Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 is an excellent general-purpose operating system. In fact, when it comes to combining leading-edge Linux and open-source software, Version 9.3 is the most polished and complete Linux distribution eWEEK Labs has tested. SuSE Linux Professional 9.3, released last month, is powered by Version 2.6.11 of the Linux kernel. SuSE ships with a broad set of softwareincluding the latest versions of the KDE and GNOME graphical user environmentsmaking it well-suited for mainstream desktop or notebook deployments.However, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 is perhaps most impressive as a platform on which developers and system administrators can evaluate new technologies. Version 9.3 leads the Linux distribution pack in its support for Mono (the open-source implementation of Microsoft Corp.s .Net Framework) and Xen (the promising system virtualization technology).With a six-month release schedule and a short availability term for system updates and security fixes, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 isnt an optimal choice for server deployments. However, Version 9.3 does ship with many prominent Linux server components, and between these applications and the systems support for Xen, Version 9.3 can serve as a solid platform for server testing. Among Linux distributions, SuSEs chief rivals are Red Hat Inc.s Fedora Core and Software in the Public Interest Inc.s Debian, both of which, like SuSE Linux Professional, are popular, general-purpose Linux distributions. Unlike SuSE Linux Professional 9.3, which costs $100 for a full version or $60 to upgrade, both Fedora and Debian are free. Although SuSEs more commercial nature is reflected in fewer community resources than Debian and Fedora have, including the number of third-party software repositories available, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 offers a much more polished out-of-the-box experience. (Debian-based Ubuntu Linux is an emerging exception to this rule.) Click here to read more about Ubuntu Linux. Fedora is the vanguard distribution for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and is always up-to-date, but the fact that Red Hat hasnt yet gotten serious about delivering a slick desktop operating system shows in Fedora, which requires tweaking to bring it into optimal desktop running condition. Debian, a good but notoriously slow-moving distribution, requires users to trade stability and security updates for current software packages. In either case, Debian boxes typically require the same sort of tweaking that Fedora systems do. For instance, in our tests of SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 on a notebook PC, we were happy to find that the hibernate mode worked without a hitch, even picking up our WLAN (wireless LAN) connection on resume. Hibernation support, while available on Linux for some time, requires a fair amount of twiddling with Fedora or Debian. Beyond open-source rivals, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 compares very well with Windows, shipping along with a thick selection of Linux-compatible applications. The five disks on which SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 ships contain applications for effectively tackling most office productivity, software development and system administration tasks, but if users in an organization require Windows-only applications, SuSE (or any other non-Windows operating system) probably isnt going to cut it. That said, Novell has taken steps in SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 to make the transition from Windows easier than its been in the past. For one thing, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 ships with a prerelease version of OpenOffice.org 2.0, which eWEEK Labs has been using heavily in test versions during the last several months and which boasts improvements in its already-rather-good handling of Microsoft Office-formatted documents. Whats more, OpenOffice.org 2.0 now ships with a database client that can replace Microsofts Access. On the Windows-only drivers front, SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 ships with software from the ndiswrapper project that allows the use of Windows wireless NIC drivers on Linux. Weve had good success with ndiswrapper in the past. Next page: KDE and GNOME.