OfB Open Choice Awards 2003

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 12:51 PM

Choosing the best of the best in different sectors of GNU/Linux products and services is not an easy task. In many cases, there was more than one contender that was worthy of an award in any given category. However, we attempted to select the easiest to use, most robust, most promising, and - when possible - most free (as in freedom) products for the Open Choice Awards 2003.

While some of these choices will undoubtedly be controversial, we hope that you'll appreciate our selections and find our picks helpful in making deployment decisions. Many of our selections this year are returning favorites from last year's premier of the Open Choice awards, but you will also find a few new names throughout. Without further ado, let us present this year's Open Choice winners.

Best Embedded Offering: TrollTech Qtopia Palmtop Environment

Over the past few years TrollTech has been quietly building up its solution for a market that is very hostile to those whose names aren't PalmSource or Microsoft. The PDA software market is difficult to enter, but TrollTech's harnessing of the advantages of Free Software to build their solution on top of embedded GNU/Linux has caused a number of small and large companies to choose Qtopia. Sharp's Zaurus is the best-known entry, but others exist, including an upcoming PDA that will serve as the high-end model for Royal's Linea line of systems.

Qtopia combines elements of both Pocket PC and PalmOS interface styles into an attractive and useful environment that should make a user of either system feel comfortable. Considering the advantages, to enterprise deployments, of a Free Software solution, as well as a growing library of excellent third party software, Qtopia-powered PDA's ought to be a real contender over the coming years. (Free, www.trolltech.com.)

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Best GNU/Linux Value-Add Service: Mandrake Club

Mandrake Club was our runner up last year in the services category. With this new category this year, Mandrake Club ran up against a number of other excellent distribution related services. We feel, however, that Mandrake Club's wide, and growing, array of features make it an excellent choice for the award. Among other things, it offers access to new releases of software without having to wait for the next distribution release cycle, special mirror links to avoid the rush for new distribution release downloads, discounts on useful products such as Win4Lin and a directory of over 50,000 Mandrake Linux packages ready to install. ($60, www.mandrakeclub.com.)

Best Services Offering: Hosting Matters, Inc. Web Hosting

Hosting Matters took this category last year as well, and for good reason. Over the years, Open for Business' parent, Universal Networks, has researched hundred of web hosting providers and only found a few that it felt met the strict quality, functionality and affordability standards that its clients needed and wanted. Hosting Matters is one of those few and excels beyond the others in many ways. With fast, around the clock support, very good hosting plans, excellent servers and speedy connections to the Internet, we feel they exemplify everything that a “Best Services Offering” service should. It is notable that Hosting Matters hosts this very site and has managed to keep us up even during “Slashdottings” (the massive onslaught of traffic that happens when Slashdot links to a site). ($6 and up, www.hostmatters.com.)
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Best Instant Messaging Software: Gaim 0.68

These days instant messaging has moved beyond a tool solely useful for home users and become a useful means for business communication as well. Whether you want to run an internal Jabber server or communicate with a client over AOL Instant Messenger, Gaim is a great choice. With a unified interface for every major IM protocol, Gaim makes it easy to be available using whatever system your clients, and others you might need to reach, prefer. Recent versions of Gaim are cross platform as well, supporting Windows and Qtopia as well as the standard GTK+ on X Windows. (Free, gaim.sf.net.)

Best E-mail Client: Evolution 1.4

At this time last year, Evolution still had some issues, especially in the department of stability, that persuaded us to give the best E-mail client award to KMail. KMail remains a great e-mail program, however we feel that Evolution 1.4 has matured enough to give it a slight advantage in a number of areas, at least until the next KMail/Kontact release later this year. Evolution is now based on GTK+ 2.x (Gnome 2.x) and feels extremely polished through out. We were pleased to see Evolution now supports the Maildir storage format, which we have found to be less prone to corruption than the mbox file format. Additionally, in our tests Evolution's search speeds on large message folders was dramatically better than KMail's and its virtual folders, which in essence turn a search into a folder dynamically updated based on the results it finds, are convenient for frequently searched items such as specific senders. Finally, Evolution Connector, a proprietary add-on, makes Evolution a real Microsoft Exchange client able to interoperate with those using Outlook, something great to ease the migration to GNU/Linux. (Free or $69 with Connector, www.ximian.com.)

Best Legacy Software Tool: Win4Lin 5.0

While it would be ideal to become completely independent of legacy Windows installations, and other tools such as the excellent CrossOver Office theoretically provide this, in practice, a large selection of legacy software still needs a real Windows environment to run. Although those simply desiring to run Microsoft Word, or some other application supported by CrossOver, might be better suited by that tool, Win4Lin is definitely the best choice if you need to run a variety of legacy applications.

