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Marcel Gagne's tips: Installing Linux on business desktops

Desktop Linux expert Marcel Gagne discusses why it's a little harder to install Linux than Windows on business desktops. Then, he offers some shortcuts for Linux installs.

Installing Linux on business desktops involves a few more steps than installing Windows, and it's a good thing, too. Those few extra tasks make your Linux desktops more secure, according to Marcel Gagne, author of Ready...Set...Linux! a new book, Moving to the Linux Business Desktop. In this interview, Gagne gives shortcuts and advice about installing Linux.

How does installing software on Linux compare with installing on Windows?

Gagne:There's no question that it's different but that doesn't make it bad.

In the Windows world, it is frighteningly easy to infect your PC with a virus or a worm. All you have to do is click on an email attachment, and you could be in trouble. With some email packages under Windows, Windows does the clicking for you, and with its being so helpful, once again, you could be in trouble.

You won't find many Linux packages provided as simple executables (.EXE files and so on). Security is the reason. To install most packages, you also need root privileges. Again, for security reasons, Linux demands that you be conscious of the fact that you might be doing something that could hurt your system. If an email attachment wants to install itself into the system, it will have to consult the root user first.

Package managers, such as rpm (the RPM Package Manager) or Debian's dselect and apt-get, perform checks to make sure that certain dependencies are met or that software doesn't accidentally overwrite other software. Those dependency checks take many things into consideration, such as what software already exists and how the new package will coexist. Many of you are probably familiar with what has been called DLL hell, where one piece of software just goes ahead and overwrites some other piece of code. It may even have happened to you. Blindly installing without these checks can be disastrous. At best, the result can be an unstable machine; at worst, it can be unusable.

Installing software under Linux may take a step or two, but it is for your own good.

What are some shortcuts to installing desktop applications on Linux?

Gagne: Many distributions provide a friendly administrative interface geared specifically to their particular flavor of Linux. That's part of the value-add they provide and it does make things easier. Typically, when deploying Linux in a large office, you're going to use thin-client technology for at least some of your workstations, often using something like the Linux Terminal Server Project environment.

What this means is that you don't have to install each and every PC. You set up your desktop environment and applications only once on the main server. As each PC or thin client boots, it loads its entire environment from the network. Using thin clients, it's possible to deploy hundreds of PCs in an amazingly short time (time, of course, is money). Just plug in and go. Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to make use of some of those older, slower PCs you were thinking of throwing away or replacing, saving you even more money.

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