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SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional Review
By Scott M. Morris

For some time, Linux has been gathering momentum in the desktop arena, having ruled the roost as a server platform for a long time. Novell's latest contribution to the open source community has taken Linux soaring to new heights. SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3, designed for home deployment, caters to everyone ranging from the first-time Linux user all the way to the seasoned Linux hacker or IT professional who wants a first look at the latest Linux packages and applications. The new platform offers masterful, first-rate documentation which is highly helpful to the new user. At the same time, SUSE 9.3 provides a virtual machine environment for Linux developers and other power users. An in-depth look into this sensational operating system will prove to be informative, valuable, and helpful for all.

With integrated firewall, virus scanner, and spam blocker, SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 offers a full range of security features. Built on the new 2.6.11 kernel, it showcases virtually all of the newest Linux applications. The marketers for SUSE LINUX Professional aren't lying when they say it contains "everything you need."

Where do users go for solutions when they run into difficulty? Many people will turn immediately to the documentation included with their product. The documentation for this latest release of SUSE is impressive. It's intuitive, clear and very well-done. As Novell puts it, "SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 includes complete documentation for installation and application use. A short User Guide provides a quick start and basic instructions, the complete Administrators Guide provides comprehensive information about SUSE LINUX Professional features. Documentation is separated into user and administration guide for casual user and more skilled ones."

Perhaps the most outstanding application suite offered in the new platform is a prerelease of OpenOffice.org 2.0. Worthy of an entire series of reviews in itself, a summary will have to suffice here.

OpenOffice.org has long been one of the premier applications on the Linux desktop, in fact, versions of OpenOffice.org are included with almost every edition of desktop Linux out there. It provides the essential tools such as word processing, spreadsheets and basic graphics that most users depend on for basic tasks. It's probably fair to say that without OpenOffice.org, the Linux desktop would not have grown to be the second most popular desktop environment globally.

Working with databases is something OpenOffice has been able to do for a long time. Its most recent version, however, supports an actual "database document." Users need not worry about knowledge of SQL or database design. Wizards handle all of this automatically:

Any given community thrives when standards are in place. The same is true with word processing formats. With many of the major word processing applications having their own formats, problems may arise in sharing and opening their documents. A standards committee, OASIS, has provided a solution to this problem. Their website explains their efforts as "Developing an XML-based file format specification for office applications." The file format specification they provide is the new default format for OpenOffice.org documents, solving the inter-application format problem:

In regards to this, Colm Smyth of Sun Microsystems says, "The main focus of our efforts is improved usability and significantly improved interoperability with Microsoft Office formats. This addresses the day-to-day needs of many more end users and makes OpenOffice.org/StarOffice a real alternative."

Additionally, the OpenOffice suite features the improved ability to open and display documents created in MS Office formats. New in version 2.0 is also the capability of converting and reading WordPerfect formats. Though this is still under heavy development, it currently works fairly well.

If the object of a particular software application is to pamper and woo users, it would behoove the authors of such software to implement features familiar to the users. In this, OpenOffice does not disappoint. Many people are used to customizing, rearranging and tearing off an application's toolbars. At last, OpenOffice.org 2.0 provides the ability to perform these functions:

Much attention has been paid to enhancing Writer, the word processing area of the suite. Word count functionality has been overhauled and improved. Working with tables is easier and more intuitive. The table functionality in OpenOffice has been dramatically reconstructed, offering a whole handful of new features.

Setting up a mail merge is now easier than ever. The wizard has been reworked, making it simpler and more intuitive than ever before. OpenOffice has come a long way in de-mystifying this process for end users.

Impress, the presentation part of OpenOffice, has received noticeable work. The user interface has been redesigned, offering a comfortable environment for users:

There is a myriad of additional improvements to the OpenOffice.org suite. Exporting to the PDF format is now much more robust. OpenOffice also does a phenomenal job with creating HTML documents. It is much more efficient than any of its competitors in this aspect.

