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Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 first Hands on Review.


The much anticipated Suse Linux Enterprise desktop is finally Out. I worked on Beta and it was not what i expected from Novell lets check weather the final release gives us the same expiernece or not. For my evaluation of SLED 11, I used Dell Latitude D630 with 3GB of RAM and nvidia 8400gs graphic card.

At first look, Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 (SLED 11) is exactly same like openSUSE 11.1. But does SLED 11 have the extra polish and the value add to justify its position as Novell’s premier enterprise
desktop OS? We need to figure that out.

First, let’s start with the good. Since SLED 11 is heavily based on openSUSE 11, which is a modern and completely up-to-date Linux distribution. it has all the features of that product along with a number of commercial enhancements:

* Commercial fonts have been licensed from AGFA Monotype Imaging which match the same typefaces that in Windows and Microsoft Office, so that documents imported into Novell’s enhanced OpenOffice.org build in SLED 11 render in a more native fashion than with the basic OpenOffice.org build.

* SLED 11 includes the commercial Citrix Presentation Server (XenApp) ICA client for remote access to Windows and Linux applications on Citrix XenApp servers.

* Sun Java JRE 1.6 is included along with the Java Web Start plugin for Firefox.

* Adobe Flash Player 10 commercial license plug in included.

* Commercial Fluendo Gstreamer codec for AAC has been included for compatability with iPod m4a files in the Banshee media player.

* Post General Availability, free copies of Likewise Enterprise will be available for download for enhanced Active Directory integration (In other words, Novell’s own basic Winbind integration in SLED is still insufficient for widespread enterprise deployment, this despite several years into their interoperability alliance with Microsoft)

* The Evolution mail client now supports Exchange 2007 mail and calendaring and Novell’s own GroupWise 8 enterprise messaging platform via native MAPI.

Various improvements which were initially introduced with prior versions of openSUSE are also included in SLED 11:

* Clone installations and network deployments of SLED 11 and SLES 11 can be accomplished thru AutoYaST (a process similar to Redhat’s Kickstart) or via image distribution with Novell’s ZENWorks Linux Management product version 7.3.

* Support for Microsoft .NET API with Mono, which is showcased in SLED 11 with the integrated Beagle desktop search, the Banshee media player, the Tomboy note taker and F-Spot photo manager applications included with the release.

* Initial Silverlight and Microsoft WMA support with Moonlight 1.0 release.

* Support for enhanced power managment and CPU throttling

* A new PolicyKit GUI that allows for fine tuned User Access Control — restrict use of devices and desktop/OS privileges.

* “Technology Previews” of the Xen and KVM virtualization hypervisors.

* “One-Click Install” of applications from the openSUSE build service website.

And now, the bad part

* The installation process itself was uneventful and straightforward, and is nearly identical to openSUSE’s. The main difference is that you have less package selection choice as SLED is a subset of openSUSE in terms of functionality, so certain things like legacy KDE 3.5 desktop support and more comprehensive
developer packages are not included. The lack of developer packages or at least an option to include a package feed during install time is an omission I take serious issue with, as the environment should be self-hosting as a development platform. Additionally, the system prompts you to accept licenses for the
various commercially licensed add-ons listed above.

* The first problem I ran into was that the automatic nVidia driver install during the second stage installation process yielded a completely unusable system with an X Window server that refused to start. I had to go into the Xorg.conf file and revert the driver back to Xorg’s “nv” driver instead of the proprietary “nvidia” driver modules to get the GUI to start up again.

* The next issue I had was a repeat performance of what happened to me with openSUSE 11.1 back in December — the default firewall settings are too aggressive and block SMB filesharing, and SLED’s samba services aren’t started by default, so Windows networking is broken out of the box. How they did not catch this through beta testing absolutely bewilders me, because this is very basic functionality for an enterprise desktop, particularly one which is geared towards being a drop-in Windows replacement. Did I fix it? Yeah, all it required was disabling the firewall and turning the samba services on as the superuser(root), but your typical end-user in an enterprise environment would have no clue how as how to do this, let alone your typical openSUSE user. If Novell is assuming the enterprise or the OEM would do this during image or scripted install deployment, it’s a stupid assumption because not everyone is going to deploy desktops this way.

* My next major problem was installing 3rd-party applications written for SUSE. I tried installing Sun’s xVM VirtualBox by double-clicking on the downloaded RPM file, only to discover that there were unresolvable package dependencies because the “pango-devel” pre-requisite package was not installed. Okay, so I
attempted to do a “zypper install pango-devel” from the command line while logged in as the superuser(root). BZZT! “no such package“. Wha? Not even on the SLED 11 DVD? I was able to resolve this by adding the openSUSE base repository using “zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/distribution/11.1/repo/oss/ opensuse111” , installed the update repository with “zypper ar http://download.opensuse.org/update/11.1/ opensuse111-updates” and then issuing the “zypper install pango-devel” command to resolve the dependency. After installing the pre-requisite package, I was able to double-click on the VirtualBox RPM file to install it on the system and run the program.

* The openSUSE repository came in handy later because I kept getting various errors about the Intel audio chipset sound device not working. A “zypper update” yielded several hundred megabytes of package updates and fixed the sound problem.

While the technology itself in SLED 11 is impressive, Novell clearly has a lot of work to do before I can recommend deployment of SLED 11 as an enterprise desktop. Are these issues fixable? Yes, but I recommend that the openSUSE and SLE developer teams work much more closely together and rationalize their development processes, and that new usability studies be commissioned in order to flush out problems that might emerge in typical usage scenarios, and not usage by geeks or Linux enthusiasts.


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  1. Goat January 14, 2010 Reply

    And now, the bad part. I read your revew with great insterst because I was going to get it. But after reading your review I will wait.

    Has any of these bad parts been fixed? Like installing VirtualBox.

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