SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11: Lots of Tech but Short on Polish

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11: Lots of Tech but Short on Polish

Summary: At first glance, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 (SLED 11) is virtually indistinguishable from the company's Free/Open Source and community supported Linux distribution, openSUSE 11.1.

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At first glance, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 (SLED 11) is virtually indistinguishable from the company's Free/Open Source and community supported Linux distribution, 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?

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Back in December of last year, I gave out some tough criticism on Novell's openSUSE project for what I thought was a premature and unpolished community Linux distribution in their openSUSE 11.1 release. With community supported distributions, however, you have to be willing to give these projects a great deal of slack, as they aren't expected to be used and treated like commercial software products.

Also See: SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 Desktop (Screenshot Gallery)

Also See: openSUSE 11.1 (Screenshot Gallery)

That being said, knowing that Novell's first enterprise product completely based on the openSUSE codebase was due in Q1 of 2009, just around the corner, I expected much of this to be resolved in upcoming openSUSE bugfixes and the SLE 11 release for Desktop and Server.

Unfortunately, I could not have been more optimistic and wrong about my expectations.

Over the last two weeks I've had the uh, <cough> pleasure of evaluating a very recent release candidate for SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11. To bring some perspective into this review I'd like to revive an analogy I've made in the past with affection about SUSE being like a German-engineered high-performance luxury touring sedan. However in the case of SLED 11, I'd say Novell has released the Linux distribution equivalent of the 2002 BMW 7-Series.  Deluxe and feature-packed, but so frustratingly flawed, unrefined and overly complicated it makes it excruciatingly difficult to love.

Novell has a lot riding on the SLE 11 release. The company has been suffering a number of financial setbacks due to the retreating economy and has had to lay off some critical members of staff, some of who have been programmers directly involved in the development of SUSE in Germany and in the US. This I believe has created a number of resource constraints on the company which has caused SLE to be rushed through development yielding an unpolished and largely untested product by previous SUSE standards which were extremely methodical by comparison.

Admittedly, Novell told me in a recent briefing that no end-user acceptance testing or usability studies were performed other than regular beta releases to partners and technical testers because the results of the usability studies that they commissioned for the previous release, SLED 10, were so overwhelmingly positive.

I'm sorry Novell, but you don't change your entire base distribution development model from a completely closed and internalized process to one that is largely community-oriented and then introduce four years of software improvements in an enterprise desktop operating system without completely re-doing your usability studies. Your alliance with Microsoft and their experiences with rolling out Windows Vista should have least yielded that much useful advice.

Essentially, to produce SLED 11, Novell repackaged openSUSE 11.1 with new backgrounds and artwork and slapped a number of commercially licensed enhancements on top of it with twelve months of technical support for $120 per copy.  If this product had six months of total development time and quality assurance invested by Novell I think it would be a generous estimate given the deliverable product that they've produced. Whatever creds Novell had for extensive regression testing their enterprise releases has completely fallen on its ass with SLED 11 as far as I am concerned.

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 gory details.

For my evaluation of SLED 11, Novell provided me with an HP mini-notebook with 3GB of RAM with the release candidate software pre-loaded. Despite Novell's best intentions the keyboard on this device was too small for extended evaluation, so I burned a DVD from the ISO image that was included with the system and installed it on a Dell Inspiron 530 with 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard disk, Intel Q6600 quad-core processor and a nVidia 8500 card with integrated Intel audio chipset. This is the standard system I had been using for Windows Vista and Windows 7 testing.

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. According to Novell, this was a known issue due to a bad nVidia repository at the time the release candidate was issued and should be resolved on general release, but I have to question why they wouldn't warn me about this or just disable this routine in the installer until it was resolved.

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. Again, "We'll have it fixed in release, we promise" was Novell's response. 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, 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. 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.

Cluetrain to Novell: MAKE THE DEVELOPER PACKAGE REPOSITORIES AVAILABLE ON THE DVD.

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. Hooray for openSUSE and the community, but raspberries to Novell's SLED 11 QA and UAT. Novell has also included an automated GUI-based update manager with SLED 11 but I was not supplied with a support entitlement for the purposes of my evaluation and the support repositories were not ready during the time of testing, so I have no feedback as to how well they work.

My gripes with SLED 11 are also not just related to Novell's insufficient QA, although clearly this is the product's biggest problem. I also have design issues as to how they laid out the interface for their updated "Slab" enhancements to GNOME. In both openSUSE 11.1 and SLED 11, there are 3 distinct "views" by which programs and settings can be accessed -- a "Control Center", an "Applications Browser" and then "Yast2". Each of these views contain a large amount of icons, particularly the "Applications Browser" which is several pages long.

