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Corel Linux Second Edition Review

I recently downloaded and installed Corel Linux Second Edition. This is based on the Debian distribution. The 2.2.16 kernel was made on July 18, 2000, almost a year ago. Given the age of the kernel, Corel may be getting close to an upgrade but unless they make fundamental changes in the install options and the philosophy behind them, a new kernel and a few more features are unlikely to change the conclusions reached below.

I've been curious about Corel Linux for some time because of its relationship to my preferred word processor, WordPerfect. After experiencing some problems that could be compatibility issues with Red Hat Linux 7.1 or possibly hardware problems on a particular machine, I thought installing some other OS's would help isolate the nature of the problem. I suspected an issue between the Linux X Window system and the BIOS or the keyboard, mouse, video (KVM) sharing box. Trying another Linux made sense and since I'm looking at business desktop systems and not secure servers, Corel seemed an obvious choice. Also, Corel uses the KDE GUI which I've been using with Red Hat.

The 450MB download was time consuming but uneventful. Corel's directions for making the install CD were simple and accurate. I made the CD and boot floppy. The specific PC that I was installing to will boot from a Windows 98 install CD but so far not from any BSD or Linux boot CD. Though the Corel Linux install CD is bootable in other systems, I needed the boot floppy for the machine on which I installed Corel Linux.

The first install prompt was surprisingly for a username. The example was myname1. There was no prompt for this user's password.

The next prompt was for "Install Standard Desktop" or "Show Advanced Install Options". I chose the latter to see what choices were available. Four options were listed as follows: 1) Desktop (minimum installation); 2) Desktop Plus (development tools, editors); 3) Server (Web, file, print, FTP); and 4) Custom (chose one or more applications).

I chose Custom to review what was available. An expandable tree with some top level choices like Application, Development and Linux system was available. Nothing was prechecked. Options like httpd and ftpd were not to be found in the selections. I subsequently backed up two install steps chose a standard desktop install, not server, and these two servers were installed anyway but not activated. It appears that Corel has defined a base or minimum install and the Custom install lists other packages that may be added to the base install. It does not give the user an option to remove components they will not be using that are part of the base install. In the development languages, Bison and C were listed; Perl was not. Following the standard install, I did not think to check to see if Perl was installed.

Contrast this to the Red Hat install where you may chose a "Workstation" install but still specify package selection. Then you see all the available packages. Those that are part of the workstation install are prechecked and others are not. You may delete "standard" components, add optional components or both. Afterwards, Red Hat performs a consistency check and besides allowing you to go back and reselecting, provides three useful choices on automatically dealing with any install inconsistencies you may have created by your selections.

After seeing the available Corel options, I backed up two steps and selected "Install Standard Desktop." The next prompt included 2 available disk related options: "Take over disk (erases all existing information)" and "Edit partition table (for advanced Linux users)". Two unavailable (grayed) options showed as "Use free disk space (keeps existing information)" and "Install in DOS/Windows partition". The disk was fully partitioned into Linux partitions with no unused space or DOS/Windows partitions so the install presented only the appropriate options.

I chose "Edit Partition Table". Previous Linux partitions (from a Red Hat 7.1 install) showed without mount points. I assigned mount points as I would for Red Hat. The install displayed a dropdown with /, /usr, /usr/local and /home. It did not show /boot as an option. I did not use /usr/local but did add /tmp and /var as separate mount points for different partitions. When I clicked continue, there was an error message which said "There is not enough free space in partition to install packages you selected. Please chose another package configuration." I was puzzled because there was no way that I could see space requirements overfilling any filesystems I'd defined.

I backed up and chose "Take over disk" to see how Corel partitioned the disk. The next prompt was for "Install" with a check box to "Scan for bad blocks while formatting" which I did not check. When I clicked continue, the formatting and install ran. The install was somewhat time consuming for installing only 416,768 KB. There was a tiny (20MB) /dev/hda1 with a /boot mount point. Everything else was under / on one large partition (I believe /dev/hda2). About 400MB were under /usr which was a fraction of the 3096MB I'd given it. There was less than 50MB on the rest of the system which would easily have fitted into the 256MB / I'd tried to create.