OpenOffice proves to be a ground-breaking contributor to the future of Linux and the open source concept itself.

No doubt there are many who find desktop searching useful and even necessary in many circumstances. Novell's latest offering will satisfy your needs in this arena, as well. With the emphasis on supporting Mono-based applications, SUSE now includes a technology preview of an exciting new desktop search tool called 'beagle.' Once the beagle daemon is started, it immediately begins indexing files on the machine. Indexed are files normally considered to be documents (txt, rtf, pdf, doc, ppt, sxw, sxi, sxm). Also, other types of files are indexed. This includes emails (Evolution only), IM/IRC conversations, source code, images, music files, and even applications. With manual configuration, it is possible to include web history (Firefox only). In a world where hard disk space is increasing, the likelihood of keeping track of it all is diminishing. When immediate access to a document is required, beagle delivers:

There is a decent amount of other Mono-based applications. One such package is f-spot, photograph management software:

Another is tomboy, a desktop note-taking application for Gnome.

Machine virtualization has become an ever-growing need in the Linux developer's toolbelt. As developers create new version of packages, they need a safe testing environment where nothing will be damaged if their newest version accidently causes a system meltdown. SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 offers this type of environment with Xen, a virtualization application. Xen provides complete independence between virtual machines. Another goal of the project is to provide direct access to all hardware, providing performance very close to that of the host operating system. Note that Xen is in the forefont of today's open source development, the version of Xen that is provided represents a very early look at a technology that will mature are grow more robust over time. Because of its somewhat experimental nature, Xen is not installed by default.

Conventional text-based chat has been dominating the chat niche for decades. Both Gaim and Kopete are the all-in-one solutions for that need, and have been for years. and much more. All the most popular Chat protocols are supported, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, IRC, and much more. These come installed by default:



Gaining popularity, however, are true audio voice-based chat applications. It is no surprise, then, that SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 ships with Linphone already installed by default. This application uses the SIP protocol to establish and terminate calls, and the RTP protocol to transfer the actual audio streams. Are you behind a firewall? Does your IP address change? Linphone has the ability to work with both of these scenarios. The documentation is crystal clear, intuitive, and very easy to follow. Linphone is catching on like wildfire:

One of the major reasons for the mass migration from Windows to Linux is the security provided by the latter. One of the weaknesses of the former is in the area of web browsing. There are so many holes in its default browser, that an entirely new web browser is necessary to provide complete security. Fortunately, SUSE 9.3 installs Firefox 1.0. In Gnome, it is the default browser; in KDE it is available from the desktop. If not at the top, security is very high on the list of Firefox's strengths. Additionally, there are many hundreds of ways to customize the application through Extensions and Themes. From the mozilla.org website, "Extensions are small add-ons that add new functionality to Firefox. They can add anything from a toolbar button to a completely new feature. They allow the browser to be customized to fit the personal needs of each user if they need additional features, while keeping Firefox small to download." In regards to Themes, Mozilla explains, "Themes are skins for Firefox, they allow you to change the look and feel of the browser and personalize it to your tastes. A theme can simply change the colors of Firefox or it can change every piece of the browser appearance." Firefox is the standard by which all other browsers should be measured:

Multimedia enthusiasts, when shown SUSE 9.3, find themselves smiling with one eyebrow raised. This is because the platform natively supports the Apple iPod. No more time wasted getting it to work. This is one of those things that "Just Works".

Graphic design on the operating system is given both ease and power with the GIMP 2.2, also installed by default. The most recent edition of GIMP has benefited from many upgrades. New features in this latest version include many interface improvements, preview enhancements and availability, a new script interpreter, a new keyboard shortcut editor, and at least seven new plugins. Due to space constraints, posting a comprehensive list of all improvements here is impossible.

