In a fairly short time, Novell has transformed itself from a firm that had next to nothing to do with Linux into one of the Penguin's most visible and aggressive flag-bearers.
For evidence of this metamorphosis, we need look no further than Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, which breaks ground in the client operating system territory that Linux leader Red Hat has so far opted scarcely to tread.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, or SLED, is the most polished Linux client operating system we've yet tested, and well-deserving of our Analyst's Choice designation.
We were particularly impressed with the steps Novell has taken in working over SLED's GNOME 2.12.2 desktop environment to ensure a comfortable transition for Windows migrants.
Case in point is SLED's new Start menu, which with its integrated search, Recently Used and Favorite Applications features is both reminiscent of and more functional than the Windows XP Start menu.
However, the one area in which SLED fails completely to eclipse its fellow desktop Linux Analysts Choice honoree, Ubuntu Linux 6.06, is in software package availability.
While we did note that SLED's package installation tools were tighter than the OpenSUSE 10.1 utilities that we recently panned, the range of applications that SLED placed at hand was too small.
For instance, we were disappointed to find the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client and the Kdissert mind-mapping software missing from our available package set.
Many distributions, including SLED's freely available sibling distribution, OpenSUSE, do offer these packages.
To bridge the gap, we could configure SLED to use package repositories intended for OpenSUSE 10.1. Since OpenSUSE and SLED are, for now, fairly close cousins, this workaround should work fairly well-albeit outside of Novell's SLED support services.
However, in addition to this lack of support, companies must understand that as OpenSUSE continues along its quick development pace, software package incompatibilities will quickly pile up.
Novell must marshal the packaging resources in its SLED/OpenSUSE community to ensure broad availability of software packaged specifically for SLED.
Software package availability is a crucial issue, not just for competing with other Linux distributions but for vying with Microsoft Windows, as Windows software availability is its most significant advantage over desktop upstarts such as SLED.
With that said, SLED does ship with a solid slate of applications, and companies that want to take the desktop Linux plunge will find in SLED 10 a polished, complete client operating system complete with support from a ubiquitous and proven IT supplier.
eWEEK Labs recommends that companies interested in surveying the state of the art in desktop Linux download a 60-day evaluation copy of SLED 10.
For those who do, we'd appreciate hearing about your experiences-particularly with fitting SLED into a Windows-centric infrastructure.
Slick and Windows-friendly
SLED 10 ships with a complete slate of desktop applications, including the OpenOffice.org office productivity suite (complete with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and drawing tools), the Mozilla Firefox Web browser, Evolution groupware client, Gaim instant messenger client and GIMP photo manipulation application.
In addition to these standard applications, which ship with nearly every Linux desktop, SLED includes very nice photo and music management applications-F-Spot and Banshee, respectively.
It would be smart for Novell to gather up as many of these basic desktop Linux applications as possible into a Windows-compatible, Novell-supported bundle.
Most of these applications already run on Windows, and, since application switching is going to be the biggest hurdle when moving from Windows to SLED, Novell could help lessen the burden by enabling companies to first acclimate their users to the new application set on Windows.
SLED defaults to a GNOME desktop environment, and its the GNOME environment that appears to have received the lions share of customization work from Novell. We also had the option of installing KDE.
SLED's GNOME desktop features a very nice applications menu that listed all of the programs installed on our system. It also sports a search window in which we could type the application name or function we desired to quickly narrow down the possibilities.
We have not seen this menu in any other GNOME-based distributions, but SLED rivals would do well to adopt it.