The purpose of a Linux distribution is to deliver a Linux-based operating environment with a useful set of applications in a single, well-integrated package.
Two of the best such distributors, MandrakeSoft S.A. and Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux division, recently shipped new versions of their respective mainstream Linux distributions, both based on the new Linux 2.6 kernel.
eWEEK Labs tested Mandrakelinux 10 PowerPack+ and SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional—which each began shipping last month—and we were impressed with their ease of use and with the broadness of their capabilities.
Mandrakes and SuSEs Linux distributions fit well into the roles of mainstream desktop and of low-cost small-business server—filling a sizable void left by Linux market share leader Red Hat Inc. Red Hats offerings are divided between the annual-subscription-priced Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the community-supported Fedora Core.
On the desktop, SuSE Linux 9.1 and Mandrakelinux 10 offer a better out-of-the-box experience than Fedora Core, which, due to redistribution-related license issues, lacks several key applications, such as a Java Virtual Machine, a Macromedia Flash plug-in and libraries for playing MP3 music files. Mandrakelinux 10 and SuSE Linux 9.1 also feature much nicer software installation tools than either of Red Hats Linux distributions.
While some corporate users require applications that are available only for Windows, there are generally good Linux alternatives available. Both distributions we tested ship with a large number of these Linux applications—SuSE comes with five CD-ROMs and Mandrake ships with eight.
The latest versions of Mandrake and SuSE are also great candidates for setting up small and midsize departmental servers—server software is one of Linuxs strengths, and both of these distributions provide administrators with a wide range of server applications, along with tools to configure and manage them.
SuSE Linux Professional 9.1 costs $105, or $70 for an upgrade version. SuSE 9.1 also comes in a $35 Personal edition, which we did not test. The Personal edition lacks the printed manuals and some of the server and developer software that ships with the Pro version.
Mandrakelinux 10 comes in $230 PowerPack+, $85 PowerPack and $50 Discovery versions. We tested the PowerPack+ edition, which contains a wide range of server applications, including the Kolab groupware server. This version also includes 90 days of Web-based support and five free telephone support incidents (within 60 days).
Both distributions are priced well below Microsofts Windows Small Business Server 2003, which costs $599 to $1,499 and requires the purchase of client access licenses beyond the five that these prices include.
Mandrakelinux 10 runs on Pentium-or-better x86 machines. An AMD-64 version of Mandrakelinux 10 was in release-candidate stage at press time—the latest official version of Mandrakelinux with AMD-64 support is Version 9.2.
SuSE Linux 9.1 supports both Pentium-or-better and AMD-64 machines in the same package.