Novell SUSE Professional 9.2 review

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This is the first SUSE Linux distribution we’ve seen since the company was bought by Novell. SUSE Linux has always been popular in Europe, but with the Novell purchase, and the announcement that Dell is going to preinstall it, SUSE Linux looks set to be more successful than ever. The Professional product is designed to show everyone that Linux can be used as a desktop operating system, and as such comes with all the software packages you’re likely to need.

Novell SUSE Professional 9.2 review

On opening the box, the first thing you notice is the documentation. These days it’s rare to get any printed material with software other than a skimpy ‘getting started’ manual, but here we get a 700-page administrator’s manual and a 300-page user’s manual which, together, cover virtually everything you need to know about Linux. There is, for example, a section covering the different file systems that can be used to format the hard disk. It’s something experts will already know about, but which has the potential to confuse novice or occasional Linux users. While a web search will produce detailed (often overdetailed) information, it’s great to have it available in an easily digestible format.

The administrator’s manual describes how to install the operating system either to dual-boot with Windows or as a standalone installation. We adopted the latter approach, and installed the software on to a reasonably specified Dell desktop system. The installation process was an absolute breeze. The system booted from the CD, worked out what to do and went off and did it. The installer even connected to the Internet and downloaded the updates that had been issued since the CD was produced. What impressed us were the details: the way the installer told us what it had found out and to approve what it was going to do; how long it was going to take; and how many CDs it was going to use. Having installed Windows XP SP 2 from CD earlier in the week, it was interesting to compare the two installations. The bottom line is that SUSE’s installation process was at least as easy as that of Windows XP, and throughout it kept us informed about what was going on, and how long everything would take. In fact, the whole process was notably better than any other Linux systems we’ve used.

Although our installation was on a desktop system, SUSE Professional is just as happy being installed on a laptop. Indeed, it includes a number of laptop-specific features such as support for Intel’s Centrino wireless chipset, as well as Bluetooth networking support – so you can synchronise your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone or PDA without the need for extra cables.

The key to the installation and the ongoing administration of the system is a piece of software called YaST. This tool allows you to manage all aspects of the system, from what packages are installed through to how Internet access is configured.

After installation, the machine boots up and presents you with a complete desktop system, courtesy of the K Desktop Environment (KDE) version 3.3. Everything in this works pretty much as you’d expect, including menus in familiar places. In fact, a Windows user would have no trouble at all in using it with an absolute minimum of training. The desktop does include the slightly quirky KDE web browser Konqueror, but everything works smoothly and is simple to use.

Navigating the KDE equivalent of the Windows Start menu shows just about every application you’ll ever need. There’s a complete installation of OpenOffice (see issue 122, p164), which provides word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools. The menus offer tools for drawing, manipulating graphics, desktop databases, games and so on. KDE also comes with various PIM (personal information management) software, which can be interfaced to the Novell GroupWise product. One such PIM package is Novell Evolution, a replacement for Microsoft Outlook; using Ximian Connector, another open-source package, Evolution can even connect to a Microsoft Exchange server, providing all the groupware features you’d expect.

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