The Year in Desktop Linux: Page 2

Posted December 15, 2007

Aaron Weiss

Aaron Weiss

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Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop
If you're more apt to wear a suit and tie than to consider every day casual Friday, there's a Linux operating system that reflects a similar mindset: Novell's "SLED", or SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10. Originally released in 2006, SLED 10 was upgraded in 2007.

To clear up potential confusion, it helps to understand that there are two branches to the SUSE Linux Desktop tree: Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, or SLED, is a commercial product sold for $50 per desktop with a one-year subscription to patches and upgrades. In contrast, OpenSUSE is Novell's community-developed desktop Linux, which shares a significant amount in common with SLED, but can be downloaded for free.

OpenSUSE Desktop
The OpenSUSE Desktop with "slab" menu
(Click for larger image)

At the time of writing, the current release of SLED is 10 SP1 while the current release of OpenSUSE is 10.3. Generally, leading-edge features found in SLED show up in OpenSUSE at a later date. For example, the "slab" menu introduced in SLED 10.0 which very neatly organizes installed applications into functional categories migrated to the free OpenSUSE only in version 10.3, released more than a year after SLED.

Today, many consider the free OpenSUSE 10.3 on par with commercial SLED 10 SP1, but small businesses should remember that a SLED license includes the yearlong subscription to Novell.

Distribution confusion aside, SUSE desktops are designed to "play well with Windows" straight out of the box. SUSE desktops can authenticate via Active Directory, run Novell GroupWise, Lotus Notes and connect to Domino and Exchange servers. While these same features can be added to other Linux distributions like Ubuntu, doing so takes expertise, which is why SUSE has positioned itself as the business-friendly Linux desktop.

In a first among Linux vendors – and to the horror of some – Novell and Microsoft announced in 2007 a formal partnership to further interoperate, potentially giving SLED an edge in environments where integration with Windows platforms is essential.

A Deep Bench
While Ubuntu and SLED are today's dominant desktop Linux products, they are far from alone. Red Hat, long an established name in the enterprise Linux server market, has come to the desktop with Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop 5, its answer to Novell SLED. Red Hat is emphasizing virtualization (also supported in SLED and Ubuntu to varying degrees) as a way for desktop clients to run multiple operating systems side-by-side. Like Novell, Red Hat also supports a free, community-based desktop Linux spin-off of its enterprise product, named Fedora.

Of the businesses that do deploy Linux, "most employ it in conjunction with other network operating systems," according to Justin Jaffe, senior research analyst at IDC. "SMBs typically engage in a selective Linux deployment rather than a comprehensive operating system migration." While virtualization is one way to bridge the compatibility gap between Linux and Windows, another is emulation.

Xandros Desktop Professional not only connects to Windows Active Directory and PDC services, it also features a desktop designed to resemble Windows XP. Xandros also includes Crossover Office, an emulation product that can install and run many Windows productivity applications directly inside Linux, including Office and Outlook.

Continued: The Walmart factor

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