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In Round 1 of The World Series of Linux, Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" outperformed both Freespire and Xandros in a series of real-world office tests conducted by the CMP Channel Test Center.
Ubuntu has seen its share of headlines over the past year, including coverage of PC maker Dell's decision to pre-load the distro onto select models of desktops and notebooks built by the Round Rock, Texas-based company. But headlines don't necessarily add up to great performance, or even better performance than competitors. So, while Ubuntu sits and waits to take on the best RPM distribution in our testing, here's the lineup for Round 2.
Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. This distribution has performed very well in previous Test Center evaluations, with a graphical UI and ease of use that makes it very competitive with Microsoft's Windows Vista.
PCLinuxOS. This is a distribution that is easily downloadable over the Web and has been noted by some solution providers in recent months as a steady, stable preferred version in some customer deployments. This test gave us an opportunity to get a better look at this distribution of the desktop Linux OS.
Fedora 7. Red Hat makes a good amount of its money on its RHEL enterprise version of Linux, in addition to support and service, but it has also spearheaded formation of The Fedora Project -- an open source version of the Linux OS. While Fedora 8 is now on the open market and available for download, the Test Center wanted to look at the earlier version instead since it has been on the market longer and had undergone more testing in the marketplace.
Test Center engineers have had good experiences with SUSE in the past, so Novell's SLED 10 led off the RPM's turn. The install CD goes straight into the installer, without bothering with a Live desktop. Like Xandros, it is very clear this is an enterprise product. The installation is also much more complex than non-enterprise distros. For example, it asks about networking, partitioning drives, setting up domain hosts and offering various encryption options. The distribution includes the XEN host server and Novell applications. The printer was automatically detected and installed.
Compared to the older lpr system, CUPS -- the Common Unix (and Linux) Printing System -- makes printing on Linux a breeze. With the OfficeJet Pro officially supported by CUPS, engineers avoided any problems.
Slide Show: Walk through screen by screen as we pit SLED 10 vs. Fedora 7 vs. PCLinuxOS.
SLED 10 comes with built in VNC (Virtual Network Computing) for remote administration and proprietary filters for migrating Office documents. It has automatic multi-user support, and can work with LDAP.
With all this, it was a bit of a shock that SLED 10 also failed to set up a LAN connection. Novell said SLED 10 didn't support Attansic L2 yet in its enterprise version. According to Novell, the company undergoes a long and extensive testing cycle before including drivers, so even though the chipset wasn't all that new, it hadn't made it into the enterprise product yet. The spokesperson assured engineers OpenSUSE, the free version, would have no trouble.
To make the long story short, engineers downloaded OpenSUSE and tried again, but had no luck.
The second RPM-contender, PC Linux OS 2007, was a disappointment. The installer started from the Live CD but it failed to get a LAN connection. Sound just didn't work. There was no obvious reason for sound failure, and it was the only distribution installed on the Systemax hardware that failed in this regard. Printer installation was also much more difficult, compared to all the earlier distributions. The printer installer defaulted the driver to OfficeJet Pro 1150. The printer finally worked after installing the printer as OfficeJet Pro 1170, oddly enough.
Both LAN, sound, and printing could have been fixed with some effort, but engineers refrained. For this part of testing, engineers were channeling an office admin, so were looking for straightforward and easy to manage processes. Anything complex at this stage was an automatic disqualification.