Linux as a viable business desktop platform

While no-one can doubt the widespread use of Linux as a server platform – the latest figures still show a clear lead for Apache, Linux’s flagship web server software – it’s take-up on the desktop has been slow. OK, let’s be honest, it’s take-up on the desktop has been virtually non-existent. For example, ask any of your non-techy friends if they’ve ever used Linux and you’ll probably hear most of them say “no”. Or possibly even “what’s Linux?”.

It’s an unfortunate situation to be in, as trying to rock the monopoly of Microsoft isn’t an easy thing – I would guess just their marketing budget alone is bigger than the combined budgets of most Open Source software development companies. Still, Microsoft has brought the computer to the masses and without that there’s no chance anyone would use anything – whether it’s proprietary or free.

So it’s a bit disappointing to see that a respectable online magazine misses a trick in an otherwise excellent piece when talking about the new Microsoft OS Vista compared to Linux. The trick they’ve missed is this:

Alternatives? Desktop Linux is the obvious choice but there remain gotchas. For example, while the bases are pretty much covered in terms of basic applications such as OpenOffice, there’s still no credible open source replacement for the Outlook client, in which many workers live from day to day.

True, most workers do live in Outlook day by day, and they need to know they wont lose that functionality if they move to a non-Microsoft system. So it’s good that there is such software freely available.

Evolution, sponsored by Novell, is the free software world’s answer to Outlook. And it’s good, with features that would look respectable on anyone’s desktop. It even integrates with Exchange, Microsofts email server system.

I don’t pretend to believe that Linux is the be-all-and-end-all of computing, the world needs commercial software just as it needs commercial everything else. However the gap between Microsoft and the free software world is narrowing, and I’d love to see more businesses take on Linux for their desktops.

Me? I’m waiting for Ubuntu Studio. Once that is released, it’s been unfortunately delayed (see? it even happens to the good guys!) I see no reason to use Windows at home. Fantastic.

Competing music formats

It’s a shame that despite the hoo-hah over different online music formats that a completely free, high-quality and extremely versatile format is being overlooked somewhat. Maybe it’s just that a lot of people haven’t heard of Ogg Vorbis, but the fact is it could be the answer we’re waiting for.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not without it’s problems, but Ogg is certainly the strongest glimmer of hope for the increasingly beleaguered digital music format landscape. Which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is only going to get more complex as time goes on.

Once you pop

There’s been another little development over at the Performer academy. If you want to create popup windows (yes, Popups Are Bad, I know) then you can now do so in an unobtrusive way using Performer.

Because I realise that the prototype framework that Performer runs on is quite large (over 30Kb event when compressed and packed) I’m looking at a way to create a PerformerLite version that will include just the few prototype features that Performer actually uses, rather than the whole thing. I’m aiming for a file that will be less than 15Kb with all the Performer features you’ve come to know and love.

If anyone is interested in helping out with that effort just drop me a line.

Limiting the number of characters entered into a textarea or input box

I bet that title just grabbed you, yes? Well, sound boring it may do, but it’s been a bit of a problem for web designers for a long while now. However I’ve just made things a little easier with the latest addition to my Performer library. Suffice to say the new function is called ‘Limiter’ and does what it says on the tin.

I’d also like to thank kourge for very helpful suggestions and input on the source code that’s made Performer a lot more streamlined.

New bird on the block

Here’s something that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers (pun very much intended). Yesterday while searching for an open-source player for a particular music file format I stumbled across this tuneful Songbird. It’s basically half-iTunes, half-Firefox. Intrigued? I know I was, and not just by the great design and illustration of the site.

After installing the developer preview (it’s currently in alpha, not even beta yet) and taking a look around I found that when you navigate to a website it automatically scans the page and puts all the music files linked from the page into a playlist ready for listening and/or downloading. Fantastic, and not unlike my very own Greasemonkey script for playing MP3 files on 3Hive. Except better. Much, much better.

I think it looks pretty cool, and you get even more great illustration in the program itself (is that bird pooping?) as well as a load of configuration options – and even add-ons, just like the fantastic ‘Fox. It says it integrates with iPods as well, and while it certainly recognised my iPod and showed all the playlists on it, I couldn’t create or copy a playlist to the iPod itself. Hopefully there’ll be some decent documentation somewhere that will help me out.

So if you’re into the musical web, this could well be the most useful software you get this year.