Linux Distros Rival Vista

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2007-01-22 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
While the eyes of the IT world have spent years squinting to see Microsofts slowly unfolding vistas, the companies and individuals that drive open source have been steadily building a case for broader adoption of Linux-based operating systems.

Two of the best all-around Linux distributions to emerge from this process are OpenSUSE 10.2 and Ubuntu 6.10, both of which bundle together the best of what open source has to offer into operating systems that merit consideration for desktop and (some) server workloads.

Ubuntu 6.10, aka Edgy Eft, is the latest release in the popular line of Linux operating systems from Canonical. Ubuntu is a fairly young distribution, but its roots in Debian give it a solid foundation—both in terms of its code and in its community of users.

This strong foundation is most evident in Ubuntus excellent software management tools and wide catalog of prepackaged software. Ubuntus catalog surpasses those of all other Linux distributions weve tested, and its software management tools outclass not only Linux rivals but also Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS Xs.

The strengths of Novells OpenSUSE 10.2 are rooted in the operating systems history. OpenSUSE 10.2, which began shipping in December, descends from the retail--marketed- SUSE Linux, which was long positioned as a direct rival to Windows. As a result, OpenSUSE contains GUI-friendly features such as the Yast (Yet Another Setup Tool) suite of configuration tools. Whats more, SUSEs background as a direct rival to Red Hats RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) in the enterprise server space means that OpenSUSE ships with high-end elements—such as Novells AppArmor security and Xen virtualization support—that Ubuntu does not offer right out of the box.

You can certainly configure an Ubuntu server to carry out any role that an OpenSUSE box can offer, but, in many cases, this means installing unofficial packages and following community-generated how-to documents.

In contrast, OpenSUSEs Yast offers users a one-stop shop for graphically configuring a laundry list of system settings, including quite a few server configuration tasks. Whats more, Yast offers a text-mode front end that looks and works very much like its graphical front-end sibling, which makes it easy to connect to a remote OpenSUSE server.

Upgrade decision

ubuntu 6.10 is the follow--on to Version 6.06 LTS (Ubuntu releases have a year-month versioning scheme), and, as one would expect, Edgy Eft boasts a number of improvements. These include updates to the GNOME 2.16 desktop environment, OpenOffice 2.0.4, Gaim 2.0 and Firefox 2.0.

The "LTS" in Ubuntu 6.06 stands for long-term support. Edgy Eft has a shorter support term—about 18 months—so sites upgrading to Version 6.10 should expect to upgrade again about a year from now.

We found it very easy to upgrade Dapper Drake (the nickname for Ubuntu 6.06) machines to Edgy Eft—in fact, in-place upgrades are one of Ubuntus real strengths. However, whenever you undertake an OS-wide upgrade, theres potential for breakage. Fortunately, Ubuntu packaging pitfalls are fairly easy to recover from for administrators with a bit of experience using Ubuntus or Debians software management tools.

Canonical has not yet announced when it will release the next Ubuntu version with long-term support, but users of Dapper Drake in server roles might be better off waiting for the next LTS release to upgrade.

The support term for OpenSUSE 10.2 is no shorter than for 10.1, so an upgrade from 10.1 makes good sense, especially since its free. An upgrade makes especially good sense for desktop installations of OpenSUSE, as the newer version brings with it noticeable upgrades to its key desktop applications.

eWeek Labs believes that either Ubuntu 6.10 or OpenSUSE 10.2 is worthy of replacing Windows XP as a desktop operating system, provided the distros support your target hardware. The Ubuntu installation disk doubles as a LiveCD environment from which users can ensure that Version 6.10 supports their hardware before installing it to their hard drives. At press time, a LiveDVD version of OpenSUSE 10.2—which could serve much the same purpose as the Edgy Eft installation LiveCD—was slated to ship in January.

