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Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11: A true Windows replacement

If you're looking for a practical business desktop replacement for Windows, your best choice is the latest version of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.

March 26, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - There are lots of Linux distros being touted as great desktop operating systems for PCs. However, there's only one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to business owners as a Windows replacement: Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 (SLED).

SLED 11, which was released on March 24, stands above its competitors because it works and plays well with existing Windows business networks, data files and application servers. You can, of course, add this functionality to other Linux distributions -- if you're willing to do it manually. SLED gives you pretty much the full deal out of the box.

This new desktop is based on openSUSE 11.1. If you've already used openSUSE, you might think at first glance that SLED 11 is little more than openSUSE with a $120 annual service contract. It's more than that, though. Here's what I found in my recent run with it.

SLED 11 is built on Version 2.6.27 of the Linux kernel. You get two choices for a desktop: GNOME v. 2.24.1 or KDE v. 4.1.3. (I'm sorry to say that KDE 3.5.10, my preferred desktop, is no longer a default selection; the new, excellent KDE 4.2.1 also isn't available.)

For the default file system, SLED 11 is now using the rock-solid ext3 instead of ReiserFS. ReiserFS will, however, still be supported.

A ride on SLED

I installed SLED 11 on a Dell Inspiron 530S, a low-end computer that retails for approximately $450. It's powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus, along with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive and an integrated Intel 3100 GMA chip set. I also ran the operating system on a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500, 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive.

Installation was a snap. I inserted the DVD and told the install program to do its stuff; the process was over in a few minutes.

A Novell representative told me that the company is in talks with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo to get SLED 11 pre-installed but, as of mid-March, no deal was in place. I did receive a review unit from Novell, an HP EliteBook 2530p with SLED 11 pre-installed, but the notebook still had a Vista Business sticker on it (HP's Web site currently offers either Vista or FreeDOS on that model).

Hopefully, that deal will go through, because SLED ran flawlessly on all three PCs. It had no trouble working with a variety of Wi-Fi and graphics cards, or with the EliteBook's un2400 3G EV-DO/HSPA Mobile Broadband Module. If only Windows Vista were as compatible with today's hardware.

The desktop look depends, of course, on which desktop you opt for: GNOME or KDE. I chose GNOME for most of my testing, and also tried out the KDE interface. But no matter which interface I used, I couldn't help but notice that the desktop organization was a bit messy.

For example, there were too many applications in too many places. Even I, who have used SUSE Linux for years, had occasional trouble locating the right app. And do we really need three separate panels for administration -- Control Center, Application Browser and YaST2? How about one panel with three tabs?

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