SuSE Pro 9.3: Good Open-Source Venue

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-05-02
 
 
 

SuSE Pro 9.3: Good Open-Source Venue


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.

Click here to read the full review of SuSE Linux Professional 9.3.

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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 software—including the latest versions of the KDE and GNOME graphical user environments—making 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.

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SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 is the first distribution weve tested to ship with KDE 3.4 and GNOME 2.10, the latest versions of the Linux platforms most prominent desktop environments. Neither release is a blockbuster, but each ships with improvements that we noticed and appreciated during our tests. For example, the default file manager in GNOME 2.10, Nautilus, now does a better job of supporting drag-and-drop operations from non-GNOME applications such as the Firefox browser.

Click here to read reviews of KDE 3.3 and GNOME 2.8.

GNOME ships with Version 2.2.1 of the Evolution groupware client, which supports offline access to data when working with GroupWise and Microsofts Exchange—a feature thats been conspicuously absent from Evolution.

We were also pleased to see that Evolution now supports Exchange password expiry warnings; without this feature, Evolution users accessing Exchange have had to visit Exchanges Outlook Web Access interface to see these warnings and change their passwords.

KDE 3.4 also boasts notable improvements to its groupware application, Kontact, including support for the eGroupware, GroupWise, Kolab, OpenGroupware.org and SLOX (SuSE Linux Open Exchange) servers. In addition, KDEs instant messaging client, Kopete, now supports Novell GroupWise and Lotus Sametime.

On the accessibility front—which has for the past few years been a particularly bright spot for both KDE and GNOME—KDE 3.4 sports broadened support for text-to-speech. During tests, we could opt for text to be read to us from Konqueror, KDEs file manager/Web browser, as well as from KDEs PDF viewer and text editor.

Continuing along suse Linux Professional 9.3s leading-edge-technologies theme, the distribution ships with a full implementation of Mono, the open-source implementation of Microsofts .Net software development framework, as well as with a handful of interesting, useful Mono-based applications.

Beagle—potentially the most compelling (though currently least well-cooked) of the Mono applications to ship with SuSE Linux Professional 9.3—works more or less like Google Desktop. Beagle doesnt search through as many types of files as Googles desktop search tool does.

However, employing Beagle, we could search for information throughout our home directory, including Evolution mail messages, OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office documents, and from our browser history.

SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 includes the Mono-based Tomboy Notes, a great personal note-taking application that works like a personal wiki, and F-Spot, a photo management application that boasts a slick interface for browsing through and manipulating large collections of images. Both applications performed stably during testing.

SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 is the first shipping distribution were aware of that includes support for the Xen virtual machine monitor—a project that, although relatively new, appears to offer the best option for open-source system virtualization moving forward.

Its not as though Xen cant be installed on other Linux distributions, but by including the necessary packages and documentation—not to mention a setup tool for installing SuSE into virtualized instances—SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 shortens the path to getting up and running.

However, youll need to hit the documents and edit config files to get Xen going. Xen can be configured to deliver VMware-type functionality on SuSE, but setting up Xen domains on SuSE is nowhere near as easy as it is with VMware.

In fact, in our SuSE Linux Professional 9.3 testing, we barely broke the surface with Xen, simply configuring and running a virtual domain running the miniaturized Linux distribution, ttylinux.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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Evaluation Shortlist

Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X Offers a slick graphical interface and good access to most open-source software (www.apple.com)

Debian and Fedora These free operating system alternatives enjoy good community support and work well when running completely open-source software stacks (debian.org and fedora.redhat.com)

Microsofts Windows XP Boasts the broadest application support in this list, including many open-source applications (www.microsoft.com)

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.

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