This is (so the box says) "A Powerful Easy-to-Use Operating System-Designed Specifically for your Desktop" that includes WordPerfect 8. Well, I am looking for a new desktop. I won't run Windows (it's just too weak). I've been running SCO for years, but SCO doesn't provide everything I need (most or perhaps even all of it is available from Skunkware, but I'm lazy). I have looked at Red Hat, and the Star Office stuff, but I just have more experience with Word Perfect, so I'll give this a try. I decided to install it on a spare machine that had previously had some minor problems with RedHat 6.1: RedHat had installed fine, but only in text mode; another RedHat package (Netmax) had failed to install at all on this box. I was therefore pleased and just a little surprised to see the GUI install pop right up.
I always follow the principle of "Manuals are for when it doesn't work" when first evaluating anything new. That is, I just go at it with my bare hands and slightly addled brain and see what happens. If it blows up in my face, I go back and read enough of the instructions to get me by that bomb, and continue in this sometimes painful manner until the product is working or I've read the whole manual. This of course is NOT the way to install anything that is important to you and your livelihood, but it's a great way to find the stumbling blocks that other people might bump into.
Corel's install took a very minimalist approach to asking questions- it pretty much doesn't ask you anything. Oh, there are places where you could click into Advanced Options, and I did go back and look at those later, but the only real questions for the standard install was to solicit a system owner id and to ask whether or not I wanted to wipe out my hard drive and start fresh. Sure, why not?
You can watch the install's progess on the GUI, or switch to the character scren on CTRL-ALT-F3 and watch what's really going on. The install took about 20 minutes, and when it was done, I rebooted and again was pleased to see a GUI screen pop up offering to boot Corel. That first boot involves a bit more configuration behind the scenes (this time not visible on an ALT screen), that takes a few minutes, but very shortly I was presented with a KDE desktop login with "root" filled in. I thought I might have to go to the manual at this point, but no, the password was just blank, and when I clicked to log in I was immediately asked to change it, and then my desktop came up, and there I was amazed to see that Word Perfect was already loaded. So was Netscape, but of course since it had never asked me anything about IP adresses, that wasn't ready to work. However, I quickly found "Control Center" in my start menu, easily found and modified the TCP/IP to be on my local LAN and to use my SCO box (running ipfilter) as it's default route, added DNS information, and in a few seconds I had Netscape (Version 4.7) up and running too. I had some problems, though, hanging and slow loading pages, so I decided to give the poor thing a chance to start from scratch by rebooting, and the network was much happier after that. I added a local HP 6L printer (through Control Center again, very obvious, very easy), and after logging in with the non-root user id, I printed my first WordPerfect document with no reference to manuals.
Right about now I was feeling pretty darn impressed. In less than an hour, on equipment that hadn't worked all that well with RedHat Linux previously, I had a complete working system without having even looked at the manual. As I had to leave right about then to take my wife for a dentist appointment, and would be waiting for a while while he performed a root canal, I thought that would be a good time to read the manual- if nothing else it would take my mind off the $1,600 charge that is not covered by insurance.
It's hard to really enjoy reading anything while someone who is charging you $800 an hour is excavating your wife's teeth, but in spite of that, I do have to say that the manual is very good. A neophyte user, with no prior exposure to Unix or Linux, could probably feel fairly comfortable after reading this.
It was the next morning when I ran into my first problem.
Although I had succesfully printed from WordPerfect, I had forgotten to try printing from Netscape. I assumed that this would have been automatically set up for the lpr filter to run the job through ghostscript as necessary, but in fact when I tried it, nothing printed. I examined the used dates on the filters, and it looked like the proper things were being called, but no printing. To make sure there was nothing else wrong, I wrote a quick little "webprint" shell script:
/usr/bin/gs -q -sDEVICE=ljet4 -r600 -sPAPERSIZE=letter -dNOPAUSE -dSAFER -sOutputFile="-" - > /dev/lp0
That worked from Netscape, so now I knew there was some problem in the configuration. While I was sure I could fix it, I wondered how our neophyte user would have made out, so I decided to see what kind of support I could get from Corel instead. So, I wrote a pleasant email to the address listed on their web site, explaining the problem, and including the information that using the "webprint" gs script shown above did work, as did WordPerfect printing, etc. That was sent about 4:00 PM (EST) on April 17th 2000. At the same time, I also posted to the Corel Support newsgroup, and then I looked at the actual files involved to see where the problem really was. It turned out to be very simple: /var/spool/lpd/hp/postscript.cfg had "RESOLUTION=0x0". I changed this to "RESOLUTION=600" and the printing worked. However, that was not the only problem- the PAPERSIZE option was not being picked up because the postscript.cfg had it as PAPER_SIZE while the /etc/printfilters/ps-to-printer.fpi was looking for PAPERSIZE. I changed that to make it consistent, though it really wasn't necessary for this.
In the meantime, I had a response on the newgroup telling me that I might want to check out "magicfilter". Obviously that was from someone who doesn't know that it is already set up to figure out what filter it needs (and apparently also doesn't realize that there are at least three "magic filter" packages out there). I wish people who post in newsgroups would stay out of areas they really aren't qualified in, though at least this answer might have caused the befuddled user to either download something already properly configured or to have to look into it enough to figure it out.
On the 18th, I received what looked like a canned response from Corel asking for my serial number (which I had included in the original email) and my address. I popped it right back to them, of course.
Corel has an update utility that comes preconfigured to point at their ftp site. When it loads, it shows a listing of installed packages. You simply choose "Update Profile", and it checks at the ftp site for updated versions. The simplest way to do this is to set "View out of date only" and then choose "Expand All"; if anything is not current it will show up.
You can install software the same way (directly from their site) or from CD. I found the interface a little confusing at first. but once I clicked around a bit I got the hang of it quickly.
OK, so we have a nice desktop, complete with Word Perfect. That takes care of most of the Microsoft inter-operability stuff- I can read and write Microsoft Word documents, and Netscape is already configured to handle those dumb pdf files that web morons put up on their sites. Unfortunately, I still need some Microsoft applications. Fortunately, I found Win4Lin which let me install Windows 98 and the few Windows programs I still need now and then. So I'm almost ready to make this my default desktop. There are a few other things I need to do (add a tape drive, add a second nic so this can take over as my NAT machine), but these are simple- it may take me a few weeks to get there, but it's starting to look like this will be my default desktop OS.
Not that this is without its problems. I noticed that certain Java pages still can lock up Netscape solid (that's a Netscape problem, not Corel's fault- the same thing happens on SCO and I'm sure on Red Hat, too). Strangely, the problems aren't always the same- a page that locks up on SCO doesn't necessarily lock up on Corel.
Some of the popular press has been rather negative about Linux as a desktop OS, and I can't entirely disagree: some users would undoubtedly find this very frustrating. Of course, Microsoft Windows can be pretty frustrating, too, so I'm not convinced that it is totally impossible for Linux in general to make inroads in this market. Certainly for those of us who just can't live without a real shell and Unix semantics, Linux makes a lot of sense, and Corel's Deluxe version is a nice package.
As of noon on the 19th, I still hadn't heard anything from Corel support, and nothing more was offered on the newsgroup, so I guess our neophyte user would have had to live without printing from Netscape for a while. If I ever do get an answer (correct or otherwise) I will update this article.
A month later, no communication. Obviously support is not all that great. Unfortunately, there is also the problem that Corel is not seen as one of the "popular" distributions, which may nean problems for any 3rd part software. That's too bad, because I really liked the product.
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More Articles by Tony Lawrence © 2012-07-12 Tony Lawrence
On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?"...I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question. (Charles Babbage)