Desktop Linux needs Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop

I know of a professional firm that uses a Linux server to store documents for a network of Mac users. The server has a screen, keyboard, and mouse at a desk in the photocopier room.

Linux is a weird kind of Mac

The office manager was asked to sit at console, enter a password, and check connectivity using the web browser. When the office manager saw a desktop with Chrome and TeamViewer, she seemed to relax: “oh, it’s a weird kind of Mac.”

Desktop computer market share 2013 vs 2020

Let’s take a look at the desktop computer market 2013 vs 2020:

2013

Windows: 90%

MacOS: 8%

Linux: 1%

2020

Windows: 78%

MacOS: 17%

Linux: 2%

(source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/218089/global-market-share-of-windows-7/)

12% of the desktop computer market has moved away from Windows

Desktop computing has not fundamentally changed for the past 7 years. But due to problems with system stability and security challenges, 12% of the desktop computer market has moved away from Windows. 9% of the market switched to MacOS. 1% of the market switched to Linux.

Windows on Intel, UNIX on Intel

At the time of this writing, Windows, MacOS, and Linux desktop computers mostly use Intel-compatible CPUs. MacOS and Linux are both essentially UNIX-on-Intel computers, with roughly the same performance and security advantages relative to Windows running on similar hardware. As our friend the office manager put it, “Linux is a weird kind of Mac.”

Applications are brand names

Our friend the office manager recognized a few brand names: Chrome and TeamViewer. Their presence validated the platform. They allowed her to consider the Linux desktop as a viable alternative to her Mac.

Some standard applications are already present on the Linux desktop

On the Linux desktop on which I am writing this post, I have Chrome, Filezilla, VNC, VLC, TeamViewer, Zoom, and Teams. These same applications can be installed on Windows and MacOS computers.

The Linux desktop does not have Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop

At the time of this writing, Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop are not available for the Linux desktop.

Work-alike replacements are not valid in the eyes of consumers

This post is being written in LibreOffice Writer, which is open source software that tries to reproduce the Microsoft Office suite. Like Pages for the Mac, it does a competent job of reading and writing word processing files. But it is not Microsoft Office 365. Same for Photoshop: there are many image editing programs, but they are not the brand name, and really not the same thing. Word processing might be one thing, but aside from the simplest spreadsheets and presentations, Excel and PowerPoint are not really replaceable.

Macs have Office and Photoshop

Macs are relevant to consumers because they can run Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Photoshop. They may not be able to run every accounting or engineering program available for Windows, but having Office and Photoshop covers most needs. That is why when Windows lost 12% of of the entire market, MacOS was able to capitalize on the opportunity to capture the consumers making a change, but Linux was not.

If Linux had Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Photoshop

If Linux had Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Photoshop, we would see the emergence of a second strong UNIX on Intel desktop computer platform. Linux, the “weird kind of Mac,” would get more interest, more relevance, and more market share.

The shell

In the early 1990s, during the glory days of UNIX culture, being able to score a telnet window, a shell account on a UNIX server, was a big deal.

Back then, a combination of borrowed credentials, academic accounts, and commercial providers hosted the UNIX shell accounts, that provided finger and talk and FTP and pine mail and usenet readers and IRC.

UNIX culture, what remains of it, has been subsumed into the Linux server culture, which itself is being eaten by cloud and devops. But one thing that remains, for those who want it: the shell. I remember deploying a Linux server 20 years ago — it was non-trivial and required the re-purposing of Wintel metal. That choice remains (a tiny netbook running Linux is like having a tiny mainframe with its own UPS and console), but other choices, like $5 per month cloud servers and VMWare Player guest instances and raspberry pi servers make the shell available to anyone who wants it.

We do not realize just how lucky we are.

(Almost) off the grid

Sitting on the deck in front of a lake in the Laurentians north of Montreal, I find myself almost off the grid. There is no cell phone coverage for about 20KM before the driveway, so no 3G wifi hotspot. A rural data wireless provider with antennas on mountaintops usually provides a decent wifi connection, but a power surge destroyed the base station of a radio, and here I find myself reduced to my last 2 lines of communication: satellite TV and an old-school voice landline.

Yes, I did make a dialup connection over the landline during last week: it was 24Kbps, slow even by dialup standards, and modern web pages, even those optimized for lower-speed connections like the HTML version of Gmail, are completely unusable.

Colleagues are covering for technical support responsibilities in civilization, and my brother will drive me this afternoon to the community center, 7KM away. Until then, I find myself myself essentially cut off: no WhatsApp texts, no checking for latest headlines, weather, or trivia, no streaming audio for my airpods.

So here I am typing on a computer in offline mode, to be pasted to the Internet later today. This reminds me of a project I have put off several times: a complete offline web development environment. Hosting a LAMP server is trivially easy, whether on the baremetal of a Linux laptop, or as a vm guest on a Windows laptop, but one must take precautions to be productive offline: I need to install a local copy of the php.net documentation, and I have found some interface code that must be redone to invoke local copies of JavaScript libraries, rather than pulling them in from remote locations at run time.

