My life with a Linux Desktop in the Corporate World…

When I recently changed jobs I was given the opportunity to build my dream machine and put what ever OS “I thought would be best”.  Several of my counterparts were running Linux or dual booting between Linux and Windows.  In my new position, I will mainly be supporting the IBM Tivoli family of security products.  Most of these applications run on Linux and the ones that don’t, run on Windows in a VM just fine.  So I was all set and ready to begin.  The first question was which distro?

After looking at and doing quick tests of several, I decided to go with PinguyOS.  Unlike Shannon from Hak5, I haven’t seen any real problems with it.  As I have come to expect with Ubuntu and it’s derivatives, everything in my new Dell Laptop including the web cam and finger print reader, were found and configured during the install.  So far, everything was going great.

I installed Vmware Workstation, even though PinguyOS comes with VirtualBox and Vmware Player pre-installed.  This was done mostly because I actually use the higher end features like VM Teaming and network manipulation.  VM Teaming allows you to group a set of VM’s into a team that then share a special network and can be managed as a group.  It is really nice when you are setting up a demo system where you need multiple servers or a mix of workstations and servers.  Even though I wasn’t dual booting, I set the system up like I was.  Then after getting all of this up and migrated to an SSD, I created a VM out of the original install of Windows 7 from the native spindle hard drive.  This give me the benefit of booting both Windows and Linux from the SSD.  It’s just plain fast.  As I said in a recent podcast, both Linux and Windows(as a VM) boot in less than 15 seconds.  The majority of the other VM’s I need are stored on the original 750GB spindle hard drive.  After getting myself to a workable state, I started migrating the rest of my world off of Windows and into Linux.

Setting up mounts to the corporate network was simple. go to the Samba setup app and with a few clicks and a little typing everything was available.  Connecting to Windows machines I required access too for various AD and other tasks was even simpler with the Reminna Remote Desktop Client.  This was probably one of the finds that made me the happiest.  I have long searched for a putty type program for Linux.  By that I don’t mean the SSH part but the session/server list part.  The customers I am working with are all within different types of business markets and there is no standardization in their systems names.  So having a client app I can store the system names in, is awesome.  The great part of this is that whether it’s Windows or Linux, I can use the same program and connect to anything that I need too.  I use Eclipse for my IDE when developing in Python, shell and JavaScript.  As with most Java applications, it works fine and took no more effort to configure on Linux than it does on Windows.  Pidigin is what I chose for my instant messaging needs.

Now for the things that have, in the past, stopped me from switching to Linux completely as a work desktop.  Office and E-mail apps seem to be hard to keep compatible and usable.  I have been working with this system for just over two months now.  I keep switching from running MS Office and Exchange in a Windows VM,  to using LibreOffice and the Web client for Exchange and back again.  I haven’t found a good native client for Exchange, and by that, I just mean one I like.  There are several workable solutions but each is missing something I need.  So for now, I have decided to stick with a Windows VM for them.

The next issue has been VPN Clients.  This was not an area that  I thought would be a problem at this time.  I have used VPN’s on Linux before and read plenty of articles talking about how easy it is to set up Linux to talk to just about any VPN.  From my experience, it just doesn’t seem to be working that way.  At one client, they are using a Cisco VPN.  I have the Linux Cisco VPN client installed, but need to compile it to make it work.  That is fine and I am capable of doing it, but it is not very fun.  Several hours of work later, I finally got it working.  On the other end of the spectrum is a smaller client who is using a WatchGuard firewall.  It’s a Linux based appliance and supports OpenVPN.  Within about 30 minutes, I had the VPN up and working.  The only client I will be supporting that has forced me to use a VM to connect to, is one that requires you run a check for AntiVirus software which only supports a small list of Windows software.  When I asked if I could get help connecting with Linux, the silence on the other end of the phone had me convinced we had gotten disconnected.  So for them I will just fire up a VM.

The only Linux oddity I have experienced is a missing mouse pointer.  While it’s still completely functional on my two monitor setup when using VMWare, the pointer occasionally disappears.  I can still move it around and highlight menus, but I cannot see it.  If I logout and back in, it comes right back and will often work on one screen but not the other.

The thing I like the best so far is Conky and the Docky app.  Docky looks like the MacOSX dock with shortcuts to your favorite apps on it.   Conky, the system status widget on the PinguyOS screen snapshots, gives you CPU usage, Network usage and the like.  It’s extremely customizable and easy to use.  Both of these are great tools that make life just that little bit more useful and fun.  The system is fast, stable and everything works.

I am a linux lover for servers.  I love the stability and tools available to stand up machines consistently.  I like the control and manageability I get and find troubleshooting it easier than any other OS I get asked to support.  (Yes even other *nix flavors.)  I would say that my experience with Linux on my desktop doesn’t quit leave me with the same passion for it on my desktop as I have for it on my servers.  However, it is completely usable, fully functional, and will probably be the base for my next computer build at home.  If you are going to switch to a full time Linux desktop,  I strongly suggest following my path.  I have been able to remain completely functional while I work out what I need,  to get my job done.  For most normal situations, VMWare Player or VirutalBox should work so you don’t need to invest the $180 for VMWare WorkStation.  I believe that at the one year mark, I will have myself completely switched over to Linux.  I will write another story at the one year point and update the news blog as I find cool new tools to use as replacements for MS and Mac Tools.