While considering a move from Windows to OpenSUSE or Ubuntu, what will likely prove more challenging than hardware driver availability is software availability. That is, if your users are attached to Windows--only software for which theres no acceptable Linux-compatible alternative, neither Ubuntu nor OpenSUSE will be an attractive option.

Getting it

ubuntu edgy eft is available for free download at www.ubuntu.com/products/GetUbuntu/download#currentrelease. In addition to the standard Live-CD Ubuntu install disk, an alternative installation disk that features a text-mode version of the installer is available. The text-mode installer loads faster than the LiveCD and offers expanded installation options, such as the ability to install Ubuntu in an LVM (logical volume manager) configuration.

OpenSUSE 10.2 may be freely downloaded at download.opensuse.org/, either in a set of five CDs or in the form of a single DVD. Alternatively, OpenSUSE 10.2 is available in a $60 retail version that includes printed documentation, installation media for x86 and x86-64 platforms, and 90 days of installation support.

Hardware support

both ubuntu 6.10 and OpenSUSE 10.2 are available in x86, x86-64 and Power-PC versions. For Ubuntu, theres also a server variant thats available on all these platforms, as well as on Sun Microsystems UltraSPARC architecture. eWeek Labs tested the x86 versions of both Ubuntu 6.10 and OpenSUSE 10.2 on a Lenovo ThinkPad T41.

Whether we were running Ubuntu 6.10 or OpenSUSE 10.2, our ThinkPads suspend and hibernate power management functions worked well. Whats more, the sound volume, screen brightness, display switching, and Wi-Fi on/off and sleep buttons worked as expected, without requiring any tweaking at all.

Edgy Eft ships with a kernel based on Linux 2.6.17, an upgrade over the 2.6.15-based kernel that powered its predecessor. During this version span, the Linux kernel accrued a list of updates, including improved power management support, ACL (access control list) support for CIFS (Common Internet File System), a driver for Broadcom 43xx-based wireless cards and support for the multicore Niagara series of CPUs from Sun.

OpenSUSE ships with a slightly newer Linux kernel, based on Version 2.6.18, which adds improvements for SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) machines and SATA (Serial ATA) devices.

For more information on Linux kernel developments for particular versions, check out kernel-newbies.org/LinuxChanges.

Software support

ubuntus software management tools and catalog of ready-to-install software packages have, in the past, been the Ubuntu attribute weve most prized. In Edgy Eft, these tools continue on more or less unchanged, and software management remains a particularly bright spot for Ubuntu.

OpenSUSEs software management tools are pretty good. The transition from the classic SUSE software management tool set to the new ZENworks system based on Ximians Red Carpet is moving along well, but we found it more difficult to browse through available software on OpenSUSE 10.2 than on Ubuntu 6.10. We also found that OpenSUSE 10.2s software tools were noticeably slower than those of Ubuntu 6.10.

For example, we installed the FTP client gFTP on both OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. Since we knew the name of the package we were after, we used the command line. On our OpenSUSE machine, we issued the command "rug install gftp," and the operation took 1 minute and 50 seconds (45 seconds of which was spent waiting for the ZENworks Management Daemon to wake up). On our Ubuntu system, the same operation, which we launched with the command "sudo apt-get install gtfp," took 35 seconds.

In both cases, the time it took to complete the operation included downloading gFTP from the Internet, but we were using the same mirror repository for both systems.

Edgy Eft and OpenSUSE 10.2 each ship with a very good selection of desktop applications, and, for the most part, these applications are integrated smoothly into the system. One negative element we encountered in Edgy, however, was the state of spam filtering support in the Evolution mail client thats included as Ubuntus default mailer: Out of the box, spam filtering with Evolution did not work.

We did find a how-to on the Ubuntu forums that led us through the process of installing and configuring SpamAssassin and/or Bogofilter to handle spam filtering, but we hope to see this tedious configuration task excised from future Ubuntu releases.

OpenSUSEs Evolution implementation, on the other hand, filtered spam well right off the bat, without need for further configuration.

Advanced Technologies- Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

 
 
 
 
As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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