If the issue was a need for a separate /boot partition, this should have been listed in the default mount points and the error message should have said something about that. Instead it described a problem that did not really exist and gave no clue how to solve the problem. I couldn't follow the advice ("choose another package configuration") because I'd already selected a standard desktop or minimum install. I'd set up what I considered intelligent partitions with more than ample room for the install. Corel gave not a hint as to what partition was too small or what components there was not room for. Any further attempts at manually partitioning, would simply have been a guessing game with no assurance I'd ever find a satisfactory (to Corel) mixture of sizes.

A message indicated the install had completed. When the system rebooted there was a graphical LILO like prompt. The default choice was "Corel Linux OS". There were also VGA, no network, text and single user modes. Twice I chose the default. Each time the system instantly froze when I moved the mouse. During the install, I'd also notice spurious backticks ("`") appearing where they should not, in text entry fields. This was consistent with video? related problems I'd already seen with Red Hat Linux on this same machine. I concluded that there was either a hardware problem or something generic between the Linux X Window system and this PC and not specific to Red Hat or Corel. I'd also had unexplained lockups with Red Hat Linux on this machine.

Subsequently I booted to text mode and learned some more about Corel Linux OS before erasing it. First there were two users, root and the name I'd provided, both with blank passwords. The default user in the GUI login is root, thus encouraging root logins with a blank password. There was never a prompt or suggestion that a password should be assigned for root or any other user. Further there was no shadow password file; the password field was blank for root and the new user and asterisks for the many other (approximately 30) predefined users.

Though Linux can be made quite secure, security is not by default one of its strengths. For a vendor to fail to provide even a minimal security setup for product released in 2000 just is not acceptable. Correctly setting up a shadow password file will not make the system more difficult for users but may make it more difficult for intruders. Early 2000 had many widely publicized security incidents. Vendors have to do better with security in the Internet age, even with systems intended for non technical users. Perhaps Corel felt security was not necessary because their Linux distribution appears to lack any usable network support.

There were no network setup prompts at any time during the install. I checked dmesg output; there was no information about any network cards and no error messages. I'm speculating here regarding the implications of this. This suggests to me that kernel does not contain any network drivers. If these are to be used, the appropriate kernel module would need to be loaded dynamically. On other Linux and UNIX systems, I've assigned and changed IP addresses and network masks and added and removed routes on already defined network interfaces but never manually created a new network interface. Corel's Linux OS install does not provide any assistance in setting up even the first essential component of networking which is traditionally one of UNIX systems' strengths.

It also does nothing to assist a user to add any additional software that may be needed but was not included during the install. Three programs to manage Debian binary packages are installed as part of the base package. These are dpkg-deb, dpkg and dselect. Dselect is a "user friendly" text shell to simplify the install, removal, updating and general management of Debian binary format install packages. When you run it, you can see what Corel has installed but when you get down to the "Available But Not Installed" headings, there is no information present, just empty headings. Corel has not created the database the Debian install programs use to find install packages that haven't been installed. There are many such programs on the install CD but unless the Custom install is selected, Corel provides no assistance installing these.

If you want something from the install CD that was not included during the initial install, you have manually find it on the CD, then use dpkg-deb or dpkg to install it. This means working through a fairly deep directory tree and using man to figure out dpkg and dpkg-deb.

When I was looking at the files available under the Custom install I noticed cdrecord, mkisofs and xcdroast. The first two are essential and the last is a GUI wrapper for writing CD-Rs. I regarded the Plextor CD-R drive that was installed on this computer as a key hardware component that was purchased because it was compatible with Linux and OpenBSD. After finding these programs and installing them manually with dpkg, "cdrecord - scanbus" showed no devices. I added the necessary command to enable SCSI emulation for IDE ATAPI devices into /etc/lilo.conf and rebooted. After rebooting, cdrecord still could not find the CD-R.

