By Matthew Newton Looking for an inexpensive, simple-to-use alternative to the Windows operating system? Linux may leap to mind, but since Corel abandoned its effort, no vendor has concentrated strictly on making Linux friendly enough for newbies. Now, the $30 Desktop/LX distribution from upstart Lycoris demonstrates that Microsoft's monopoly on friendly operating systems for the PC could be coming to a close.
I looked at a late beta version of Desktop/LX Amethyst Update 2, which is directed at people who mainly use their PCs for office work and Internet access. Installing a shipping copy on my 500-MHz Pentium III PC (with 128MB of RAM and Windows XP already in place) was easy, with on-screen help available each step of the way. As the installer copies files to your hard drive, it asks you a few questions about your hardware. If you finish answering before the copying is completed, you can kill time with an on-screen game of solitaire. When everything is ready, your PC starts Desktop/LX without rebooting. One catch: You'll need 700MB of unpartitioned space on your hard drive if you plan to install it alongside an existing Windows installation.
Desktop/LX is built atop the K Desktop Environment, one of two major competing interfaces for Linux. This incarnation, with its rolling-hill and cloudy-sky background, looks a bit like Windows XP. Icons represent your PC, network, and documents; and the start menu is smartly organized into sections--Pictures and Photos, Music and Movies, and Productivity Software.
Desktop/LX offers Mozilla and KDE's Konqueror for Web browsing, both configured to support Flash, Java, and RealVideo. The default e-mail client is Mozilla's--odd, when you consider the strength of KDE's native e-mail client, KMail, which is available on the Desktop/LX installation CD-ROM. Instant messaging clients compatible with AIM and ICQ are also included.
For office work, Lycoris has KOffice. Its apps can import Microsoft Office files but can't export them. I would rather have gotten Sun's StarOffice or its free sibling, OpenOffice.org; both of these suites closely match Microsoft Office in features and read and write Microsoft formats. Also included are Acrobat Reader, the Gimp (a Photoshop-like image editor), CD writing software, and a solid update utility.
Unfortunately, Desktop/LX lacks some important functions. Linux-based computers can sync with Palm PDAs, but Desktop/LX-based PCs can't. And if your digital camera is less than a year or two old, Desktop/LX may not talk to it, either. I tried using two USB peripherals that work with my Mandrake Linux-based PC; Desktop/LX ignored them. All of these problems can be solved, but unless you're Linux-savvy, you won't know where to begin. And that severely undercuts the basic concept of a no-hassle Linux package.
The bottom line? Desktop/LX is a stable, friendly, and inexpensive environment for browsing the Web, sending e-mail, and working with office documents. But if your needs are more complex than that, you're better off trying another distribution or waiting to see what Lycoris does with the next Desktop/LX release. From the August 2002 issue of PC World magazine