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Old 08-23-2003, 01:06 PM   #1
Geoff Woade
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Hardware and Desktop Advances?

I have the pleasure of sourcing some new boards/Cpus etc to build four or more new systems for a non-profit organisation. We have economic and space constraints.

I am seriously contemplating building some Linux desktop systems-our budget would never cover the cost of M$ Windows, and previous browser hijacking and viri have put me off installing windows anyway.

Now their is some reluctancy to move over to Linux, after the hard slog of learning Microsoft products, people don't want to move over and learn a new system. People just want to use reliable machines and get on with their work.

People just about understand what an O/S is and have trouble understanding what exactly Linux is - they gasp whenever the word is uttered. I am after an IT solution that won't intimidate our workers.

We have had to relocate and have been in temporary accomadation for a year. Our systems and software has aged in the meantime some of the hardware has given up.

We previously enjoyed a mixture of Linux servers (fileserver/email/router - running redhat and samba) and desktop Windows 98 workstations. Which also consisted of a pool of public access machines. One of which was running Suse Linux with KDE on a Pentium 200 to promote Linux as alternative O/S. This was an interesting experiment, Some people barely noticed, others steered well clear; including staff - they were afraid of it. Also it has to be said this machine ran slower than the Windows 98 machines. It crashed less though and acted as a useful print server (running cups over ip - we had concerns about security and disabled file and print sharing within windows ) .

All our old hardware had CPUs of 300MHZ (or less) with 128MB ram (or less). SUSE 7.2 did run extremely slowly, whereas Windows 98 ran pretty fast in between intermitting crashing, maybe the cheaper motherboards were a problem.

Why is there such a speed difference? For example winamp runs great on windows but a similar program on Linux stuttered as the mouse was moved. Star office took an age to start. Is this because Linux is a server platform?

At home I can overload my Windows 98 350MHZ 64MB Ram system. I have put Suse 7.2 on this machine. Linux runs so slow with Gnome that I have just given up. Maybe if I had the know how I could have sped things up a little. M$ Windows at home isn't a problem as you can run unliscensed software (if you don't worry about such things). I just love Photoshop, Winamp and Nero, but perhaps this is a problem as we have become used to incredibly evolved desktop software, can open source really compete? Why isn't Adobe developing products on the Linux platform? Is the *nix platform out of date?

Now it seems to me that faster CPUS, Video, and RAM might solve this problem. But why is there such a difference between Windows and Linux in speed?

Going back to our new systems, we want a solution that will include MS document conversion (Now I am aware of Open Office, but the filters are limited), a good DTP package, really good web access - including popular plugins and nice type, and a good web design package. We will somehow have to incorporate a developed MS access database (membership and library lending system).

Perhaps a thin client setup maybe a better solution which could utilise our old hardware, has anyone had success doing this kind of thing in a small organisation?

What I don't understand is what all this computer horsepower is for. One minute 64MB of ram on a 400MHZ system was way over the top for a normal users needs. These days if we have 512MB of Ram and 1.5GHZ Cpu we have a modest machine? Why do we need all this extra grunt - what's it all for? I suspect it's all to get pretty old Xwindows running.

This all seems rather silly - an incredible overkill seeing as a quality word processing program used to be abvailable in DOS. People suggest that XP boots quickly, the other day though I fired up an ancient system running Windows 3.1 and it booted in seconds. When it comes to a simple workstation why do we need all this multitasking anyway?

There are a lot of questions here, perhaps I should have broken up the post, please respond to any of the points raised.

Any recommendations for cheap components and software (we are considering TFTs also) for our non-profit organisation are welcome. Forgive me for not being an IT guru, I am a part-time volunteer sysadmin, with some Linux skills.

