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, also known as 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 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 suite of configuration tools. Whats more, SUSEs background as a direct rival to Red Hat in the enterprise server space means that OpenSUSE ships with high-end elements—such as 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.
To upgrade or not to upgrade?
Ubuntu 6.10 is the follow-on to version 6.06 LTS of the distro (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.
However, Edgy Eft lacks the extended support pledge (three years for desktop configurations and five years for server configurations) that the previous version offers. (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—but 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.