S'pore National Library to start Linux desktop trials

The three-month trial involves 20 desktops, and NLB staff will undergo training to familiarize themselves with the operating system.

update SINGAPORE—In response to its employees' frustrations with Windows, the National Library Board will be conducting a three-month Linux desktop trial next month, according to a senior executive.

The NLB recently purchased over 200 licenses for Novell Linux Desktop 9, said Kuan Sung, a senior manager at the board's infocomm division.

However, only 20 desktops at the NLB's Esplanade library will be loaded with the Linux software during the trial. The board will gather employees' feedback on the operating system before installing it on more PCs at other library branches, Kuan told ZDNet Asia in an exclusive interview.

From next month, employees at the Esplanade library will undergo training to familiarize themselves with the Linux operating system, as well as popular open-source software such as the OpenOffice productivity suite and the Gimp image editing program, he said.

The training will be conducted by Resolvo Systems, a Singapore-based Linux solutions provider, together with student volunteers from Republic Polytechnic.

Two months ago, Kuan said, he received an e-mail from employees at the Esplanade library, indicating their frustrations with the Windows platform, including frequent system stalls and spyware with their Windows XP desktops.

"When we showed them a preliminary (Linux desktop) demo, they found it to be okay, and they were willing to try out new things. Our guarantee to them is that they can still continue to do their daily work with the new desktops."

Kuan also indicated that Novell's Linux Desktop will be customized for NLB's employees such that "it is easy to use, runs faster and with less clutter". This includes installing new versions of open-source software such as OpenOffice 1.9 beta, and removing pre-loaded games, he said.

If the trial is successful, the plan is to retire the library's current use of Microsoft Office 2000 and switch to OpenOffice completely, Kuan said. The reason: the cost of upgrading to the latest version of Office is too high for an organization like the NLB, which has 900 users, he explained.

The library has also acquired 21 licenses for SuSE Enterprise Linux, Kuan revealed. These will replace its Fedora Core servers that function as domain controllers--software that authenticate employees when they log on to the library's corporate network.

"While we tap on the local open-source community support (for Fedora Core), we want to have a formalized service level because we are accountable to the public," Kuan said, adding that Novell will provide formal support.

SuSE Enterprise Linux was chosen because it had proven to be secure and robust enough for government military transactions by the US Department of Defense, he added.

Ernest Low, Novell's country manager for Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, said NLB's use of Linux is a strategic win for the open-source movement in Singapore.

"Before this the Ministry of Defense was the only major government body (in Singapore) to deploy open-source (software)," Low said in a statement.