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Office Linux: Ideas for a Desktop Distribution

By Matthias Arndt


I remember one of the meetings of my LUG a few weeks ago. We argued about Linux and its readiness for the desktop. We all had the same opinion that Linux is ready for the desktop, at least where software is concerned. We discussed other related things but this is the thing that made me think about distributions.

In this article I want to propose to create a special desktop distribution for end users especially those who sit and work in an office all day long like secretaries.

Why another distribution of GNU/Linux?

To summarize my thoughts:

Office Linux Manifest

Office Linux should not be one of the bloated 6 CDs full of programs distributions but a simple distribution that fits on one CD and that brings all needed applications and tools to create a productivity environment using GNU/Linux.

Office Linux should

Office Linux could consist only of free software but this is not a requirement.

The bare system

Office Linux should only come with a proven and stable version of the Linux kernel. The kernel should be compiled to run on standard hardware out of the box supporting typically office hardware as networking and printing. Multimedia support would be nice but not required.

The standard set of GNU tools like Bash, sed, awk and find should come with Office Linux. However Office Linux should not present the user or admin with a huge list of tools to be installed. Installing a standard subset should be enough.

As Office Linux puts emphasize on secretaries and other office personnel it should not come with much applications for the console. One or two proven editors should be enough.

Desktop environment

Office Linux should be easy to use. Therefor a proven stable and possibly fast desktop environment is required. The K Desktop Environment could fit to meet this. However it is not the fastest possible solution.

Pro KDEContra KDE
  • easy to use
  • known and well supported in the GNU/Linux community
  • can be configured to feel like M$ Windows ™
  • Desktop environment with file manager and panel
  • easy to configure by the end user
  • comes fully internationalized
  • needs a considerable time to launch
  • huge memory footprint both in RAM and on hard-disk

Personally I do not like KDE that much but I recommend it for Office Linux.

Office productivity

This is a very important field and Office Linux should concentrate on this field as its name suggests. A reliable and commonly accepted office suite like Star Office or OpenOffice should come with it.

Compatibility with M$ Office ™ is required to allow the intended user audience to import and reuse their old files. This compatibility should be achieved through the office suite and not through external tools. Not only to provide GUI but to make it more easy to use. A worst case scenario may invoke a GUI shell for command line tools.

I do not recommend KOffice for Office Linux just because it will find more resistance from the intended audience than suites that resemble M$ Office ™.

The distribution should provide reliable PDF readers and converters. Perhaps an installable PDF printer for Office Linux would be a nice idea. Users could print PDFs from any application then.

The printing subsystem should be able to communicate with existing network printers of any kind including SAMBA printers and standard Unix printers. The subsystem should be easy to install and use. It should be compatible with Unix convention in resembling the BSD printing system. CUPS would be a fine solution and I suggest using it in Office Linux


A standard compliant Internet suite is another main part of Office Linux.

Although there a many fine programs out there Office Linux should only provide on of them in a preconfigured and working way. A stable Mozilla release in a complete install with all needed plugins such as Macromedia Flash and a Java VM.

A security tweaked default configuration should be included.

Help System

To be easy to use Office Linux has to include a help system that is easy to use and navigate.

The help system should provide

Markup in HTML is recommended for the Help System.


I think the creation of a distribution upon these ideas is entirely possible. It will require some work and patience but it shouldn't be impossible.

A distribution providing only a few but proven components might be as easy to use as M$ Windows ™. And then GNU/Linux might be ready for the desktop. It is a matter of time, hard work and patience but it is possible.

Matthias Arndt

I'm a Linux enthusiast from northern Germany. I like plain old fifties rock'n'roll music, writing stories and publishing in the Linux Gazette, of course. Currently I'm studying computer science in conjunction with economics.

Copyright © 2002, Matthias Arndt.
Copying license
Published in Issue 81 of Linux Gazette, August 2002

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