People tell me that I will benefit from being “unplugged,” that it will relax me. They are mistaken, although I will survive until Monday morning when I return to the city, sustained this afternoon by a half hour of the community center’s free wifi. The rural data wireless base station will be replaced at some point, I hope soon – I will be back in the city on Monday morning, but my Mom spends the summer up here – I hope for her that she will soon get wifi for her iPad.

By the way, here at the community center: wifi is awesome, never take it for granted.

Using dialup at the cottage due to a rural wireless outage

Back from a weekend at the family cottage. Barbecue in front of the lake, good weather, my brother’s birthday party.

The family cottage is outside cell phone range. Normally, the cottage has wifi from a rural wireless provider, a satellite TV link, and a landline.
The rural data wireless was out. Using a us robotics usb 56K modem, i was able to make a 24Kbps connection, which is a low speed, even by dialup standards. This poor performance is due to the analog exchange and noise on a rural line: in the city one would expect 50Kbps. There are “light” versions of sites like gmail that load faster on slower connections, but even the simplest requests would often time out and require a reload.

It was fortuitous that i had left a us robotics usb modem in the cottage 10 years ago.

I was able make a dialup connection with my windows 10 laptop, but the experience was not as good as with previous versions: sharing the connection via mobile hotspot did not work, and using connection sharing via the wifi did not trigger a wizard with ad-hoc networking set up on the wifi adapter, things that worked well in prior versions of windows, as recently as windows 8.1.

At the community center 7KM away, near the dépanneur, there is free wifi and a picnic table. On my Linux laptop, I was able to apt install wvdial on the free wifi. wvdialconf autodetected the modem and the man page made it easy to create a dialup file /etc/wvdial.conf (even to find the option for pulse dialing: “ATDP”):

[Dialer Defaults]
Init1 = ATZ
Init2 = ATQ0 V1 E1 S0=0 &C1 &D2 +FCLASS=0
Modem Type = USB Modem
Phone = xxxxxxxxxx
ISDN = 0
Password = xxxxxxxx
New PPPD = yes
Username = xxxxxxxx
Modem = /dev/ttyACM0
Baud = 33600
Dial command = ATDP

wvdial was able to make a 24Kbps ppp connection. I gained some insights, and learned enough to complete a dialup wifi server, based on wvdial, hostapd and dnsmasq. Given the limited speed, there is little point in deploying a dialup server. I will, however, continue to maintain the ability to connect as a dialup workstation, from both my windows and linux laptops.

Modern websites and i/o make dialup almost useless. there may be edge cases especially involving security or remote telemetry, but for consumer use, I suggest driving to the free wifi at the community center.

The 2 simplest devices in my home

The 2 machines in my home that i like best, are simple and not smart. Received as gifts, a new convection toaster oven that goes tick-tick-tick, and a bluetooth soda can speaker with very little intelligence.

Sony SRS-XB10 portable wireless speaker with Bluetooth

This speaker can pair with a phone, iPad, or a computer. It can play audio. It can act as a speakerphone. It is small, rechargeable, wireless, and sounds bigger than it is. It does not have AI, a personal assistant, skills, and does not tie into any home automation. It is just a speaker.

Black and Decker TO1950SBD convection toaster oven

This toaster oven is convection, which means that it has a fan that blows the air around while baking. It is good at baking croissants. It has a temperature control, and a timer. With a spring. That goes tick-tick-tick.

A picture of croissants baked in the toaster oven

Using pobox.com redirection and a free webmail account to host branded email for a domain

A friend registered a domain name, and wanted to send and receive branded email using that domain. If your project has a modest budget, you can send and receive branded domain email using a combination of a free webmail account and a pobox.com redirection account for US$20/year.

you can use pobox.com as your receiving post office, and have it forward your inbound email messages for that domain to a free webmail account. You can use the pobox.com SMTP server as an outbound SMTP gateway, with username and password authentication.

By publishing SPF and DKIM records in the DNS zone file for your domain, you can greatly increase the chances that branded email sent via the pobox.com server will be accepted by the remote party and not be mistaken for spam.

Checklist: what you need for branded email:

A domain (example.com)

a DNS control panel for the domain (I don’t let my hosting ISPs get my control of my DNS, I control it via the free DNS control panel that came from my registrar, GoDaddy.) You could probably do the same with your registrar.

A free webmail account (for example, a free @gmail.com account).

A pobox.com redirection account (US$20/year)

Setting up DNS

Log into DNS control panel

create MX records for your domain:

MX @ mx-1.pobox.com priority 12
MX @ mx-2.pobox.com priority 24
MX @ mx-3.pobox.com priority 36

create SPF and DKIM records:

TXT “v=spf1 include:pobox.com”

For the DKIM record, refer to the custom value generated for your domain, and available in the control panel for your pobox.com account.

Setting up a mail client

Start with an email client, like the Mail app on an iPad or iPhone.

Instead of choosing a branded email service with a logo, like Gmail or Yahoo, choose “other” and define a custom email service.

Name: Firstname Lastname
Email: firstname.lastname@example.com
Password: passwordforgmailaccount
Description: firstname.lastname@example.com

Incoming mail server

Host name: imap.gmail.com
User Name: username@gmail.com
Password: passwordforgmailaccount

Outgoing mail server

Host name: smtp.pobox.com
username: username@pobox.com
password: passwordforpoboxaccount