In 2003 Novell purchased Ximian, which specialized in development based on the GNOME desktop environment. A few months later, Novell acquired SuSE, which used KDE (K Desktop Environment) as its default interface. Many, including us, wondered which project Novell would favor for its products moving forward. Early on, Novell spoke about producing a desktop that somehow merged KDE and GNOME, but it later backed away from that goal and opted to ship both environments in NLD 9. We were offered a choice between the tools during installation.NLD 9 ships with a version-old GNOME release, 2.6. Version 2.6 lacks some improvements we had welcomed in the latest, Version 2.8, such as a straightened-out means of configuring file types.However, Novell has paired with its GNOME release a very attractive and consistent-looking default theme. We were surprised to find that Novell did not create a version of this same theme for KDE, as Red Hat did when it began including the standardized Bluecurve theme in its distributions. Instead, NLDs KDE installation looks the same as recent SuSE Linux desktops. It isnt a bad-looking theme, but KDE applicationssuch as the excellent Konqueror file manager, which we much prefer to GNOMEs Nautilusdont match the GNOME desktop. A Novell official told us that the company would likely provide a matching theme for KDE in the future. Click here to read Labs review of KDE 3.3. Overall, however, we were very impressed with Novells efforts to integrate the components that make up NLD 9. For instance, we found that the version of OpenOffice.org that Novell has included was configured to use the appropriate external application for operations such as sending a working document to an e-mail recipient. In addition, NLD 9s OpenOffice.org component is configured to adopt the file dialogs of a users chosen desktop environment, which contributes to NLD 9s smooth finish. Unlike Suns JDS, which uses the default SuSE update mechanism for fetching and installing software, NLD ships with Ximians Red Carpet software management tool. Were not aware of any other Linux distributions that use Red Carpet as the default update tool, but weve always found Red Carpet to be a useful software manager for pulling down updates and for installing new software, either from Novell or from a customizable channel. Red Carpet lends itself well to remote management, and NLDs very good YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) configuration system includes a tool for setting up remote control of systems through VNC (virtual network computing) for management or support. However, the feature of Suns JDS that most impressed us when we reviewed it last June was the tight per-user configuration controls that Suns management tools provided. Novells product lacks this functionality. We used NLD to connect to particular Windows shares, as well as browse among available shares, using Nautilus and Konqueror. Novell also includes a separate tool for accessing Novell iFolder shares, which we did not test. Version 9 includes a network configuration applet that runs in the task bar, which we used to switch easily among wired and wireless connections while testing NLD on a notebook system. We could also launch from this applet the YaST component for setting up our network devices. Among the applications that are bundled with NLD is RealNetworks Inc.s RealPlayer 10. However, during our tests, this application wouldnt run. It was necessary for us to kill the running instance of esd, a GNOME sound daemon, before RealPlayer would start up. According to Novell officials, the company is aware of the bug and is planning to ship a fix for it in the first service release. Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.