Piling On

Novell's OpenSUSE Version 11 is definitely stacked--maybe too much so for some

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Ubuntu 8.04 and Fedora 9 have made great strides in making desktop Linux more user-friendly and technologically advanced. With OpenSUSE 11, Novell Inc. can match them feature for feature.

Novell, Waltham, Mass., has added several features since version 10.3, notably the new Linux kernel 2.6.25, Xen 3.2 virtualization, windowing engine X.Org 7.3, GNOME version 2.22 and both versions 3.5.9 and version 4 of the KDE desktop manager. OpenSUSE 11 also includes a new package management system.

Novell is taking the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach with OpenSUSE 11, bundling all sorts of packages into the Live CD. There's no need to decide the desktop manager before downloading the Live CDand#8212;the 4.5-GB DVD includes GNOME, KDE and XFCE desktops. Novell does offer alternate Live CDs that have only GNOME or KDE and fewer packages for those users not willing to sit around waiting for a hefty download. The installer on the complete Live CD prompts to select the desktop manager of choice (or all).

A lot has already been written about the new installer, but it bears repeating: It's slick. The easy-to-follow installer simplifies the process. Other distributions have all developed installers that have minimal screens, straightforward language and helpful defaults, but Novell has outpaced them all in friendliness.

For the KDE desktop, there's the option to install either KDE 3.5 or the new KDE 4 (which we'd seen in Fedora 9). While KDE 4 is aesthetically pleasing, there are still some issues with the version, so reviewers looked at KDE 3.5 and GNOME.

After installation, which took about 45 minutes on the HP Compaq desktop's AMD Athlon 64 Processor 3800+ and 1 GB of RAM), OpenSUSE 11 opened up the GNOME 2.22 desktop. Novell changed GNOME's look to be closer to KDE. The tweaked GNOME is well-organized, with all the system configuration panels in one place and a launch panel similar to the one in KDE.

The tweaks Novell has made to OpenOffice.org are what differentiates it from the rest of the pack. Novell has integrated VBA into OpenOffice, a big plus for businesses switching from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice. Some of the changes have sped up application loading, made recovering documents more efficient, and the hardware doesn't slow down as much.

Considering all the interest in desktop virtualization, OpenSUSE 11 is well-positioned in that space. There are multiple VM options, from the Xen hypervisor and paravirtualized kernel, to Sun's VirtualBox software, and QEMU. The Microsoft hypercall adapter drivers fully support SUSE, so the Xen hypervisor can run fully accelerated on Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor on Windows Server 2008. It is also preconfigured with VMware's Open VM Tools and didn't require any extra work to run VMware Server or VMware Player.

The testing desktop had some problems with its Nvidia card under the beta and RC versions. The problem was eventually fixed by looking for the drivers separately. With the final release version, it still didn't look like OpenSUSE had a way to automatically grab nonfree drivers. The Zypper update utility had stability issues during the beta. While intended to significantly improve speed and stability for package management, there were still some problems in the RC version. On the other hand, the YaST panel was easy to use and simplifies customizing the distribution.

OpenSUSE is probably best for power users, those who can take advantage of the virtualization support and more experienced Linux users. But for those just looking for a simple desktop to use e-mail or listen to MP3s, OpenSUSE is probably overkill.

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