I would love to promote Linux as an alternative O/S within our organisation and promote it to other community organisations and the general public. I am worried that the M$ monopoly, and elevating expectaions from software and hardware will continue to inhibit the utilisation of open-source solutions.
Old 08-23-2003, 05:16 PM   #2
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The latest and greatest distros won't run at their best below a 1GHz machine with about 256MB of RAM, if you use KDE or Gnome. If your users have a set number of applications to run, you may want to think about running a lightweight window manager such as WindowMaker, IceWM, fvwm2, etc. You can set up launcher shortcuts for Mozilla/Netscape, StarOffice, etc. They can still use Konqueror, Evolution, or any other KDE/Gnome app. I use XFCE and use KDE/Gnome apps all the time.

Also, thin clients are a way to get lots of speed with older hardware. If you set up a good hosting server, preferably dual-CPU with about 512-1G RAM, you can host 10-30 users (maybe more) on that one box. In my experience on a 100Mbit network, any machine from PII-266 or faster with a good video card runs apps over the network with a responsiveness that is indistinguishable from local apps. Of course, page-flipping games will have poor performance, but generally all business applications will work fine over the wire. Go to for more info. It's really easy to set up once you get the hang of it.

StarOffice/OpenOffice are quite slow to launch, but the upside is that all the apps are available quickly once they are loaded. I'm sure in the next couple of versions this will be improved, but the projects are focusing on functionality at this point. In theory, a thin client server will only have to load OOo or StarOffice once, and future sessions will open much more quickly.
Old 08-23-2003, 05:21 PM   #3
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Keep in mind that comparing Linux to Windows 98 as far as machine requirements go is not really a proper comparison. Windows 2000 or XP would be a better comparison, and either of those on a P200 or a machien with 64MB of RAM would be unbearable.

My 1.8GHz P4 512MB Windows XP machine at work seems much more sluggish than my 1GHz 384MB Athlon Redhat 9 box at home. One place where Windows seems faster is StarOffice vs. Office startup times, but StarOffice is so stable that I just keep it opened on desktop #3 for weeks at a time.
Old 08-24-2003, 07:56 AM   #4
Geoff Woade
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Thankyou for your comments.

I like the idea of a thinclient/server solution, but wonder if the investment in time would be worth it for a small selection of machines. Larger networks would really benefit from this approach in terms of maintenance. I shall look at the project.

I realise that it was a little unfair comparing windows 98 with Linux as I have experience with a Windows 2000 network, and bloatware has slowed down the performence of those machines. The price of storage, processor speed and ram has dropped significantly, but it comes back to the question of what all this power is for?

Small organisations only really need an office suite, database, email and web connectivity, why are the majority obsessed with newer and faster machines? They replace fast cable networks with slower wireless ones, and then need extra computer power for encryption etc.

The AMD and Intel platforms used to try and promote themselves as upgradable future proof solutions, but by the time a piece of hardware needs replacing, things have moved on and incompatibility issues or unavailability of older hardware forces you to replace the system.

The UK is pretty poor at providing recycling facilities for old machines, I understand that the ECC is intending to make it madatory for the suppliers to take back older hardware as it is hazardous waste.

It seems that the hardware and software industry are in league to force this situation upon us or are they trying their best to improve their software?

Linux has incredible support for hardware, but this must be a gigantuan effort.

Tell me when I install a package like Suse does the installer detect hardware and write this information into the Kernel? Is there a need to roll your own anymore? Could this speed up an older systems performance? Are the Mandrakes and Suses slower than debian running services we don't need?

I like KDE, but in my ignorance I thought that the applications were bound to that window manager. What then makes KDE slower than the other window managers? I guess KDE is nice interim solution for Windows users migrating to Linux because it looks very similar. How fast is Fluxbox?

Keep your suggestions coming!
Old 08-24-2003, 09:25 PM   #5
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I like the idea of a thinclient/server solution, but wonder if the investment in time would be worth it for a small selection of machines. Larger networks would really benefit from this approach in terms of maintenance. I shall look at the project.
If you have an hour or two, try They have redhat RPMs that make the install really easy. Once you've got one installed, setting up <n> more is even easier. Keep in mind that some things become more complicated, like local floppy/cdrom drives, since the "client" has to serve those back to the "server" since all processes are running on the server. If your clients don't need local removeable drives, this is not a problem.