Not surprisingly, SUSE offers the best commercial-grade email and information management software available, providing Evolution, KMail, and Thunderbird. Evolution 2.2.1 is brimming with powerful functionality. Apart from being a superb option for email management, it also features an excellent contact management system. Contacts can be imported and exported with ease. Evolution provides calendaring, scheduling, and to-do lists, as well. It is a very well-designed application:

An immense effort has been put into making the platform work seamlessly with wireless connections. Chris Schlaeger of Novell says, "SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 offers Bluetooth wireless support, including automatic recognition of Bluetooth-enabled devices via the YaST central configuration and administration tool. For busy mobile users, it supports quick and easy access to wireless networks." The Network Selector (netapplet) makes it a breeze to switch between these wireless networks:

YAST also provides configuration options for bluetooth devices:

As you would expect, the newest versions of GNOME and KDE are included in SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 You can easily install either one or install them both. Schlaeger explains, "We offer both desktops at the highest possible level to maximize a customer's choice. We also spend a great amount of development effort to make both KDE & Gnome interoperate smoothly."

The newest KDE takes a big step forward. It includes over 6,500 bugs fixed, 1,700 wishes fulfilled, and 80,000 contributions since the previous version. Effort has been put into text-to-speech functionality for Konqueror, Kate, KPDF, and KSayIt. Desktop icons and visual components have been improved, including a completely reworked trash system. The Akregator RSS news reader is now a standard component of KDE. Overall, KDE takes the desktop to new heights.

Kontact has received some noteworthy improvements in the newest version of SUSE. Able to manage mail, contacts, calendaring, to-do lists, notes, news feeds, and even synchronize with a PDA, Kontact is packed with features:

Likewise, the 2.10 version of Gnome also has seen massive improvements. SUSE 9.3 includes the 2.10 version of Gnome. The menus have been improved to reflect more truly all of the applications that are installed. Nautilus, the file manager, has become faster and more stable. Drag and drop has improved, especially between Nautilus and other applications. Artistic backgrounds have been integrated into the latest Gnome. Totem, the popular video player is featured in the window manager, as well. There are several additional improvements, featuring the ability to select different keyboard layouts. Panel applets have been reworked to integrate more closely with the desktop. Users may now place a trashcan in the panel, in addition to the one on the desktop. The weather monitor has been improved. System sound can be more closely controlled through a new mixer on the panel. For those who need help organizing thoughts, the Sticky Note applet provides a nice solution. As with the other new software, applications, and packages available with SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3, the entire list of improvements to Gnome will not fit here.

A short list of additional packages upgraded in SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 is as follows:

  1. Linux Kernel 2.6.11
  2. GCC 3.3.5
  3. glibc 2.3.4
  4. X.Org 6.8.2
  5. Mono 1.1.4
  6. KDevelop 3.2
  7. Eclipse 3.0.1
  8. PostgreSQL 8.0

The system requirements for SUSE 9.3 Professional are as follows:

  1. Processor: Intel: Pentium 1-4; AMD: Duron, Athlon, Athlon XP, Athlon MP, Athlon 64, Sempron
  2. Main memory: at least 128 MB, 256 MB recommended
  3. Hard disk: at least 500 (for minimal system), 2.5 GB recommended for standard system
  4. Sound and graphics cards: SUSE LINUX supports most modern sound and graphics cards

SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional can be purchased from Novell's website.Orders are available for $99.95, or € 89.95.

Intended for home deployments on personal workstations and networks, SUSE LINUX Professional purchasers receive 90 days of installation support only, the software is not covered by any Novell enterprise support agreement. Security patches and limited software updates are while the product is in market (Novell has consistently replaced SUSE LINUX Professional with a new version approximately every six months).

With abundant improvements and inherent ease of use, SUSE LINUX 9.3 delivers. Intended to be deployed on personal desktops or home environments, it meets the needs of the both first time Linux users and experienced Linux enthusiasts. Backed by Novell, it is a stable, robust distribution, able to cater to your every whim.

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