SUSE Studio is a Web-based service for creating custom operating system and application bundles-also known as software appliances-based on Novell's family of SUSE Linux-based operating systems.
The free service, which recently concluded its limited beta period and is now broadly accessible, is part of Novell's SUSE Appliance Program-an initiative intended to streamline product delivery and maintenance for ISVs by enabling them to bundle their wares with everything required for direct deployment to virtual, physical or cloud-based infrastructure.
However, SUSE Studio could prove very useful for any individual or organization that uses Novell's Linux distributions. That's because while Novell's Linux offerings include an assortment of typical roles that can be selected at install time-such as those for installing a file server or Web server, or for setting up a GNOME or KDE desktop-those default options offer a relatively narrow range of customization.
Taking advantage of the full breadth of software component and configuration options available to SUSE Linux, or any other popular Linux distribution, requires post-install tweaks such as registering new software repositories, uncovering application dependencies and modifying various configuration files.
During my tests of SUSE Studio, I was able to carry out most of these customization tasks before ever booting into my custom Linux images using the service's excellent Web interface. In particular, I found that SUSE Studio significantly streamlined the task of locating applications or application versions not available in the default SUSE repositories through integration with the openSUSE Build Service.
Build Service enables users to create packages for various Linux distributions from source code, much like the Personal Package Archives service for Ubuntu Linux. When I couldn't find a particular package in the default repositories, SUSE Studio offered to search in all compatible Build Service repositories.
After setting those pre-boot customizations, I could call on SUSE Studio's "test drive" feature to boot up and log into my custom images before downloading and running them on my own hardware. I was also impressed to find that I could pull up a list of any files I modified during my test drive, and add those changes to the appliance image to be applied after another build operation.
SUSE Studio isn't the first tool or service to take on Linux-based software appliance creation. For instance, the rBuilder 5.2 product from rPath that I recently reviewed has been around for a few years now, and takes on a broader set of appliance management and deployment tasks than does SUSE Studio.
For example, SUSE Studio doesn't match the breadth of Linux distribution support of rBuilder 5.2. What's more, Novell's new service supports fewer virtualization and cloud computing services as targets for deployment, and currently offers no facilities for directly launching or terminating the virtual instances it creates.
With that said, SUSE Studio handles appliance creation tasks better, by far, than any such tool I've tested.