Linux on the Desktop

Linux on the desktop for an Oracle consultant

Larry painted a powerful present and future for Linux, for the server- as well as for the desktop-market. When talking about the first category, we can say that everything's fine. However, when looking at the last category, there are some issues from the viewpoint of the Oracle consultant that make a replacement (not an addition) to Windows difficult. This article tries to point out some difficulties, and where possible, to hand a workable solution.

Microsoft Office

This is not really an application what we're talking about, but it's more a question of file formats. There is no perfect solution for this, because at the moment of writing, there is no open source package available which provides faultless in- and export of MS Office files. But it's not like they're not trying.

Several packages, like AbiWord and KOffce, make use of the same library, wv2. This library is supposed to be able to fully comprehend the Wordformat, but of course the individual packages must make a mapping to their own file format and functionality. And mostly it's the latter that's the problem.

Luckily, there is OpenOffice, which provides an alternative for all parts of the MS Office suite, except Access. The latest version of OpenOffice (with his branded sister StarOffice) provides an extended functionality; for 95% comparable with MS Office --- sometimes even better. The in- and export of MS Office documents is very good, but once in a while, there is a slight problem. So before an important and/or complicated document is sent to the customer, it is wise to check with the MS viewers or the MS Office component itself.

Another solution is simply to run MS Office on your Linux machine. This can be done using Wine, a Windows emulator. Wine can of course be downloaded and compiled by hand, but the most workable variant is sold by the CodeWeavers company. For only $55, they sell a version which is called 'CrossOver Office', which provides a Next - Next - Finish installation. The complete Office suite, including Outlook and Explorer, is stable and very quick. CodeWeavers is a real part of the community and a prominent supporter of the Wine developers. A trial version is provided.

Microsoft is of course not very helpful with the above mentioned problem, neither with current nor with the future Office 11 version. First of all, the default format will not be XML and in the second place, only the professional edition will provide the XML export feature.

"This site is best viewed with Internet Explorer x.x"

Luckily, Mozilla (and his branded brother Netscape Navigator) renders almost all websites the same as Internet Explorer. Every now and then, a problem occurs with sites that heavily depend on IE-specific JavaScript or require exotic (read Windows-only) plugins. A good (or rather, bad) example is the Oracle software; the employee self-service application does not work with the old 4.79 or newer Netscape versions for Linux. Also, Webforms is a Java applet but requires a Windows-only plugin to load it (JInitiator). CodeWeavers provides IE for the JavaScript problem, but specific plugins remain to be a problem.

Developer Tools

These days, the Oracle toolstack rides the Java wave. The excellent JDeveloper/BC4J and TopLink products are 100% pure Java and run like a charm on Linux. Developer and SQL*Plus are specially compiled applications. For TOAD and PL/SQL Developer, there is the open source package TOra, which offers more or less the same functionality.

The only obstacle that remains, is Designer. For the uninitiated: Designer has several components, the main two being a database modelling tool and a software configuration management tool. Designer is in maintenance mode and there are no plans to port this to Linux. As a future solution, there's JDeveloper. The current version, 9.0.3, has some rudimentary support for the Oracle Repository and its UML modelling are slowly beginning to evolve.


Except for the above solutions, the problem can be viewed from another level. Why not simply run Windows after all?

An interesting software package called VMWare offers for both Windows and Linux a so-called virtual machine; it's just a normal application, but inside the window, any operating system for Intel x86 can be installed. It's fast and stable, because some things are emulated but other instructions are passed straight to the processor.

VMWare is a smart piece of software engineering. When the application is started, it even shows a bootprocedure including BIOS messages! Installation of software like Designer, MS Office or any other software is just like installation on Windows. Files are passed to Linux by using an internal network of shares, for which no physical connection needs to be present.

There is only one disadvantage to VMWare. It's a commercial product with a commercial price: $250. There is no comparable open source alternative, except for Bochs and Plex86. The first one is extremely slow and the second one is alpha-quality software.

Until so far, it is assumed that you have only one PC at your disposal. If availability is not the problem, there is a second alternative solution and that is remote administration. You don't have to leave your trusty Linux desktop but you can still use Windows software. There is rdesktop, a Linux-client for Windows' own Terminal Server. And if that's not available, there is VNC which is another cross-platform solution for remote working.


Where there's a will, there's a way. For the (Oracle) consultant, it's certainly possible to install Linux and replace Windows. And that will and some spare time are the reason that we nowadays have so much high-quality open source software available!