You may not be ready to welcome Linux onto your organizations desktops, but that doesnt mean that desktop Linux isnt ready for you.
eWEEK Labs reviewed Canonical Ltd.s Ubuntu 5.10 and Novell Inc.s SUSE Linux 10.0, both of which began shipping in October, and we were impressed by the maturity, polish and, yes, innovation that these Penguin banner bearers displayed.
Novells SUSE Linux has long been one of our favorite distributions. Release 10.0—the first from Novell to ship in freely available as well as boxed retail editions—impressed us enough with its completeness and usability to earn an Analysts Choice award.
Ubuntu 5.10, also known by the code name Breezy Badger, is the third in a line of Ubuntu releases that has grown to become one of the most prominent Linux distributions available on the strength of a solid foundation in Debian GNU/Linux and a tight focus on desktop usability.
SUSE Linux 10.0 doesnt match the breadth of precompiled software packages that are available for Ubuntu, nor does it equal Ubuntus flexible and well-integrated software management tools, but SUSEs superior overall polish makes it a better option for users unfamiliar with Linux or uninterested in working around Ubuntus few rough edges.
Both distributions are well worth further investigation, and both are available in LiveCD form, so you can take them for a spin on prospective hardware to get a feel for how well theyll suit your needs and support your hardware. If you find that these distributions dont fit the bill, check back in a few months—both SUSE and Ubuntu are on six-month release cycles. The SUSE team provides security updates for two years for each version, and Ubuntu releases receive security updates for 18 months.
The next version of Ubuntu, slated to ship next spring, is set to receive security updates for three years for desktop components and five years for core operating system and server software components.
The first version of SUSE Linux for Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit architecture shipped in April 2003. It was the first AMD64 Linux distribution that we tested, and multiarchitecture support remains one of SUSEs strong suits. Although the 64-bit version of SUSE Linux 10.0 lacks some of the software packages that are available for x86, such as those for User Mode Linux, SUSE Linux 10.0 delivers the best AMD64 experience of any operating system weve tested so far.
Ubuntu 5.10 and SUSE Linux 10.0 are available for free download from www. ubuntu.com/download and www.opensuse.org/download, respectively. In either case, your best bet is to download the ISO images for the distributions from one of the mirrors listed on those pages or via BitTorrent Inc.s BitTorrent, which is what we did.
Alternatively, the Ubuntu project will mail disks for free on request, and Novell sells a $60 boxed version of SUSE Linux 10.0 that includes 300-plus packages not found on the downloadable images, along with printed documentation and physical media.
Both Ubuntu 5.10 and SUSE Linux 10.0 support x86, AMD64 and PowerPC processor architectures—we tested both distributions in their x86 and AMD64 iterations, using an AMD64 workstation and an Intel Corp. Pentium M laptop.
Ubuntu and SUSE both ship with The GNOME Projects GNOME 2.12, the latest version of the popular desktop environment. GNOME 2.12, which was released in September, includes some interface improvements in the systems Nautilus file manager, such as a new “location bar,” with buttons representing where you are in the immediate file system hierarchy .
Also, GNOME 2.12 sports a much-needed editor for its task bar application menu and a useful log viewer application with a calendar for locating logs from particular days.
On the KDE (K Desktop Environment) front, SUSE 10.0 and Ubuntu 5.10 sport KDE 3.4.3.
The last SUSE version we reviewed, Version 9.3, came with Beagle, a desktop search application that works like Google Inc.s Google Desktop and Apple Computer Inc.s Spotlight for Mac OS X feature. The version of Beagle that ships with SUSE Linux 10.0 is much more stable than the one that shipped with Version 9.3, and its now enabled by default.
Beagle is also available for installation on Ubuntu, although its not part of the supported Ubuntu core—in our tests with Ubuntu and Beagle, however, the search tool worked well.
Because SUSE Linux 10.0 and Ubuntu 5.10 are all-free Linux distributions (meaning, free to download but also free to redistribute or modify), there are certain pieces of software—such as Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java Runtime Environment, Macromedia Inc.s Flash Player and NVidia Corp.s graphics drivers—that cant ship along with them.
Both distributions provide access to these types of software packages for download and installation through separate software repositories. For SUSE Linux 10.0, theres an impressively well-stocked channel for Java applications and components, as well as another repository for other components such as Flash and Adobe Systems Inc.s Acrobat.
Consult www.opensuse.org/Additional_YaST_ Package_ Repositories for more information about SUSEs software repositories.
Ubuntu 5.10 provides similar access to license-restricted software packages in a separate repository channel. In addition to the restricted and core channels, we could configure our Ubuntu system to access additional packages beyond the core officially supported software, thereby expanding the available packages from more than 4,000 to more than 17,000.
Except for Debian, from which Ubuntu inherits its software catalog riches, Ubuntu 5.10 boasts more ready-to-install packages than any other distribution of which were aware—a major competitive advantage.
Whats more, Ubuntu boasts excellent package installation tools—we could install packages from the command line or with Synaptic, a graphical package management tool. New in this version of Ubuntu is another simpler software installation tool, which presents packages that are installed and available for installation in a basic menu structure, with checkboxes for selecting which applications to install or remove .
SUSE Linux 10.0s software installation tool isnt bad, but at times when we wanted to install a single particular package, we found it simpler to do so from the command line.
Although we prefer Ubuntus software tools, the Ubuntu team has some catching up to do with SUSE Linux and with Red Hat Inc.s Fedora Core where the rest of its configuration tools are concerned.
We found it a hassle to switch among different network connections on Ubuntu 5.10, such as from a wireless link to a wired one, or from one wired network to another. Ubuntus network configuration utility includes a profiles feature, but we couldnt get it to work properly—the tool wouldnt save the profile definitions we created and would hang for long stretches during certain operations.
SUSE Linux 10.0 does a better job with network configuration and switching and sported a panel-based applet for switching among networks that we first saw in a previous version of Red Hats Fedora Core distribution—we suggest that Ubuntu pick up this particular panel-based applet as well.
The Ubuntu suite also lacks a configuration tool for its X server. In tests, the Ubuntu installer did a good job configuring the display on its own, but for further configuration tasks, such as setting up dual displays, we had to fuss with text configuration files.
SUSE Linux 10.0 does ship with a graphical X configuration tool and a raft of other helpful modules, which cover the broadest range of system administration tasks of any Linux distribution weve tested.
SUSE Linux 10.0 is the first version to emerge from the OpenSUSE project. So far, the fruits of the Novell project—aside from the freely available SUSE Linux 10.0 release—have been better access to development builds of the distribution and a user-editable wiki.
The next step is opening up patch submission channels to the community and building a structure from which community members can participate in the software packaging efforts for the community.
This is the sort of structure that Ubuntu, through Debian, already enjoys, and the Ubuntu project is working to expand its community efforts through projects such as Rosetta, a Web-based application translation.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]
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