TurboLinux makes desktop debut

PC Week Labs says developers and power users will find TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 among the friendliest of Linux varieties, but it's still not suitable for the average user.

Developers and the Linux-curious will like what they see and experience in TurboLinux's TurboLinux Workstation 3.6, but it won't be suitable for use by most employees.

Having originated on the Pacific Rim, TurboLinux is the only version of Linux PC Week Labs knows of for the Japanese and Chinese languages. Despite the version number, TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 is the first desktop-oriented version of the operating system; it was previously available only in combination with the server version.

Tests of TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 by ZDNet sister publication PC Week Labs found that it has an appealing GUI and useful integrated accessories and management utilities. However, although it holds some attraction for power users, compared with Windows and Mac OS the new release provides little incentive (other than cost) to establish Linux as a corporate platform for average users.

This is largely due to the limited variety of applications that run on the Unix-derived operating system, the lack of uniformity among them and the still-too-technical details that are barely disguised by the choice of GUIs that TurboLinux Workstation offers. It also lacks adequate scripted deployment capabilities for multiple machines (having nothing like the Kickstart feature in Red Hat Software's Red Hat Linux). For these reasons, we only recommend it for use as a development platform by those who are familiar with Unix.

Shipping since July, TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 affords a choice of desktop environments and window managers (including TurboLinux's appealing -- but soon-to-be-discontinued -- TurboDesk/AfterStep environment), plus a quick installation that can detect many types of older hardware and a great update utility. TurboLinux Workstation also integrates a few office productivity applications and many open-source multimedia, program development and service applications. Its semigraphical configuration capabilities handled most configuration issues.

TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 costs $59.95 (£37) on a CD-ROM with a 300-page manual; the source code can be downloaded for free from the company's Web site.

TurboLinux's combined server and workstation package has been available in English since January; the server version is to be made available later this month for $199. In addition, a TurboLinux clustering package is due this autumn.

TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 will soon also be available in Korean. The company does not use Unicode technology to support Asian languages, however.

As is the case with the latest desktop versions of Linux from Red Hat Software and Caldera Systems, TurboLinux Workstation 3.6 uses the Linux 2.2 kernel, which means it runs on a range of older hardware but doesn't support newer technology such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) and DVD. This first desktop version of TurboLinux is also the last one that will support pre-Pentium hardware.

We installed the operating system on a "kit" PC that contained a variety of older cards. TurboLinux had trouble recognising the sound card, but it comes with several utilities that can be used to set up hardware that isn't detected, which allowed us to overcome some problems. These utilities are ugly, but they prevented us from having to resort to a command line.

We liked the look and feel of the TurboDesk environment. We could also choose to install the OpenLook or twm window managers, or the GNOME (GNU Object Model Environment) or KDE desktop interfaces.

TurboDesk lacks the ability to easily launch user-defined applications, which GNOME and KDE supply. For this reason, TurboLinux plans to abandon TurboDesk in the next version of its desktop operating system, due at the end of the year, in favour of GNOME, which has the most momentum in the Linux community. TurboLinux developers said they believe they can create a similarly attractive look and feel to TurboDesk using GNOME as the foundation.

TurboLinux's package manager made application installation and update simple, and the vendor supplies lots of useful accessories. TurboLinux Workstation is not without a few glitches, however -- the most notable being what company officials acknowledge is a broken 3270 terminal emulator.

TurboLinux Workstation includes many open-source developer tools that support multiple programming languages and provides a software version control system. The operating system can run DOS programs; as with other versions of Linux, its Windows support is limited mostly to older 16-bit applications.

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