A Review of Caldera Desktop Preview II
From Paul Dunne <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to the press release elsewhere in this issue Caldera Network Desktop is
now shipping - we hope to have a full review of the production offering in the next Linux@UK.
Before Christmas, I installed the Caldera Network Desktop
Preview II package on a spare disk in my secondary machine, a Windows
(hack! spit!) box. Caldera Network Desktop is an X-based Linux
system produced by Caldera Inc., an American company with backing
from ex-Novell CEO Ray Noorda. It uses the RedHat distribution
with ELF binaries, and added value from Caldera Inc. in the form of
extensions to support integration into a Netware network, and an X
Desktop based on Looking Glass. The kernel version is 1.2.13.
I should say first that I did approach the installation
program with a "dumb user" attitude. My attitude was that such
a program is often used by those with little knowledge of Linux;
perhaps this is their first Linux installation. I tried to rid
myself of all Linux knowledge. I have to say that it took me several
goes with this approach, and I got Caldera installed only by using
The ability to install over a network using
NFS is a good feature. I don't have a CD-ROM on my Windows box, but
I was able to mount the Caldera CD on my Linux machine and install
on the Windows box without further ado. The booklet provided,
"Getting Started", is the best such installation guide that I have
seen, giving a thorough overview of the installation process, plus
useful information on basic 'Net application configuration, including
a useful piece on sendmail, Linux File System Standard.
Preparing the installation diskettes was simple, a matter of
"dd-ing" the diskette images from the CD-ROM onto floppies. For those
without an existing Linux (or other Unix) installation, the DOS program
rawrite.exe is provided. The installation runs entirely under Linux,
so the machine must be booted with Linux using the prepared diskettes.
When booting is complete, the installation program runs.
The Installation Process
You first have the option of running fdisk. Then, you are
prompted for the IP addresses of this machine, of the nameserver, of
the gateway, and for the netmask of the network. This works without
a hitch. For the installation via NFS, the IP addresses of the box
and the NFS server are entered at an earlier stage. You check the
partitions you want to format in a dialog box, they are formatted;
you select your video card from a list; and then there is a long wait
(20-45 minutes, depending on the packages selected) while the bulk
of the system is installed. After the packages, a few steps remain
to be done: mouse type, X configuration, and setting up LILO.
Had to Manually Install X
I ended up hacking XF86Config to get X to work - hardly a job
for a newbie! Despite my Trident TVGA 9000 being supported by X -
and, I thought, a well-known chipset, the installation program could
not configure X for it. It also asked me for the dot clocks for my
Generic SVGA monitor. Yes, I know it is dangerous to run X with the
wrong values, but such a bald question, unsupported by any reference
in the accompanying manual, or any on-line help, would surely be
intimidating to one who hadn't already gone through the process of
installing X, and who therefore would know nothing of "dot clocks".
Didn't always find the DOS partition
I have two disks in the machine, one to boot from, with a DOS
partition on, the other with two empty partitions, on one of which
I installed Caldera. The installation program sometimes failed to
find the DOS partition.
The System in Operation
What can one say about this? It's fine if you like that sort
of thing, I suppose. I am a confirmed command-line addict, and avoid
GUIs when I can - the only use I can find for X is to run Netscape
(well, everybody else does, so I've got to see what my web pages look
like to the unwashed masses) and Xboard, a good graphical interface
to GNU Chess. One nice feature is the virtual desktop, but that's
not specific to Caldera. I noticed that colour allocation had some
puzzling "features". When running a few programs, new programs
started up with far less colours, or even in monochrome! The web
browser supplied, Arena, I found unusable, taking ages to start
up, and running slowly when it finally did so. It looks awful, too!
Hardly a Netscape beater; not even in the same league; I understand
Caldera a working on providing a replacement in the next release.
I have since installed a simple Slackware, and found that
I prefered the "vanilla flavour" of X that is installed with this.
The desktop looks better (no silly icons or button bars or things of
that sort, just a nice plain blue background). The colour allocation
problem persists, and I discovered that it was Netscape's fault.
Networking works faultlessly, providing you know what you are
doing at install stage. Telnet and ftp are supported as both client
and server, with reasonable defaults. Sendmail is installed with
a good default sendmail.cf. I would have prefered to have MH as a
mail agent, rather then elm and pine, but that is just me quibbling!
I don't have a Netware network, so I was unable to test the proprietary
interfaces to Netware that Caldera the company have supplied.
A basic GUI editor. It is the cut-down edition of
Crisp, unfortunately, so you don't get any of the best features.
Unfortunately, without these features it is pretty poor - certainly
not enough to compete with vi or emacs.
Not included in the express installation, so I didn't get
round to testing it.
One feature of Caldera worth mentioning in greater depth is
the concept of packages. These are well-done, and allow installation
or de-installation of a bit of software with a single command - a
great boon for handling unwieldy great lumps such as emacs, which
puts stuff all over the place.
The system is stable and reliable in operation, allowing for
the low quality of the hardware it is running on. I do get memory
errors on occasion (see below), but I will excuse these by saying
that the SIMMs in the machine are not of the highest quality.
Before we start on the bugs, a caveat: the hardware in the
machine I installed Caldera on is not of the highest quality. As we
know that Linux, like any Unix, hits the hardware far heavier than
tolerant old DOS, some of the following errors may be due to hardware
faults. This is very difficult to prove or disprove conclusively.
X Desktop Won't Exit
I cannot exit from the Desktop using the File...Exit command.
It just leaves me stuck in the Desktop forever, unable even to call
up an X-term. This happens when using the Fvwm menu too.
"Can't resolve symbol '' "
I have got this error message twice. When whatever it is
talking about (I have no idea!) happens, then it is big red switch
time, for no program will run - all give this error when any binary
is started. (Shell commands can still be entered, so I would guess
that the problem is located in the kernel process startup code).
"INIT: Id "1" respawning too fast: disabled for 5 minutes"
This extremely irritating bug seems to happen when the machine
has been up for a while and no one has logged on save to run "startx".
When I tried to log on just now to VC1 to run the "uptime" command,
I got this! I then ran "ls" in an existing X-term window, and got
"Segmentation fault (core dumped)". Running "help" (a shell built-in)
then zapped the X-term! The machine then sits silently, save for
a brief flurry of disk activity every five minutes, whereupon this
message is again displayed on the console. Big red switch time again!
"Unable to handle kernel paging request"
I have got two of these over the course of my testing. These
are more than likely due to the quality of the SIMMs in the machine,
as I used to get them when I used the damn thing as my main Linux box.
Overall, I am in two minds about Caldera Desktop. On the
one hand, it is good to see a company taking Linux seriously as a
commercial, desktop OS - especially a company backed by Ray Noorda.
On the other hand, unless you're running a Novell network, I can't
see any good reason to chose Caldera over another distribution - say,
Slackware, for example. It is true that several X applications are
promised, but these again are not specific to Caldera Desktop.
The installation, for all its faults, is very easy for someone
who knows what they are doing. The system is reasonably stable in
operation, and I presume that the more serious bugs will have been
removed in the final release (available early 1996).
A final judgement? A product that promises much, and is worth
watching; but not one that offers a significant advantage over any good
distribution - especially when one considers the retail price of $99.