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» Linux not ready for desktop yet
» Broadband, backups and more


Linux future is promising
but not on desktops yet

Author's note: One of the biggest battles in Geekdom is how to correctly pronounce both Linux and SuSE. While "Linnucks" seems to have won out over "LYE-nicks," the debate between "Suzie" and "Souza" remains fierce. My advice: Say them however you want. You can't go wrong (or right).

Novell Inc., the granddaddy of network operating system vendors, made a big splash a couple of weeks ago when it announced the purchase of SuSE Linux, one of the world's leading Linux companies. On the day of that announcement, Novell's stock price jumped approximately 20 percent. (Disclaimer: I own Novell stock, but, due to irrational exuberance, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever make any money off it.)

What's the big deal? What's so great about Linux? Most important, why should you care?

Linux falls into the category of software known as "open source." Open source is just that: It means that the "source code" for the software is open to anyone who wants to look at it. Source code is the basic information that is used to build software. Anyone with access to the source code can make an exact copy of the end product. For this reason, companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and even Novell have kept the source code for most of their products well guarded.

Taken another way, open-source software is the equivalent of Sam Choy giving you his entire recipe book. Like most of you, I've seen Sam's recipes in cookbooks and other places, but let's face it, if he gave away the exact recipes to every single one of his dishes, he'd be one skinny chef. The exact recipe to any software product is contained in its source code.

There are several benefits to open-source software. First and foremost, it is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared with proprietary software. There is a common myth that Linux is free -- it is not. Sure, you might be able to download the software, but key additional items, such as installation tools, documentation, updates and support, all come with a cost. Any business owner or IT manager knows that the key cost factor with all software is the license; that is where the beauty of Linux comes into play. There is no license cost, so it doesn't matter whether you have one PC or 1,000.

Another benefit to open-source software in general, and Linux in particular, is that the entire world can chip in with enhancements, modifications and updates. Going back to our Sam Choy analogy, it's akin to someone recommending adding more pepper to the pulehu steak recipe. Someone suggests an enhancement, a bunch of other people try it out and, if enough people agree, it gets included in the next version -- Bam! Pulehu Steak version 1.1.

Why is Linux important to you? Well, it's being touted as the next in a long line of Windows killers. Linux fans believe it can replace all versions of Windows, including 98, ME, NT, 2000 or XP on desktop PCs or servers. Linux aficionados believe it is better than Windows primarily because everyone can contribute to it and we'd all work toward the same goal of world peace and better software products.

It's cheap, it's stable and it's continuously improved. So, should you jump right out and convert everything to Linux? Well, not quite yet. Currently, a big drawback to Linux is that there are relatively few desktop applications that run on it. As much as some people like to complain about Microsoft, no one can deny that its Office platform is the de facto standard in American business. This is extremely handy when it comes to exchanging documents, spreadsheets, presentations and even small databases with colleagues. Clearly, Microsoft Office does not run on Linux. While there are several products available for Linux that claim to provide the same functionality as Office, it can be a real pain to learn how to use these products, not to mention the difficulty of exchanging files with the rest of the world. Despite the claims of its supporters, Linux is not quite as mature as a desktop product just yet.

For bigger, multiuser, enterprise-type applications, it's a different story. For example, all major database vendors, with the exception of Microsoft, support their products on at least one flavor of Linux. This includes venerable companies such as IBM, Oracle and Sybase. Linux's built-in e-mail server, while perhaps not as robust as Microsoft Exchange, is mature enough and capable of supporting large enterprises. The same can be said for Linux's Web server, known as Apache. So if you are a business owner or IT manager, you might want to consider Linux for your server solutions.

Of course, you will need skilled labor to support your Linux implementations. While you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a certified Microsoft engineer nowadays, experienced Linux people are harder to find. Locally, some type of Linux training is available at virtually all of the training companies. Of note, Honolulu Community College's Pacific Center for Advanced Technology Training (PCATT) and BYU-Hawaii have both been recently certified as Red Hat Academies. For engineers trained in some version of Unix, such as AIX, Solaris or SCO, it is pretty easy to get up to speed on Linux.

Speaking of SCO, they recently sued IBM for $3 billion, claiming that IBM put SCO-copyrighted code into Linux. It is rumored that SCO -- a company that has sued, threatened to sue and been sued numerous times in the past over licensing rights -- might demand license fees from all existing Linux users. If successful, this will undermine one of the primary benefits to Linux. Most industry experts don't believe this will happen, but it is another thing to keep an eye on if you are thinking of making the jump.

John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy specializing in software development, systems integration and outsourcing. He can be reached at or by calling 944-8742.