Win4Lin 5.0 is fast and easy to use and requires only a Windows 95, 98, or ME CD, something that you probably have already available. Once installed, “booting up” Windows takes only a few moments, and the virtualized system runs just like any other GNU/Linux application, so that a locked up or crashed Windows can be easily shutdown without causing any issues with your GNU/Linux software. Best of all, while conventional wisdom would suggest running Windows natively would yield the best results, we found that applications actually were responsive under Win4Lin. ($89, www.netraverse.com.)

Best Desktop Environment: KDE 3.1

KDE has, in our estimation, managed to remain the most polished desktop environment for some time now. Although GNOME 2.2 offers considerable improvements (GNOME 2.4 was released too late for this year's Open Choice awards), KDE remains the best choice for the average user desiring a good replacement for Windows or Mac OS. KDE's well-designed object framework creates a modular and unified desktop environment that integrates together better than any other GUI we are aware of. The project has always spent a lot of time working on keeping the applications' look and feel unified and it shows. While in some cases we think that GTK-based alternatives are better than the KDE equivalent tools, the applications in KDE average out to be a more robust and feature packed, in our opinion. Time spent perfecting tools such as the KDE Printing System, KDevelop and Konqueror really show and make this environment a pleasure to use. KDE is also the first desktop environment to include SSH-based remote file system access support; something that makes fast and secure access and writing of files to any server that has SSH installed possible within all KDE applications (this is especially good for accessing servers that are outside of one's intranet). (Free, www.kde.org.)

Best Office Suite: OpenOffice.org 1.1 (Release Candidate)

For years, GNU/Linux and other UNIX-like operating systems suffered from poor, buggy office suites. Fortunately, OpenOffice.org has fixed much of this as Sun Microsystems and others work to make it (and its proprietary variant, StarOffice) the best office suite available. In the most recent releases, OpenOffice features improved Microsoft Office file format compatibility, the ability to export to useful internet formats such as Macromedia Flash for Impress presentations and Draw drawings, and dramatically faster startup. Perhaps most exciting is that the suite is now truly able to be a universal office suite in a heterogeneous office environment, with support for UNIX and UNIX-like systems such as GNU/Linux as well as Windows and Mac OS X. (Free, www.openoffice.org.)

Best Web Browser: Konqueror 3.1

Apple apparently felt that Konqueror's KHTML was the best available Free Software HTML rendering engine when they chose it for Safari. We would tend to agree. While Mozilla has come a long way from the buggy and slow browser that it was several years ago, we still find Konqueror more responsive, and in more than a few cases, better at rendering pages intended for Internet Explorer. Konqueror in recent times has become very good at rendering almost any page, has good support for plug-ins such as Flash, and integrates perfectly into KDE (providing an advantage over Mozilla, which does not totally integrate into KDE or GNOME).

Like Mozilla, Konqueror also includes many useful additional features such as popup blocking and tabbed browsing (in addition to side-by-side or stacked pages). Finally, we also appreciate the optional additional functionality provided by the KGet download manager that allows for pausing downloads as well as many other advanced operations (in a similar vein to the Windows-based Go!Zilla software). (Free, www.konqueror.org.)

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Best Linux Distribution: Mandrake Linux 9.1

During our summer distribution review series, the competition was very heated. In our estimation there are a number of excellent distributions available right now, including SuSE 8.2, Red Hat 9 and Libranet 2.8. However, Mandrake Linux 9.1 returns to the distribution throne after faltering in 9.0. While SuSE Linux 8.2 retained the excellent design and quality that made 8.1 our choice for the Fall/Winter 2002 distribution award, Mandrake 9.1 fixes the problems that 9.0 suffered from and at the same time moves forward with a much improved user interface.

During our testing, Mandrake Linux 9.1 was the only distribution that presented no real problems during installation (while contributing editor Eduardo Sanchez noted some annoyances during installation, we found nothing that would stump a new user within the standard installation). Furthermore, Mandrake's excellent URPMI system, which is similar to apt-get, makes it easy to keep systems up-to-date with both Mandrake and third party packages (including your own custom ones, if you wish to deploy non-standard software).

Mandrake also offers an extremely easy to use set of configuration tools to administer the system with. We are especially impressed with the latest releases of the printer and scanner control panels, however virtually all of the tools are well designed and easy to use.

In all, we think Mandrake Linux provides the best desktop distribution available right now, not to mention a worthy server option. The Download Edition is especially nice in that it is 100% Free/Open Source Software. We also were quite pleased with the ProSuite's excellent additions, not the least of which is placing all of the packages on one DVD. (Free [Download Edition] to $199 [ProSuite Edition], www.mandrakelinux.com.) r

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.
Thanks go to Contributing Editors Eduardo Sánchez and
John-Thomas Richards, who assisted in preparations.