Software // Enterprise Applications
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3/18/2004
04:30 PM
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Tadpole's Linux Laptops Come Ready To Work, Wirelessly

Tadpole's Talin line of laptops comes preinstalled with Linux and Sun's Java Desktop System, which includes the Sun's StarOffice 7 productivity software. The icing on the cake? They're ready for wireless.

Installing Linux on the desktop can be frustrating, especially if you have a wireless setup: Newer chipsets and standards for wireless networking often aren't included in the latest distribution, and using the open-source drivers available is no stroll in the park.

But Tadpole Computer's Talin line of corporate laptops should get you whistling a happier tune. The notebooks come preinstalled with the Linux OS--a customized SuSE Desktop 1.0 distribution--and Sun Microsystems' Java Desktop System, which includes the latest version of Sun's StarOffice 7 productivity software. And they are ready for wireless.

I took the Talin 15 for a spin and found its 15-inch SXVGA+ TFT crisp and clear, with resolutions of up to 1,400x1,050. With a 2.4-GHz Pentium 4 and 512 MB of memory, the Talin 15 was ready to multitask.

Tadpole started its wireless- networking support with the open-source WLAN project and has worked many bugs out of the code, providing a working driver for the on-board Askey Prism 2.5 Wi-Fi NIC. After a few clicks to activate the driver, I was networked and surfing on the bundled Mozilla 1.4 Web browser.

The Java Desktop branding jumped out at me as I configured the network and employed the administrative GUI to add users and groups. But from the descriptive text shown as commands, I could tell that YaST2 (yet another setup tool) and SuSE were under the hood.

StarOffice 7 leverages the performance enhancements introduced in Java Virtual Machine 1.4. In fact, StarOffice was downright snappy--a departure from previous versions. Font problems remain, however. Although most mappings from Windows to Linux were fine, I would have liked better support for common fonts like Times New Roman.

Mozilla 1.4 comes with Flash, Java 1.4, Adobe Acrobat and RealNetworks plug-ins preinstalled. Flash- and Java-enabled sites worked well, but the sound quality via Flash is unacceptable unless you're one of the few who can make out what Charlie Brown's marble-mouthed teacher is saying.

No-Hassle USB Support

One of the most obvious areas where Tadpole has done some work is peripheral support. The same USB Memory Stick that can't be read by other Linux desktop distributions was recognized, mounted and immediately available with no user intervention. I could read and write files, as well as drag and drop to copy from the Talin 15's 60-MB hard drive to the USB stick. The system correctly reacted when I flipped the stick's "write protect" switch.

Synchronizing my Palm Zire with Evolution was tricky, though sychronization worked flawlessly once I configured it. You'll most likely have to configure the system yourself before giving it to a user. The default device is /dev/pilot, and you'll need to point /dev/pilot at the appropriate USB dev entry or enter the correct device in the Gnome Pilot configuration applet.

Network connectivity was simple, but browsing the network was not. Nautilus tried to browse a heterogeneous network comprising both Windows SMB and Linux SAMBA shares, with a Linux machine serving as the master browser. But the application crashed more often than it succeeded.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the system is its inability to open a file from an SMB share. I browsed to a network share and tried to open a Microsoft Word document, but was denied. Even through the GUI, I couldn't mount the share (map the drive, in Windows parlance) and instead was forced to copy the file locally to open and edit it in StarOffice 7.

There appears to be no way for a user to mount a share. So you'll need to modify /etc/fstab--or let users do so (not likely!)--to provide the kind of network browsing and file access that's available on Windows systems.

Ya Must Use YaST2

Not wishing to remain root forever, I tried adding a user to the system by means of the command-line tools. But as I quickly learned, this isn't an attractive option. Users added via useradd are ignored, and command-line arguments to create the user's home directory are summarily thrown out.

I fared far better with YaST2, which added users to all the appropriate groups automatically. But though the GUI is much easier to use than the command line, it could pose problems for a large-scale deployment, as adding users individually to each machine takes too much time.

The Talin 15 is a nice machine, and Tadpole's market--call centers and other enterprises that rely heavily on the Web--is on target. The desktop configuration will be familiar whether users are moving from Windows or another Linux distribution. With support options from Sun for its Java Desktop and preinstallation of the more frustrating aspects of a desktop Linux distribution, the Talin is a good choice for mobile employees in need of e-mail, Web and basic productivity software.

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