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Linux: It's not just for geeks anymore

PC World

(IDG) -- In years past Linux's unintuitive user interface made the operating system difficult to use for all but the most savvy geeks -- and it often sent novices running back to Windows.

These days, Linux is a kinder, gentler, more-approachable operating system, nothing like the cryptic command-line-driven beast it once was. And Corel Linux OS Second Edition is the friendliest Linux package we've seen.

We've tested other Linux distributions before, including Caldera, Red Hat, and Mandrake. Corel's latest Linux distribution, version 1.2, makes leaps and bounds in ease of use and installation. And although Corel offers hand-holding for beginners, advanced users can still escape the graphical user interface and head back to the command line.

Let Corel be free

The Corel Linux OS is available free from Corel's download site. But be warned: The download is a whopping 451MB ISO image. (After you download the ISO image file, you must put it onto a CD for your computer to read it.) To make things easier, Corel also offers a CD-ROM for $4.95, plus a shipping fee.

Corel also sells two boxed versions through retail outlets and its online store. Corel's $79.99 Second Edition Deluxe includes the light version of WordPerfect 8, Corel Photo-Paint, the game Myth II, and BRU Backup Software, as well as a 12-inch inflatable Linux penguin to ward off evil Windows spirits. Included in the $24.99 Standard Edition is the light version of WordPerfect 8. (Corel's latest office suite for Linux, WordPerfect 9, is available separately.) We tested the Deluxe Edition.

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In just four steps, a Windows-only PC can be transformed into a lean, mean, stable Linux machine.

Before installing, we checked the Linux Hardware Compatibility site to see if our hardware would run under Linux. Checking compatibility is an especially important step if you have a newer machine, because it may have new hardware architecture that Linux doesn't know about. (As with all OS installations, you should back up your system before you install Corel Linux.)

We inserted the installation CD-ROM. For the first step, we had to create a user and input a user name. Next, we were presented with a couple of installation options, Standard or Advanced. Advanced offers four types of installation: Desktop (minimum installation), Desktop Plus (which adds developer tools and text editors), Server (with Web, file, print, and FTP programs), or Custom (which lets you choose the applications you want). Those who are new to Linux or are unsure of what route to take should follow Corel's recommendations; we took Corel's advice and opted for the Standard installation.

After choosing our installation, we were prompted to choose a partition option. You can pick from three. "Take Over Disk" erases all of the information on the hard drive. "Use Free Disk Space" leaves existing data intact--take that option if you plan to set up the machine to dual-boot Windows and Linux. The third option, best suited for the advanced user, is "Edit Partition Table." (If you don't know what that means, don't select it.) We appreciated Corel's explanations of each option--they can keep you from accidentally wiping the contents of your hard drive.

Since we wanted to run both Windows and Linux on the machine, we chose the "Use Free Disk Space" option. Corel Linux detected the PC's hardware, scanned the hard drive, and calculated the space needed for the installation. From there, the installation of all the software began.

Now what?

Corel Linux was installed 23 minutes later -- the fastest Linux installation we've seen. After a reboot, a log-in screen appeared. At log-in, the dialog box prompted us to log in either as "root" (the user who has access to the entire system) or as a regular user--but we had no idea what the password was. We typed in password, and Corel Linux asked if we wanted to change the password. Once we changed it and logged back in, the Linux desktop appeared.

The Linux desktop bears a striking resemblance to the Windows desktop, but the similarity is only interface deep. On the bottom left, a Corel Application Starter button appears where the Windows Start button would be. Click that, and a menu pops up to show you your programs.

Our first stop was the Control Center, the configuration area of the operating system (think Control Panel in Windows). In an hour, we had networked the machine, installed a printer over the network, and configured the desktop, themes, and screen saver. In most of the distributions we've tested, configuring the screen saver and theme has been easy while setting up a network connection and a printer has been a bear. But network and printer setup under Corel Linux was quite simple.

Corel's File Manager lets you easily browse folders, search for and move files, and download files, all without going to the command line (which, by the way, is there if you want to use it).

While we were impressed by Corel's ease of use, our main bone of contention was that Corel included only the K Desktop Environment. Most Linux distributions include both KDE and GNOME. Both are graphical environments that let you navigate the desktop, but they vary in interface and applications. Most Linux users want to be able to choose one over the other according to personal preference.

Linux vs. Windows

A common misconception about Linux is that you can't use it to do the same things you can do in Windows. Sure, Microsoft applications such as Internet Explorer and Office aren't yet available in Linux versions, but a plethora of alternative office suites exist for Linux. Among them are Corel WordPerfect and the Applixware Office suite from VistaSource, both of which offer Microsoft Office compatibility. Both include spreadsheets, word processing, and presentation software.

Another office suite for Linux, Sun's StarOffice, is completely free. A Linux version of Netscape is available, too. You can also find MP3 players, instant-messaging clients, e-mail clients, news readers, and other programs. In fact, you'll find many Linux replacements for your favorite Windows apps.

If you've been wanting to try Linux, but have been scared off by the command line, the lack of hardware support, and tough installation, Corel Linux OS Second Edition is an excellent entry point.

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Download Corel Linux
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