Today marks Open for Business's third year of informing you on the latest enterprise computing news. It seems very appropriate for this day to also mark the announcement of our third annual OfB Choice Awards. We have spent the last year testing and reporting on the very best open computing offerings and it finally comes down to this time when we must choose the very best of that elite group of products to report to you as our OfB Choices.
Best GNU/Linux Value-Add Service: Mandrakeclub
Mandrakeclub has taken this honor each year of our awards because it remains a unique offering among the increasingly service oriented distribution companies. Simply put, Mandrakeclub provides the best bang for the buck, in our opinion. There are few other services in the community that provide the variety of useful functions that Mandrake's club does. These include access to up-to-date commercial packages, the ability to request packages you would like to see made available, early access to new distribution releases and a thriving user support community.
With Mandrakelinux 10.0, the Club also continues to become tied further into Mandrake's distribution. A really nice bonus in recent times is the inclusion of one Mandrakeonline account with silver or higher levels of Mandrakeclub membership. Mandrakeonline not only will indicate on your taskbar when you need updates, it will also e-mail you (or the appropriate contact person) about the need for security updates as they are released.
Best Instant Messaging Software: Gaim 1.0.0
Gaim continues to provide the most well rounded instant messaging client we are aware of. A universal e-mail client is a necessity if you plan to work with colleagues over instant messaging, since it is often the case that not everyone is using the same protocol. Gaim solves this problem and does so while providing a friendly, extensible interface and at least some integration with Gnome, KDE and Windows environments (Gaim is also set to sport even better integration in upcoming releases of Gnome thanks to Novell's work to tie it in with Evolution).
RUNNER UP: Psi (Jabber Client)
Best E-mail Client: Thunderbird 0.8
The Mozilla project's returns for spending time breaking apart the Mozilla suite are finally paying off. Thunderbird offers a much better, lighter weight and more robust option for e-mail than the previous Mozilla Mail and is quickly surpassing other e-mail clients as well. Furthermore, it provides the only available option for a modern GUI e-mail client that spans all the major operating systems, a major plus for heterogeneous computing environments.
While it does not feature the support for proprietary groupware solutions, as Evolution does, and it does not integrate as completely into desktop environments as Kontact and Evolution do, it offers the best set of features for standard e-mail usage, in our opinion, including stand alone spam filtering and the ability to extend its functionality using a wide variety of Thunderbird extensions. This release also remedies one of the major complaints about Mozllia's client: the inability to have a global e-mail box. [In-depth Coverage]
RUNNER UP: Novell Evolution 2.0
Best Legacy Software Tool: Win4Lin 5.1
This product has not been significantly updated since last year's Choice Awards, however it still remains the gold standard for running legacy Windows programs on GNU/Linux. The Win4Lin enabled kernels are becoming a bit outdated and the new generic 2.6 kernels are somewhat problematic since they remove special distribution specific functionality, yet after the initial installation, Win4Lin continues to provide the best compromise between compatibility and ease of use of the three major programs in this market (the other two being CrossOver Office and VMware). Win4Lin provides the best experience of any virtualization tool that we have tried in that it tries to hide itself from the user as much as possible and only suffers a bit in ease of use over CrossOver Office. Win4Lin also supports a wider variety of software than CrossOver Office presently does, although it may need to gain Windows XP support soon to maintain that lead. [Full Review]
RUNNER UP: VMware 4.5
Best Desktop Environment: Gnome 2.8 and KDE 3.3
This year, we have decided to call a tie between Gnome and KDE. It is editor-in-chief Timothy R. Butler's contention that Gnome's focus on simplicity and polish over adding new functionality wins the day, while contributing editor Eduardo SÃ¡nchez believes that KDE's versatility and more mature kiosk framework merit its consideration for this award. As a whole, it is our belief that both desktops offer useful features for the enterprise, although the next year may again separate the desktops apart far enough that there will be a clear winner.
KDE continues to offer a strong framework of technology as well as the largest array of functionality of any X11 desktop environment. KDE's oft praised KDE Kiosk framework can be administered via the kiosktool GUI, which is another major advantage in cases where the administrator desires to prevent users from accessing or changing certain parts of the system. On the other hand, Gnome has solidified its position as a simple, business oriented environment that omits features generally not useful to the enterprise while offering the best set of enterprise collaboration tools via Novell Evolution. We feel that Gnome is taking the right path to bring the heralded ease-of-use of Mac OS to the PC world.
Best Office Suite: OpenOffice.org 1.1.1
OpenOffice.org remains the only serious contender to replace Microsoft Office on Windows or GNU/Linux desktops. There are some competitors, such as Abiword on Windows and GNU/Linux as well as Corel WordPerfect Office on Windows; OpenOffice.org seems to have a unique hold on progress toward offering comprehensive compatibility with Microsoft Office in an interface that should minimize adjustment time for users migrating to it.
Best Web Browser: Firefox 1.0 Preview Release
The last year has been the year of Firefox in the browser wars. For the first time since 1999, a browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer made significant gains in the market. Firefox has continued its confident stride and the Mozilla project has proven its ability to respond quickly to security issues while continuing to bring additional useful features, most recently, a brilliant integration of RSS feeds into the bookmark management of the browser.
It is Firefox's excellent compatibility, cross-platform availability and continual pushing of the envelope on features that improve the browsing experience of users that takes it above other browsers. With its one-point-oh release just around the corner, it would appear that the upcoming year should be an excellent one for this browser. [In-depth Coverage]
RUNNER UP: Konqueror/KHTML for KDE, Safari for Mac OS X
Best Computer Accessory: RadTech ScreensavRz
Few computer care accessories take a really innovative spin on a problem. They may solve the problem at hand, but do they do anything to improve things along the way? RadTech's ScreensavRz does just that, since it not only protects compact laptops screens from damage inflicted from their keyboards, it also serves as a screen cleaning cloth that minimizes scratching when compared to other commonly used materials. Best of all, this great idea comes at a price of less than $20, a true bargain when trying to protect an investment of a thousand dollars or more on a notebook. [Full Review]
Best Linux Distribution: Mandrakelinux 10.0 Official PowerPack+
Picking a distribution is a difficult proposition. There is no one distribution that will solve every problem or one distribution that is even clearly the best desktop for every need. Mandrakelinux 10.0 Official is the obvious pick, even considering that, because it has the capabilities to work well for the widest array of situations and features what we believe to be the best set of configuration tools.
Mandrakelinux 10.0 Official Edition PowerPack+ is the only distribution we have tested that properly detected a variety of both nVidia and ATI video cards that required their respective proprietary drivers. Mandrakelinux is also the distribution we found offered the best selection of kernels for particular needs, the best coverage of post-installation configuration tools for hardware and software and the convenient inclusion of a graphically administered server installation CD set, in addition to the DVD-ROM desktop edition.
Mandrakelinux also seems to presently maintain a good configuration of both KDE and Gnome, whereas we have found most distributions favor one environment or another in a far more striking manner. This is especially good in large deployments since it allows administrators to deploy just one distribution even if some employees will find KDE a better fit and others find Gnome a better fit.
All these things considered, we feel that Mandrakelinux 10.0 Official Edition PowerPack+ has more than earned its place as the GNU/Linux OfB Choice award holder for 2004.
RUNNERS UP: Fedora Core 2, Xandros Desktop 2.5
Open for Business editor-in-chief Timothy R. Butler, associate editor Ed Hurst and contributing editors Eduardo SÃ¡nchez and John-Thomas Richards contributed to this report.