Using Red Hat Linux as an Application Platform

Using Red Hat Linux as an Application Platform

Although operating systems are nice (and necessary), people use desktop computers to run application programs. A strong case can be made for using Red Hat Linux as a server, but as a desktop system, Red Hat Linux is still some distance away from challenging Microsoft's operating system dominance for several reasons:

  • Although you can get word processing programs, spreadsheet programs, graphics programs, and almost any other type of application that you want for Linux, many of the most popular applications in each category don't run well in Linux or don't run at all. For example, the latest Microsoft Office product will not run in Linux (though and others have gotten earlier versions of Microsoft Office to run in Linux). If your company uses MS Word for word processing or MS Excel for spreadsheets, you could try using those files with StarOffice or OpenOffice in Red Hat Linux. However, those files won't always convert cleanly.

  • There are many more commercial, battle-tested desktop applications for Microsoft Windows operating systems than there are for Linux. Because the market is so huge for Windows systems, many software companies develop their products solely for that market.

  • Linux applications, as a rule, have historically been more difficult to configure and use than many commercial Windows applications.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Linux is significantly gaining ground. You can now use Linux on your desktop to do almost everything you would want to do on a desktop computer with Windows. The time is coming when you will be able to replace the operating systems on the desktop computers in your home or office with Red Hat Linux. I believe that, in the long term, Linux could become a preferred operating system for running applications. Here are some reasons:

  • Many people believe that networked applications will drive the future of computing. Unlike the first Windows systems, which had their roots in the single-user, one-task-at-a-time DOS system, Red Hat Linux is based on UNIX systems. UNIX was designed from the ground up to deal with many users and many tasks in a networked environment. Red Hat Linux offers a strong foundation for networked applications.

  • A huge development community is working on open source applications to meet the needs of the Linux community. Recently, some strong commercial offerings have been added.

  • In the spirit of Linux and the GNU (which stands for "GNU is Not UNIX"), most application programs are free or inexpensive. This means that you can try out most applications for little or no money. Getting started running Linux applications can be done at a small cost. For example, OpenOffice (the open source version of StarOffice) comes with Red Hat Linux and the boxed set of StarOffice is only $75.95 (from, whereas Microsoft Office will cost you hundreds of dollars. Although you can buy components such as Microsoft Word separately, even they can cost several hundred dollars apiece.

  • The transition for desktop users from Windows to Linux is becoming easier, with great strides being made by projects such as the WINE project. WINE (described later in this chapter) lets you run many Windows programs directly in Linux. WINE also provides a path for application developers to more simply port their Windows code to run in Linux.

The bottom line is that it will take some effort for most people to discard their Windows operating systems completely. However, if you are committed to making Red Hat Linux your sole application platform, there are several ways to ease that transition. Emulation programs let you run many programs that were created for other operating systems. Conversion programs can help you convert graphics and word processing data files from other formats to those supported by Linux applications.


See Chapter 6 for information on importing and exporting word processing and graphics files.

If you are running Linux on a PC, chances are that you already paid for a Windows 95, 98, ME, XP, NT, or 2000 operating system. You can either run the different operating systems on different PCs or have Windows and Linux on separate partitions of your hard disk. The latter requires that you reboot each time you want to switch operating systems.

The following section describes applications that run in Red Hat Linux that you can use to replace the Windows applications you are used to.

Part IV: Red Hat Linux Network and Server Setup