Apparently Corel has not included the SCSI emulation and other kernel modules necessary to use a CD-R. Once more Corel has not provided a trace of assistance in using a device that is becoming quite common place. By contrast, when the drive was already physically installed in the PC, before Red Hat was installed, the drive was fully configured and ready for use as both a normal CD-ROM and as a CD-R at the completion of the Red Hat install. On another machine, when the drive was added after the Red Hat install, it only took one configuration line change to enable it.

One has to ask who does Corel expect to use their Linux OS product. No business user in their right mind would start with a Linux distribution that provided no security, no networking and pathetic hardware support. Linux has traditionally had the most appeal to advanced home users, often computer professionals or hobbyists. Until recently, security was not typically a major concern to such users but networking has generally been regarded as essential and these are the kinds of users most likely to have add-on hardware not available on the most basic PCs. These users would have no use for a Corel style install.

The simplicity of the install suggests it's intended for a novice user who wants a free or very low cost word processor. Such users are not going to turn to Linux which still has a reputation as a techie toy. They are going to use the latest Windows or if they have Mac user friends a Mac. They'll use Write or whatever "lite" word processor comes bundled with the computer.

It's true, that if Linux is to become a mass market success, its installs will need to get simpler but this cannot be at the expense of necessary functionality. Users expect the hardware included in their computer to work at the end of system setup (operating system install). The less sophisticated the user, the higher the expectations. It means that installs have to get better at recognizing the installed hardware and the environment they are being installed in and be able to automate just about everything necessary to give a novice user a fully functional computer at the end of the install. Advanced install paths for the experienced user must still be included. Red Hat is much further along this path that Corel appears to not even see.

In my opinion, Corel Linux OS is not a useful Linux distribution. If you've had significantly different experiences with a Corel Linux OS install, I'd be interested in hearing about it and will mention different user experiences.

Marc Grondin sent me the following in an email dated 4/22/03. (Used with permission.)

Although I realize this is an older review, I read it 
with interest - as I have been (and am still using) 
Corel Linux 1.2, and had quite a bit of trouble trying 
to equate this to my personal experience : 1) I am by 
trade a Sys Admin. 2) Have been involved with Linux 
since late 1999. 3) Have experimented with both 
debian/redhat based distros : storm, mandrake, 
caldera, suse, slackware, corel, xandros- to name a 

I have done more installs that I care to count, but 
most of my "clients, friends, family, ..." when given 
live demos almost always went with Corel.  They just 
couldn't be bothered with things like : right-click 
unmount for most distros of that era, and mandrake's
"super-mount" was/is mostly for the birds for power-
users who want real desktop functionality. Corel was 
by far a) the quickest, simplest to install. b) small
footprint, and not hdw demanding - installed it on 
p75 to P800+, mostly lower-level units had 24/32 mb
ram. c) I usually completed the software landscape 
with Mozilla, OpenOffice, K_aim, Realplayer, ...etc.  

For most users they were as happy as can be imagined:
no more viruses, crashes, and hardening it security-
wise was peanuts (for me), as was basic system 
optimization, to eke out better performance: boot/halt
times and app launch.

Many are still using it, although admittedly the 
ones with more powerful iron have gone to Xandros.

All in all - it was/is an excellant entry-level Linux,
and I don't regret 1 minute spent on it.

Cons : 
i) I would've liked to have them auto-detect/configure
the cd-rw.
ii) I don't think it would've killed them to include 
some *.deb friendly basic firewall utility. 
iii) There are some things I was never able to resolve
- like installing DivX / Xine, until I found
crossXOver-plugin, and then went to wmp or qt.

But all in all / with price considerations - I bought
my copy for $30 cdn - It rates a solid 8.5/10.
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