an entirely graphical system by default. It displays boot status and messages on an attractive graphics screen as it goes through the boot process. Once it is finished, you are presented with another attractive graphical screen in order to log in. Each user account is represented by its own icon. Click on your profile, type in the password, and you're brought right into KDE, a graphical desktop that is actually more feature-rich than the Windows 9x desktop.
If you've been following along, you'll notice the one thing that is missing: the command line. From the moment you pop in the CD, you are never presented with a command line. In fact, I predict that many Linux advocates will moan and groan about how difficult it is to install things the hard way. But if they do, they're missing the point. Caldera isn't for them, it's for the corporate masses. Caldera is filling the one gap in Linux -- accessibility to those who don't want to learn Unix.
Caldera isn't the perfect answer to Linux on the desktop. But even with a minor flaw or two, Caldera OpenLinux is at least 51 weeks closer to being perfect than I ever would have imagined. In short, Bill had better get out of the way. Because it looks like an 18-wheeler is unexpectedly barreling down the road in his direction.
A former programmer and consultant, Nicholas Petreley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit his forum at www.infoworld.com.