Familiar, Not Identical

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2003-02-10 Print this article Print

Familiar, Not Identical

SuSE and its default KDE desktop environment should look familiar enough to Windows users but not at the expense of exposing them to some of the interface virtues of Linux, such as virtual desktops. Also, an icon for accessing the terminal sits on the task bar by default, where in Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 8.0 and Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X, terminal access is tucked out of site.

We were pleased to find that Suns Java Virtual Machine was installed by default, something thats always been a minor hassle for us when setting up new Red Hat systems.

However, for overall look and feel, SuSE still lags well behind Mac OS X and Windows, and also behind Red Hat, which gave its interface a welcome overhaul in Version 8.0. (See eWeek Labs Oct. 8, 2002, review of Red Hat 8.0)

Theres been much debate in the Linux community over Red Hats default Bluecurve theme, with a focus on how the theme has replaced the distinctiveness of GNOME and KDE with a Red Hat-branded look, but this is what mainstream desktop users expect. For example, although the native Web browser for KDE is Konqueror, Red Hat pushes Mozilla as the browser default in KDE and GNOME.

On SuSEs KDE desktop, theres a link for Mozilla, but in the task bar, the linked Web browser is Konqueror, which users may find confusing.

Along the same lines, SuSE could stand to clean up its application menus, which by default contain many items, most of which are not clearly named and some of which are repetitious in functions.

Overall, font installation in SuSE Linux—which is left to KDEs built-in tools—is pretty good, but some inconsistencies stand out. For example, although SuSE and KDE support font anti-aliasing, this support does not extend to Mozilla. Wed like to see SuSE include Xft and an Xft build of Mozilla for improved font handling and display.

One literally welcoming item on the SuSE desktop is SuSE Desktop Linux Assistant (see screen, below), which brings up a menu of actions that someone new to Linux might seek first—such as installing Microsoft Corp. applications and plug-ins, sharing local files on the network and accessing the file shares of others, and setting up a printer.

Its here that we could install and access the CodeWeavers software for running Windows applications, which include most of Microsofts Office 2000 and 97, IBMs Lotus Software divisions Notes, and Microsofts Internet Explorer 5.5, among others.

Weve tested the CodeWeavers software in the past, and using the version that ships with the SuSE desktop, we experienced improved—if fairly uneven—performance. For instance, at times, while running Microsoft Word, we could not access the tool bar, and IE had a tendency to crash while loading our Web site. We had somewhat better success running Macromedia Inc.s Dreamweaver MX, however.

Its best not to regard Windows-application compatibility software as a complete solution but rather as a tool for working around particular software limitations on a case-by-case basis. If you must use Windows software, youre best off using Windows on the desktop.

After all, Windows applications running under Linux still carry licensing costs, and the CodeWeavers software carries licensing costs of its own. For office productivity tasks, weve been quite satisfied with the performance of StarOffice and its sibling, OpenOffice from OpenOffice.org, which run natively on Linux.

We were pleased to see a line item in Desktop Assistant for setting up access to file shares because this is something thats been too difficult to set up on desktop Linux systems for too long. The tool looked promising, but we were unable to use it to access a Windows share we created for testing. We could, however, access our share using Sambas command-line client interface.

Of the systems weve seen, Mac OS X has taken the best advantage of Samba, providing access to Windows shares through a smooth, attractive GUI.

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. JasonÔÇÖs 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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