With Windows Vista turning fewer heads than XP SP3, and Apples Leopard exhibiting spotty security, companies and individuals would do well to ask themselves whether tis the season of desktop Linux.
With the fall release of three of the most popular leading-edge Linux-based operating systems—OpenSUSE 10.3, Ubuntu 7.10 and Fedora 8—behind us, the case for running Linux on mainstream desktops is stronger than ever. However, plenty of integration work remains to be done.
All three releases are fast-moving, short-support-span Linux-based operating systems that package the best of whats available in open-source software.
Each can serve excellently as a general purpose desktop operating system, provided that the users or maintainers of these operating systems are prepared to upgrade about once a year, and are capable of sorting out the hardware compatibility issues that might arise at install/upgrade time.
For organizations that are interested in deploying or piloting Linux desktops, but that require a more stable support and maintenance path, this Linux trio is still well worth evaluating: Each provides an early look at the capabilities—and limitations—found in the forthcoming, longer-lived "enterprise" incarnations of Ubuntu, Red Hat and SUSE Linux.
To view an eWEEK slideshow about the Desktop Linux showdown, click here.
For this review, Ive focused on the hardware and software fundamentals of each distribution, as they apply to desktop use. Stay tuned for follow-up coverage of these distributions in server roles.
Ubuntu 7.10, OpenSUSE 10.3 and Fedora 8 are each available in x86, x86-64 and PowerPC versions.
Each of the three Linux OSes are free to download and free to redistribute.
On the positive side, the all-free nature of Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora makes these operating systems rather easy to acquire, and allows for a broad network of mirrors from which to acquire disc images and software packages.
On the negative side, the all-free nature of the Linux trio I tested means leaving out any software components that arent similarly redistributable. For instance, Adobes Flash Player, Suns Java Runtime Environment and an assortment of hardware drivers and multimedia codecs must be acquired through separate software repositories.
Of the three distributions, Ubuntu does the best job of easing access to these non-free components, beginning with an official "restricted" software repository that I was able to access by clicking a check box in the systems Software Sources tool.
With Fedora 8 and OpenSUSE 10.3, I sought out and configured community- or vendor-hosted repositories to download the software I required, although I found that both distributions left me searching for instructions to complete certain configuration tasks.
In particular, I was not able to configure ATIs proprietary graphics adapter on OpenSUSE 10.3 or Fedora 8 without stepping outside of each distributions software packaging system—something I recommend strongly against, as compiling software by hand means surrendering the management benefits of remaining within ones software packaging framework.