New Linux distributions hit the shelves

MandrakeSoft, Red Hat and SuSE have all released new versions of their Linux distributions this week, with tweaks for the desktop

While Microsoft has been blanketing the media with promotions around its new Windows XP release, new versions of three major commercial Linux distributions also hit store shelves this week. The new software from Red Hat, SuSE and MandrakeSoft promises a better experience for seasoned Linux users, and may also strengthen Linux's attractiveness to ordinary end-users in the home or office.

SuSE and MandrakeSoft, in particular, have recently focused on improving the experience of installing and using Linux for new users, while Red Hat -- the biggest Linux seller -- has retained more of a business focus. Red Hat is also venturing into the embedded market, which handles such non-PC devices as kiosks and set-top boxes, with the announcement of a new version of its Embedded Linux Developer Suite this week.

Linux, a Unix-like operating system, is developed on the open-source model. The terms of its licence require developers to make their innovations freely available to the developer community, and all distributions are available as free downloads. The boxed versions include extras like printed manuals and proprietary software, but Linux distributors mainly look to support and services for their income.

Red Hat Linux 7.2 updates the OS to the 2.4.7 Linux kernel, the Ext3 filing system and the latest versions of the popular KDE and GNOME desktop environments as well as StarOffice 5.2, the free office suite from Sun Microsystems. Other software includes the Nautilus file manager and the Mozilla Web browser, the open-source version of AOL Time Warner's Netscape browser.

The Embedded Linux Developer Suite is a package for creating embedded applications using Red Hat Linux 7.2 as the common software base. The standard Red Hat Linux edition costs £70.80; the Professional edition costs £176.40, and the Embedded Linux Developer Suite starts at around £2,000.

Mandrake 8.1 uses the 2.4.8 Linux kernel, which supports memory over 1,024MB, symmetric multiprocessing and journalised file systems. It includes KDE 2.2.1 with its attendant applications, GNOME 1.4.1 and more than 2,500 other applications.

The standard edition costs $29 (about £20). A PowerPack version, designed for workstations, will launch 12 November and costs $69. ProSuite costs $149 and includes the tools for building a server, and will also be available 12 November. In addition, the ProSuite Gold edition, at $1,190, will launch mid-November with support for Intel's Itanium processor range.

SuSE Linux 7.3 uses the most recent kernel of the three, version 2.4.10, along with the standard KDE and GNOME. It includes better support for IDE CD writers, touchscreens and graphics tablets and setup of TV cards. Application launching has also been sped up. The Personal version costs £35.00, and the Professional version £59.00.

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