The AMD and Intel platforms used to try and promote themselves as upgradable future proof solutions, but by the time a piece of hardware needs replacing, things have moved on and incompatibility issues or unavailability of older hardware forces you to replace the system.
True. However, I am looking at machines that I bought 8 years ago and they have been running almost nonstop since. I've relegated them down to print server and firewall duties, but they still have a purpose. Linux gives me that flexibility to not throw away good equipment. It also saves me money to spend on more worthwhile things, like the Dual Athlon monster I'm installing now.

I like KDE, but in my ignorance I thought that the applications were bound to that window manager. What then makes KDE slower than the other window managers? I guess KDE is nice interim solution for Windows users migrating to Linux because it looks very similar. How fast is Fluxbox?
This is a common misconception, particularly when one is used to Windows where the window manager is so tightly woven with the kernel and application APIs. You can run KDE or Gnome apps in almost any window manager. The only apps you can't run would obviously be tray applets that need the KDE/Gnome taskbar running. The window manager is just the frame around the application window itself. You don't even need a window manager to run apps, but you couldn't move or resize them.

Most people get confused because you need KDE installed to run KDE apps. You don't have to have it running. Now, KDE and Gnome do have their supporting processes that launch when the first application runs. For KDE, this is kdeinit, which is why launching KDE apps from outside KDE takes longer. Once you have one open, however, this overhead is gone. Gnome apps can give problems if the gnome-settings-daemon isn't running.

Why is KDE slower? Many reasons which would take another post to explain. Suffice it to say, these systems (KDE/Gnome) offer an immense amount of capability to the users and the developers. The tradeoff is extra processing and memory overhead. The lightweight window managers do a small subset of this functionality, but they use a lot less memory and cpu cycles.
Old 09-12-2003, 04:07 AM   #6
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I have meddled with the same difficulties also.
I am using windows 98 for all applications that I cannot get on Linux. The machine is a 900mhz box and upgrading to winXP scares me, because I care about the power I get (speed, speed!!!) and don't get off at fancy smancy cool graphics which slow down my machine...

Graphics are nice, when you can afford it (the machine has spare power)...
And that is exactly what we are talking about:
Fancy GUIs are slowing machines down and that is why Linux with KDE / Gnome is *can* be so slow. It just looks incredible, hell, I have my linux box looking better than WinXP, because it gives you 100 more ways to customize the themes etc...
Generally to say, computers are not yet ready for these heavy graphical frontends,24bit deep. A 2.5 ghz Machine might be, but everything below, naw..

WinXP is slower than win 98 of course, got to be. It was always like this... How can Microsoft and the hardware producers (working together, it's all in good business) convince you to upgrade to a faster CPU when you say:
Hey, my box is fast enough, with this WinNextGenXYZ that I just installed, it even runs faster. I do not need more speed. Then watch the hardware sales decline.
So the put on feature, features, features that you will never use, but run anyway. And most of all, the size-bloat is attributed to anything with graphics.
First they were 8 bit deep, then 16bit deep, then 24bit.... larger larger larger....
Just watch as in 5 years there will be OS with helpfiles in Video Format and that is going to rock the HD and RAM producers world.
A one hour video is about 1 gbyte in size. Imagine all these files in video format, which is much more friendly than text, right?

Anyway, as said before, win98 is nothing compared to Linux. I use it everyday and it is EXTREMELY unstable... Don't believe me?
Try it yourself: open up a webbrowser, open up 14 sites, open word, open exel, open an audioplayer, open some exporers and see that bitch crash... I got 256 megs of Ram, and that does NOT MATTER at all, because win98 is not scalable, it has built in limits.
Linux is comparable with WinXP only, not win2k, because win2k looks like shit and linux does not.

