Sun Java Desktop

by Jonathan Gennick

Do you ever think about converting over to Linux entirely? I do. I think about
moving the family PC over to Linux, but always I seem to find one reason or
another not to make the switch. Until now. Another editor pointed me to the
Sun Java Desktop,
a new Linux distribution aimed squarely at desktop users. I visited the Sun
website, saw a screenshot with a Launch button and Lanch menu that closely resembled
Windows (please don't laugh), read the list of included applications, and realized
that I can sell my wife and kids on this thing. Consider:

  • My daughter is away at school

  • My son uses the PC only to play Internet games such as those you might find
    on and Neopets.

  • My wife does email, newsgroups, surfs the Internet, and writes the occasional

This is the perfect time to switch! Sun's distribution seems to have all of
the above covered. We're already using OpenOffice, and Mozilla is just another
web browser, so the only somewhat jarring change, from the standpoint of someone
having to learn something totally different from what we're currently using,
will be my wife's switch from using Agent
for email and news to using Evolution (for email) and whatever newsreader comes
with Sun's system.

Why Sun? Why Now?

Why Sun Java Desktop? I know there are lots of other, very good Linux distirbutions
out there. The value proposition I see with Sun's system is that they've thought
through the options and have picked one set of applications--StarOffice, Evolution,
Mozilla, etc.--and put them together in a package that seems to be designed
to leverage the habits and practices of Windows users in a way that will make
it relatively easy to switch operating systems. And to be honest, I'm just curious
what Sun's Java Desktop is all about, so consider this nothing more than a grand
experiment with a distribution that just happened to catch my eye.

Why now? Is there a compelling reason to switch from Windows XP to Linux? The
answer is "no". Try as I might, I really can't come up with a compelling
reason to make the switch. All I have is the vague notion that in the long run
it will might pay off. And, as I said, I just want to try out Sun's distribution.
However, I do hope to gain in a few areas:

  • Our desktop hardware is old. If we can get our work done more quickly under
    Linux, without annoying pauses and waits, then that's a good thing.

  • Our anti-virus subscription ran out a few weeks ago. Running Linux probably
    alleviates the need to spend money to renew our Norton subscription.

  • The kids tend to download and install all sorts of "stuff". I
    hope I can leverage Linux to reign the kids in a bit. With Windows, I've found
    it impractical not to make all users administrators. I hope that's not the
    case in the Linux world.

Good as these things are, none of them strikes me as compelling. There's nothing
yet that I can tell my non-technical neighbors about using Linux that will get
them excited about switching from what they have now.


There are a couple kinks in my plan. My son was initially resistant to the
idea. I swayed him by pointing to Sun's claim of better performance. On their
Java Desktop page, Sun states:

Less demanding hardware requirements allow you to extend the life of older
existing systems

Will we really get better performance? Time will tell. I need to measure a
few key tasks that we really care about. But for now, Sun's claim satisfied
my eight-year-old, who frequently complains about how sluggish our current Windows
XP system can be.

And there's my wife, who is looking to buy a Magic
for her sewing. The Magic Box software apparently runs only under Windows.
I'm hoping that something like Wine will
bail me out here. I'm bound to make the Magic Box work, even if that means reverting
to Windows.

What Next?

My weekend is committed to meeting an article deadline. After I get past that,
I'll benchmark a few common tasks that we perform on the PC, that we care about.
For example, I really want a faster shutdown. It's a simple thing, but that's
what I care about. My son on the other hand, dearly wants a faster startup.
So I'll benchmark what we care about, both before and after the upgrade to Linux.

After the benchmarking, I'll back off all our files, and my wife's email, put
in a fresh hard drive, install Linux, restore the data, restore the email, and
let my wife and son have at it. I'll report back on their reaction. This should
be a fun experiment.


2004-01-23 13:09:23
Just Re-Branded Suse
At this point, the JDE is just a Suse distribution with some different icons and a smaller feature set installed by default. If you think the apps that Sun has chosen for the JDE are the ones you wish to use, you would probably be better served with a standard Suse install and the make the easy customizations. Of course, if you need java, you can get that from the Sun site. The JDE is really targeted for call center and other limited use desktop users. If you choose the JDE, you may end up missing a lot.
Jonathan Gennick
2004-01-23 14:17:57
Just Re-Branded Suse
Interesting. You know, I have Suse for a new PC I'm building in my office. It'll be interesting then, to see how the two compare.
2004-01-23 17:22:31
more than SuSE
actually it's not stock SuSE. for example, the desktop is an enhanced GNOME v. the standard KDE. includes key features such as much more accessible for disabled users, etc.

disclaimer: email during the day.

2004-01-26 05:08:43
You might want to try coLinux...
It must be coincidence, but I just read about coLinux (look at, which promises a way to run your favourite OS (Linux, not Panther ;) under the OS that you somehow have to run because of the brain control waves from Redmont...