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SUSE Linux Desktop 11, the Enterprise Linux Desktop
A Linux Desktop For the Enterprise
April 3, 2009
Ask any Linux aficionado why the desktop hasn't seen more converts, and you'll probably get a blank stare. The answer depends on your perspective. For enterprises, it often comes down to support and interoperability. In its first release Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) made great strides at addressing both issues. Cost as an issue definitely comes down on the side of SLED when you compare what you get (including productivity apps like Open Office and Evolution) to a similarly equipped Windows-based system.
Inertia would no doubt be another big reason. It's hard to get an established IT organization to move away from an existing platform without some really compelling reason. Security and vulnerability to Windows-based virus attacks might just be the wedge that helps to crack open the door. Novell hopes to capitalize on this with a targeted informational effort, painting the picture of a Linux-based desktop environment totally immune to the Windows-based attacks.
Novell provided a pre-loaded HP EliteBook 2530p for our evaluation. The notebook as tested came with an Intel 1.86 GHz Core Duo processor, 3 GB of memory and 160GB, 7200 RMP SATA hard drive. It also has a mobile broadband chip although drivers for the device aren't ready yet for SLED 11. The extended battery gave us over 5 hours (not an exact measurement) of usage with a single charge. Overall, the experience on this laptop with SLED 11 was snappy and fully functional.
SLED 11 leverages all the updates found in openSUSE 11.1 to bring a fully up-to-date distribution to the enterprise. In addition, SLED 11 includes a number of Novell developed features, such as the AppArmor application security tool, specifically targeted at enterprise users. It also includes proprietary applications like Adobe Acrobat Reader, not typically included with an open source distribution.
Single-click install is another new-to-SLED 11 feature that makes installing application programs a breeze. We tested this out with the just-released MonoDevelop 2.0. There are actually three options on the download page, and you'll need to pick the openSUSE 11.1 button for SLED 11. Version 2.4 of the core Mono components were also released this week. The download page has instructions for using the zypper command line tool to add the mono repository and perform the upgrade with three instructions.
The default file system has changed from ReiserFS to ext3 with SLED11. There are some basic differences between the two, including maximum individual file size. For ext3 that number is 2 TB and shouldn't be an issue for the typical desktop user. ReiserFS supports file sizes up to 1024 TB or 1 EB (Exabyte) and would make sense in a server-based environment.
We used a Lenovo S10e to test the installation process. The entire process took less than 30 minutes start to finish. After the first boot we ran into a minor problem with wireless networking in that we couldn't see any networks. This required a driver downloaded from the Broadcom site. Once that's obtained you simply double click on the file, and installation happens automagically. For the S10e you'll need the KMP PAE deb file. Be sure to scroll down to the SLED 11 section to get the right file.
This is a known issue, and Novell support identified it right off. SLED 11 uses Novell's update service to provide automated security and program updates. This requires an activation code that you get from Novell. You will be prompted during the installation process for this code although you can choose to skip that step and configure the service later. You'll also need an active Internet connection to complete the registration process.
Another feature carried over from the previous version has to do with Windows networking interoperability. By default SLED has the firewall turned on and all interfaces assigned to the "external" zone. This is the highest level of protection and essentially blocks the ability to browse a Windows network. There are several ways to fix this issue depending on your approach to security. You could just turn off the firewall, but this isn't a recommended best practice. The easiest way is to set your network interface to the internal zone. This probably works fine for a wired connection but not the best idea for a laptop you use to connect to public WiFi. The third option is to set a few firewall rules to open up the proper ports for Windows networking, but this one requires some understanding of port numbers and the firewall configuration tool.