Living (and dying) with Linux in the workplace

A Windows power user gives Linux a fair trial as her primary operating system at work. Does the open-source OS have what it takes to make her switch for good?

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This isn't to say I couldn't get up to speed with a new text editor and new macros. I'm sure I could. But this requires an investment of a scarce resource in our newsroom these days: time. It's clear that if we were to move from Windows to Linux, some power users would take an initial productivity hit while we figured out how to streamline tasks that were automated on our old platform.

I'm still searching for a great text/HTML editor for Linux, by the way; more on that in a future article. Feel free to add your suggestions to the conversation. Several readers have suggested Vim (for "Vimproved"), which I find slightly alarming, since I used text-based vi on Unix for years and disliked it intensely. Perhaps Vim really is improved; I pledge to give it a try. But not this week. For now, I'm cutting and pasting from one app to another in order to get all the functions I miss in NoteTab. Sigh.

Other apps I miss

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I quickly discover other software packages I wish I had. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements both at work and at home to do image processing. Unfortunately, Elements isn't available on Linux, and CrossOver doesn't support Elements.

CodeWeavers does say CrossOver supports full-blown Photoshop, but older Versions 6 and 7, not current CS2. In any case, I don't need the complete Photoshop package, which costs hundreds of dollars. Elements, which I got online for $50 after rebate, does just fine. I'm not saving much money using Linux if I need a $400 application package to replace a $50 one!

Elements
My Windows image processing program: Adobe Photoshop Elements. (Click image to see larger view.)

My SUSE installation includes an imaging package called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), but the interfaces are rather different. I've invested more than 10 hours of training in Elements, learning exactly how to do what I need to do (improve and resize photos), plus I own several detailed Elements reference books. I'm not sure I want to throw all that out to learn GIMP.

Gimp
GIMP, a free image editor included with SUSE Linux. (Click image to see larger view.)

iTunes isn't exactly a must-have business app, but I do enjoy listening to music on headphones from time to time in the office. I install iTunes under CrossOver, but it supports Version 4.9 and recommends against upgrading, which is unwelcome news if you want the latest features. (The latest iTunes version for Windows is 7.0.2.) Also, I can't access the iTunes store. This is a nonstarter at home, where we're a (gulp) five-iPod family.

More importantly, here at Computerworld we use Adobe InCopy for our print edition, and that's available only on Windows or the Mac. I don't need that application daily, but I do use it at least once a week -- more if I'm trying to track down a print-to-Web production problem. When Friday rolls around, I end up walking over to my old Windows machine to send in my writeups for Monday's print table of contents.

Adobe now offers Adobe Reader, Flash 9 and LiveCycle on Linux. Beyond that, PR director Rebecca Michals tells me, "We continue to evaluate Linux development based on customer feedback." Which sounds like PR-speak for, "Maybe if a lot of our large, important users demand it, we'll think about it. But don't hold your breath."

I'm able to access almost all of our Computerworld.com site analytics just fine, since they're browser based. However, I'm no longer able to use an IE-only plug-in called Click Map, which lets us see a "hot map" representation of how popular individual links are on any page of our site. That's an important tool in deciding whether to leave up a top story on our home page or replace it, and I find myself walking back to my old system to view the latest map.

Finally, I miss syncing my Palm T/X to my work desktop. It looks like it should work; there's an included application just for that purpose, called Gnome Pilot. But it doesn't.

I go searching on the Web, and find some step-by-step advice on NewsForge, an open-source news and information site. I try most of the recommended steps, without success. My volunteer admin gives it a try as well, but still no sync.

Here's an example of why moderate-level power users can be frustrated by Linux at times. We're likely to have hardware gadgets and added software applications beyond standard configurations. But we may not know enough to make Linux run what vendors don't officially support.

The issue isn't Linux technology or UI. It's vendor support. If there were Palm desktop software for Linux, I wouldn't need to be mucking around on the command line, installing packages and so on, just to back up a copy of my meeting schedule. To be honest, I can't sync my Palm on my system at home either, because Palm doesn't support Windows XP Media Edition, and there's no hope of hacking around to fix that. But it does sync just fine on my Windows system in the office.

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