Thursday, 28 August, 2003
A brief look at current Linux distributions
I've examined 8 different Linux distributions over the past week, and I've been quite impressed with how much more polished they've become in the past couple of years. Sure, some are still hard for a non-techie to install (Debian and Slackware, for example), but others like Lycoris and Red Hat are just as easy as—maybe easier than—Windows. When you factor in the added complexity of installing additional Windows applications, the Linux distributions are easier. That is, when you've finished installing Red Hat, Lycoris, SuSE, or one of the other major desktop distributions, you're done. The office productivity software and most everything else is there. Once you install Windows, you still need to install Office and any other applications you need. I'll be charitable to Windows here and call installation a draw.
In almost all respects, there is Linux-based software available for all of the basic home and office uses. The most important missing piece—and this might turn out to be the killer app for Linux—is a personal financial management package. GnuCash exists, but as I mentioned in an earlier entry (see August 12), the project is in trouble. And, quite honestly, people expect a certain amount of accountability from the software that's keeping their books. Whether or not it's true, people feel better with the thought that Intuit stands behind Quicken. They're not going to get that warm fuzzy feeling for a bunch of hackers who work on GunCash in their spare time. I would expect Intuit to come out with a Linux version of Quicken in the next 2 years. If they don't, somebody will come out with something to fill that space.
The other relatively recent innovation that's impressed me is the emergence of CD-based distributions. Knoppix in particular has really opened my eyes to some interesting possibilities. More on that tomorrow.