How do Caldera and Red Hat Software make money selling Linux at $US50 a copy? Easy; they get you to buy a new version every two months. The latest release from Caldera, Caldera OpenLinux 1.3, holds the line on price while making a significant advance in features. As with previous versions, OpenLinux 1.3 offers a stable Linux kernel (2.0.35); an installer best suited for experienced Linux hackers; strong standard NetWare client and management support; and scant documentation. But this newest package also includes a few welcome enhancements.
Among the chief weaknesses of Linux has been its rather unimpressive look. To remedy that weakness, Caldera OpenLinux 1.3 gains the K Desktop Environment, or KDE. If you load your graphical session using the command kde instead of the standard startx, OpenLinux will launch KDE.
KDE shares many attributes with the Common Desktop Environment, including multiple virtual workspaces and easy application launching from pop-up menus. KDE includes a graphical e-mail reader and notepad, electronic sticky notes, and other handy applications, all of which share a consistent KDE style.
Caldera can't take credit for KDE. It is another gem among the dozens of free Linux programs. However, Caldera does deserve kudos for bundling KDE so well. Selected programs, including several KDE applets and the latest Linux release of Netscape Communicator, are wired into KDE's attractive iconic buttons.
One drawback is Caldera's failure to expand KDE's default menu with other commonly used applications and utilities. These items appear when you use fvwm, and you can add them to KDE yourself.
Caldera also includes an installable copy of Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) in its distribution. Again, anyone can get Sybase ASE for free, but Caldera saves you the 33MB download. Sybase ASE is buried on a source-code CD (no, Sybase doesn't give its source code away). Red Hat includes precisely the same version of Sybase ASE with its 5.2 distribution.
Caldera's tight relationship with Novell translates into added benefits for NetWare users, thanks to easily configured NetWare client software and server management tools. This makes Caldera the best Linux for NetWare IPX networks, although the significance of that accolade is questionable. Version 1.3 also includes Star Division's StarOffice 4.0, a Microsoft Word look-alike. Although StarOffice 4.0 is an absolute tour de force in application mimicry, it isn't stable or functional enough to enable you to throw out Microsoft Office just yet.
Like previous releases, Caldera's weakness is its install. Compared to Red Hat, Caldera is positively frightening for those not already schooled in Linux. Video card and monitor setup is still complicated and confusing. For example, do you know the horizontal refresh frequency range for your monitor? Disk partitioning and boot setup are still a pain also.
Red Hat doesn't suffer these difficulties, so for my money it's still the better Linux overall. However, with its standard KDE shell and the convenience of Sybase ASE on disc, Caldera OpenLinux 1.3 is a must-buy upgrade for current Linux users and others confident they have a Linux wizard inside clamouring to get out. The addition of the standard KDE and StarOffice in OpenLinux 1.3 has won me over as the desktop favourite for experienced Linux users.
Tom Yager (email@example.com) is a member of the US InfoWorld (a sister publication to ComputerWorld) Review Board. He specialises in application development, databases, and operating systems.
The bottom line: very good
Caldera OpenLinux 1.3
This Linux version is an excellent bet for those experienced with Linux. The addition of a standard desktop makes it much more pleasant to use.
Pros: Attractive and functional KDE graphical shell; Office look-alike (StarOffice); strong NetWare client support.
Cons: Slim documentation; slow, difficult install; less software than Red Hat.
Caldera, Provo, Utah; www.caldera.com.
Price: $US59 boxed with manual; $US29 with jewel case alone.
Platforms: Intel PC.