Novell Linux Desktop Gathers Enterprise Strength

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-01-17
 
 
 

Novell Linux Desktop Gathers Enterprise Strength


Its been approximately a year since Novell Inc. absorbed Ximian Inc. and SuSE Linux AG, a pair of acquisitions that netted Novell a popular Linux distribution, a team of desktop-focused Linux developers and a central position in the growing enterprise Linux market.



Click here to read the full review of Novell Linux Desktop 9.

2


Its been approximately a year since Novell Inc. absorbed Ximian Inc. and SuSE Linux AG, a pair of acquisitions that netted Novell a popular Linux distribution, a team of desktop-focused Linux developers and a central position in the growing enterprise Linux market.

eWEEK Labs tested Novell Linux Desktop 9, the first specifically Novell-branded Linux operating system to ship since the company began flying its penguin flag, and we found the product to be as capable and well-made as any desktop Linux distribution weve seen yet.

NLD 9, which was released in November, bears a strong resemblance to Sun Microsystems Inc.s JDS (Java Desktop System): Both products are based on versions of Novells SuSE Linux Enterprise Server. NLD is also similar to Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Desktop Linux.

NLD 9, JDS and Red Hat Desktop Linux ship with roughly the same set of open-source desktop applications, anchored in each case by the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, Novells Evolution groupware client, and either The Mozilla Foundations Firefox or namesake Web browser.

Whether these key productivity applications or others available on the Linux platform can fulfill the requirements of users in your organization is what will determine if NLD can suffice as a credible replacement to Windows at your site. Many applications on which companies now rely run only on Windows, and NLD or any Linux desktop will prove a poor fit unless companies dependent on Windows-only applications arrange to deliver these resources via Citrix Systems Inc.s namesake product or Microsoft Corp.s Terminal Services (clients for both ship with NLD 9).

However, where application availability permits, NLD 9—which is priced at $50 per machine per year—can offer companies cost savings, protection from Windows-targeted worms and viruses, and maintenance gains through the package-based software management system that NLD and almost all other Linux distributions boast.

We recommend that companies interested in trying NLD 9 download an evaluation copy at www.novell.com/products/desktop/eval.html.

NLD runs on x86 systems, but a Novell spokesperson told us that we could expect a version of NLD for x86_64 machines to become available next month.

We tested NLD 9 on notebook and desktop machines, mostly without incident, although NLD did not include the driver for our test notebooks Broadcom Corp. 802.11g wireless adapter. We had to use a Windows driver with code from the NdisWrapper project (ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net) to enable this device.

Next page: Look and feel.

Page Three


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 applications—such as the excellent Konqueror file manager, which we much prefer to GNOMEs Nautilus—dont 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 jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Rocket Fuel