Yes, XServer is kind of heavy, but you can choose another windowmanager, that does not use so much colors, themes, details etc... I guess KDE and Gnome want to show off these days to make people move to linux (that is looks nice, UNIX X traditionally always looked technically (meaning, ugly)
Problem is, that this bogs down smaller machines, as you have seen. Windows 98 is kind of light, and I use it most for gaming (that is why I cannot switch this one machine to linux ;-(((

Linux is super for server, no questions. Desktop, there are some questions still and problems. Many people don't use it for the desktop, and therefore companies don't produce software for linux, which does make people not use linux as a desktop ..... etc.etc.
Adobe does not make photoshop for linux, because
1. lots of work rewriting everything,
2. not many people would buy it (use linux on a desktop)


Do it as me, use wine or crossover office (commercial,
It let's you run windows software on linux (not emulation, better)
and that works pretty good. You can run whole M$ Office, Photoshop, Lotus Notes (which I use to work), Quicken, and some other stuff...

Funny to say, but my 1.8 ghz laptop does not shine in WinXP, you don't feel the speed and with Linux RH9 and the emulation, it runns faster ;-)

what do people use CPU power for (the one that you don't see so useful, "why buy more....")
Rendering Raytracing (making movies), encoding DivXs, encoding MP3s, OCR, etc... all these use up a lot of juice.

A possiblility that I thought about is:
Using one big machine, install this crossoveroffice with license for every user on it, then access it with many thin clients over the LAN. You have to buy on big box and the rest can be crap old systems, all they have to do it diplay and take input.
This also exists in Windows, Citrix it is called or so, but it is faaar too expensive and I would never trust a windows computer (server) for speed, efficiency, stability or security.
Old 09-12-2003, 08:12 AM   #7
Geoff Woade
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And there I was thinking I was alone.

All that power for eyecandy, can't be true. they must be state of the operating systems which can do more than anything we've ever imagined.

Shouldn't the graphics card take the burden of a 24bit colour desktop with bells and whistles?

Two recommendations then for a thin client solution. Does crossover office really work? How do the liscenses work? I mean if I have one MS office liscense could I shove that on the server and be done with it?

The difficulty I am having here is the fact that the older hardware we have, consists of 300MHZ K6-2, 128MB Ram and an AGP Permidia G card. All quite cheap hardware in it's day. They run win98 with problems of course, but between the crashing it's okay. I have tried SUSE 7.2 proffessional on these machines, and it hasn't quite swung me or the other users. The staroffice bootup time is a turn off (shows just how impatient we have become), cut and paste is unreliable too. Even Konquoror takes a fair while to get going. The screen goes pink occasionally for no apparent reason - toggling back to a console solves this - but normal users are not impressed.

The above mentioned computers had less on than a typical Suse workstation install. Now is this a Suse thing? I have read that compiling from source is beneficial as you get a more tailor made application for the CPU. Does Suse take this into account during the install or use standard executables? Would maticulous and laborious tweaking speed systems up and if so where is the best place to start?

There was mention that windows uses built in APIs to increase speed. Now that does seem rather sensible and of course gives MS a little advantage. Choice in Linux looses out here to speed. Perhaps there needs to be an off shoot project - dedicated to making a quick workstation Linux desktop . Afterall I see scips full of old hardware, wouldn't it be great to use this stuff!

Our organisation would love to leave microsoft behind and promote Linux. I have a small budget. Maybe enough for four machines, two of which will be public access machines. These will be used for surfing the internet mainly, word processing, web design and some DTP. I reckon I could build machines with last weeks motherboards and processors for about 200, integrated graphics would make life easier in terms of size and cost, but these hog CPU time, how would Linux cope with this? Is it recommended? Is a cheap 1.2GHZ AMD Duron fast enough!

Alternatively I could put all that money into a faster server and use thin clients. A little more risk involved here though - as if the one machine goes everything does. Would a dual cpu setup with Duron or low end Athlons perform better that a faster cpu and motherboard?

Or failing that get a few second hand machines, stick with windows, by some nice monitors. Where upon I'd leave with a bad taste in my mouth.


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