Broadband, backup, price,
peripherals and plenty more

In our last column, we began a series on what to look for when purchasing a new PC. We considered a number of issues including processor speed and brand of processor, memory, storage, operating system and video card. In case you missed Part 1, we'll review last week's suggestions before we go on to Part 2.

>> Processor Speed and brand of processor: Get at least a 2 gigahertz processor. Intel and AMD are equally satisfactory.
>> Memory: You'll need at least 256 megs, 512 is better.
>> Storage: You'll want at least 40 gigabytes, 60 or 80 is better.
>> Operating system: Windows XP. (Leave Linux alone).
>> Video system: A card with at least 32 megs of memory.
Now, on to more suggestions that will complete our survey:

Broadband capability

You'll definitely want to get an "NIC" network card built into the system. This usually comes standard and will allow you the option of getting a broadband Internet connection.

The main advantage of broadband over dialup is that you'll be able take advantage of so many more applications. That includes video, music, gaming, video conferencing and the like.

Essentially broadband -- whether it's DSL or cable -- opens a whole new world of applications that you'll want to leverage for business and pleasure.

Speaker system

If you're into music, get high quality speakers and a subwoofer. You also might want a better sound card like a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live.


More and more flat screen monitors come standard with new systems. Prices have dropped dramatically since they were introduced and I'd suggest you look at a 17-inch screen, especially if you spend long hours in front of your PC.

If you're buying your monitor separately from the CPU, check out stores with large selections such as CompUSA to spec out what you like. Major manufacturers such as Sony, Viewsonic, NEC and others have 17-inch models that begin at $500 or less.

Flat screens save space and allow you make more efficient use of your desk.

Backup system

Almost all new machines come standard with a built-in CD-RW drive, which works fine for most people. A CD-RW will allow you to record your own CDs and is nice for playing music, too. If you do a lot of home video, you may want a DVD recording drive. If you need to back up an entire drive, a tape drive is an option, or better yet, a separate portable drive from a company such as Maxtor that produces easy-to-use "One Touch" system.

Another option, with a broadband connection, is to have backups done online and stored at another location.


You'll want a box that provides USB 2.0 capability. If you work a lot with video, you'll need another interface port called FireWire or "IEEE 1394."

Mail order vs. Local

One question I'm often asked is whether to buy mail order or from a local shop. I prefer to buy local. If you want to feel "safe," choose a familiar brand such as IBM, Dell, HP, etc. We have many retailers to choose from, but CompUSA has the best selection.

Or, consider a reputable Hawaii company that assembles its own PCs. Prices on locally built machines are competitive and a Hawaii business is going to have an incentive to take car of its customers.

In any case, support from local vendors is much more convenient than a mail order company. (Note that some national brands have local reps who service their machines, but often if you purchase a national brand, you'll have to send it to the mainland for repair.)


If you run a home business or you're a hobbyist, the standard warranty (which consists of one year on the system plus three years on the major parts) should suffice.

An extended warranty is a good idea only if you intend to passing the computer on when you buy the next one. The reasoning is that the average life of a computer is less than three years and most of the parts will be covered.


Figure on spending between $800 to $1,000 for your new machine, depending on how it's configured. Some manufacturers provide rebates on the computer or peripherals, which can also lessen your burden.

Shop around, ask friends where they've purchased their computers and keep this article in your pocket as a reference.

Kiman Wong, general manager of Internet services at Oceanic Time Warner Cable is an engineer by profession and a full-time computer geek by avocation. Questions or comments should be addressed to


Laptop or desktop,
that is the question

As the holidays approach, many of you are thinking of purchasing a laptop. The first thing you'll need to do is carefully consider your computing needs. What kinds of applications will you be running? Will you be traveling a lot? What's your budget like?

Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of them:

Laptop pros

>> They are portable and you can take them anywhere. If you to travel quite a bit to the neighbor islands or the mainland, a laptop comes in handy.

>> If you're a student and will live in a cramped dorm room or just tight on space, a laptop is a must. Students can also use laptops to take notes in class.

>> The laptop can be shared more easily among family members

Laptop cons

>> Prices are dropping, but laptops are still going to be more expensive than comparable desktops.

>> Due to their being moved around more often, laptops are more prone to need repair

>> Laptops, unfortunately, are much easier to steal.

>> Unless you have a jumbo model (and they can be quite pricey) a laptop will have a much smaller video display.

Desktop pros

>> You get more for your money (i.e. faster processor, more storage).

>> If you need to add a peripheral, such as a faster CD burner or a hot video card, it's much easier to upgrade a desktop.

>> You can get more audio and video options with a desktop

Desktop cons

>> They are not portable.

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