Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, which began shipping last month, is the first version of SuSEs enterprise-oriented distribution that has shipped since Novell acquired SuSE Linux AG earlier this year. The polish and completeness of this release indicate that Novell is on course to challenge market leader Red Hat Inc. for supremacy among enterprise Linux distributions. eWEEK Labs believes SLES 9 will also give sites running Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 Server a lower-cost alternative to upgrading to Windows Server 2003.Click here to read about how Novell is reorganizing to better support its Linux development efforts.As we have been with past SuSE releases, we were impressed with SLES 9s YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) suite of integrated configuration tools, which can open a door to Linux system management to administrators accustomed to Windows graphical configuration scheme. Whats more, SLES 9, in many places, provides a more Windows-like experience than Red Hat Enterprise Linux does. To take a simple but important example, when we plugged a USB (Universal Serial Bus) mouse into our test system, the operating system prompted us to install the device and directed us to the appropriate setup tool for the task . However, YaST doesnt yet match the ease of use offered by the configuration tools that ship with Windows Server 2003particularly for setting up the OpenLDAP directory server that ships with SLES 9 and is required for running the full-featured mail server that also ships with SLES 9. Another area we found wanting is the portal site through which SLES users make Web-based support requests and activate their software for downloading updates. This site pales in comparison with Red Hats Red Hat Network portal, which offers many more options for system and account management than does the SuSE portal. In particular, wed like to see Novell add a way to track Web-based support requests through the portal. We filed a query related to trouble we had downloading updates on a system wed upgraded to SLES 9 from SuSE Linux Professional 9.1 on a Friday. Until we got our answer the following Thursday (the upgrade we undertook isnt supported), we were left wondering whether our e-mailed support response had been captured by one of our spam filters. SLES 9 supports x86 platforms, as well as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Athlon 64 and Opteron; Intel Corp.s EM64T and Itanium; and IBMs PowerPC, zSeries and S/390. We tested the operating system on a desktop-class Pentium 4 system and on a dual-processor Opteron system. The yearly maintenance service subscription for x86 architectures starts at $349 per server with two CPUs and ranges to $13,999 per engine on IBM z900 and z990 machines. The full SLES 9 price list is available at www.suse.com/us/business/products/server/sles/pricing.html. This pricing maps fairly close to the $349-to-$18,000 range at which Red Hat prices yearly subscriptions to its Red Hat Enterprise Linux ES and AS versions. Microsoft Corp. charges from $1,000 to $4,000 for Windows 2003 Server, with added costs for client access licenses. Next page: Modern kernel.