It’s been a joke for nearly a decade (maybe longer) to refer to the current year as “the year of Linux on the desktop.” For me, it’s been a reality for several years, at least at home. With my change in jobs last week, I had only a limited equipment budget, and since I needed a new laptop, that didn’t leave much money for a new desktop. Most of my coworkers have opted for iMacs or Mac Pros, but I opted for a surplus lab machine running Fedora 11. With the two widescreen monitors and 1 TB RAID 1 that I set up, it clearly makes sense to use it primarily.
Having used Linux in both server and desktop settings over the past 8 years, I’ve grown very comfortable with it, but my first week was not without issues. The first was that the video card in the machine was made by ATI. I’m not passing judgment on the quality of ATI’s hardware, but their Linux drivers are problematic. Fortunately, my officemate had a spare NVIDIA card that I could put in. A quick run of the NVIDIA setup program, and I had my monitors working perfectly.
The real fun came getting my e-mail set up. My employer has a Microsoft Exchange server, which I’m required to keep an account on. I first tried to use the Evolution groupware client, which has some rough support for Exchange. For the life of me, though, I couldn’t get it connected. So I tried to use IMAP, which also didn’t work. Of course, that didn’t bother me too much, since an IMAP connection wouldn’t work for calendaring or contacts, just e-mail.
Most of the admins in my group use Google accounts for e-mail and calendaring, so I decided to go down that route. I set my directory entry to forward my work e-mail to my Google account and set up Google to POP my Exchange e-mail (since mail sent from an Exchange user doesn’t leave the Exchange server). Evolution has excellent support for Google accounts, including e-mail, calendars, and contacts. At least, I thought it did. It turns out Evolution has a fun bug that causes recurring calendar events to not display when the account is added as a Google account. Apparently, it works if you add it as a CalDAV account, but if the calendar is the primary calendar for an account, the @ symbol in the URL breaks things.
I finally gave up on Evolution and tried Mozilla Thunderbird. Thunderbird has a calendar extension called Lightning. With the gContactSync add-in, I can synchronize my contacts as well. The account setup was really easy, and I’ve been happy using it. I just wish I could have arrived at it sooner.
Most of this post has focused on problems I’ve encountered in desktop Linux, but the truth is, most of it has gone pretty well for me. I’ve used Fedora on my primary desktop at home for years, and most things just work. Many of the reasons people give for Linux not being ready for the desktop are based on things that have been fixed years ago, or the fact that the problems are different. All OSes have problems, but when you’re used to the problems of one, the problems of another stand out.
It’s 2009, the year of Linux on the desktop.