This is so overwhelming that it takes a long time to figure out in which interface a particular program or configuration option is actually located.  This problem, which is a disease I shall refer to as "Iconitis" is also a design element I also take issue with in Windows Vista and Windows 7's Control Panel, but Novell's implementation is much more confusing and counter-intuitive. Ideally, I'd like to see ONE Control Panel/Applications Browser with organizational tabs or tree drill-downs so that you don't have to switch between UIs to find what you need. Access to the Administrative icons should require super-user or authenticated user privileges. Can OEMs and Enterprises address the overwhelming amount of presented apps in the Application Browser using imaging and scripted installs? Yes, but again I say Novell should not assume everyone is going to do this. The default install and menu configuration should not be this unweildy for an end-user.

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.

Do you plan to deploy SLED 11 in your enterprise? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Linux, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Servers, Software, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Typical Novell

    Even back in the Netware days Novell had a better technical product then Microsoft but it to a CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) to set it up and to even manage it.

    When I was working in a Novell environment, MS reps would come in and say "Hey Windows NT is easy, once installed your PC techs can manage it" You can imagine how long it took the company in question to calculate the savings in labor costs and make up their mind to move to NT.

    This and marketing is what will be the death of Novell. I wish someone like IBM would just buy them already... This slow death is sad to watch.
    tymiles
    • Typical ZDNet

      *"Over the last two weeks I?ve had the uh, <cough> pleasure of
      evaluating a very recent release candidate for SUSE Linux Enterprise
      Desktop 11."

      What version was the release candidate?

      *"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."

      Developer packages are not included in SLED because it is not a
      development platform. Repositories available for those that need
      them.

      *"According to Novell, this was a known issue due to a bad nVidia
      repository at the time the release candidate was issued and should be
      resolved on general release, but I have to question why they wouldn?t
      warn me about this or just disable this routine in the installer until it
      was resolved."

      Bad nVidia repository would be a big problem if in the released
      version, not in a sneak preview version on hardware different to that
      supplied to preview on.

      *"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"

      Not broken, disabled by default - thank goodness!

      *"Did I fix it? Yeah, all it required was disabling the firewall and
      turning the samba services on as the superuser, 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."

      You did what???? Please stay away from *nix systems. Why not turn on
      Samba and configure firewall access via YAST?

      *"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."

      Actually most, if not all will. The feature is correctly implemented.

      *"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."

      Right it is not a development platform. Hello?

      *"installed the update repository"

      Wow, surprised?

      *"MAKE THE DEVELOPER PACKAGE REPOSITORIES AVAILABLE ON THE
      DVD."

      Why? Is this also a criticism of windows installers?

      More of the same from ZDNet.
      Richard Flude
      • Not often I agree with Flude, but he is right on the money with this post

        Jason,
        This is a whine. Why do you complain about services that should be off by default?

        As for your comment about "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", this is just silly. Turning on SAMBA and configuring the firewall using YaST2 is so simple a child could do it. If SLED11 is to be installed into a corporate environment, wouldn't the company administrator set things like this up? I mean, in a Windows shop, would you expect the secretary to setup AD / domain access, software, services etc?

        If I didn't know better, I'd say this post reeked of anti-Novell/MS bias from a F/OSS advocate. Remember your "criticism" of OpenSUSE 11:

        [i]"From a pure technical achievement, openSUSE 11.1 is at package parity with the best Linux distributions available ? such as Fedora 10 and Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10. [b]In many ways it's more polished, as clearly it has a lot of customization work that went into it to make it well-integrated[/b]"[/i]

        and then you went on to complain this was a bad thing!
        Scrat
        • Of course they will know how to do it.

          In windows which is why they will take one look at this beast and forget it.
          deowll
        • "enterprise"

          So, the product needed to have devel packages installed but at the same time needs to have network services open by default.

          Who exactly is your typical user, someone who codes off the cuff but does not know about the firewall? One way or the other, please, not both.
          Poink
        • No! No! No! No! - Perlow is wrong because:

          First, how can you complain that KDE modules were not included when you ripped an .iso from a Gnome system!! Are they not installable anyway from the repositories? (If not, my bad as I'm a free distro user, but still, you did rip a Gnome .iso!!)

          Your next 2 or 3 gripes are the same or similar in that you started with the wrong distro, or you are expecting smooth sailing on what are also rough seas for Windows. Apples and apples please.

          Third, you complain about the 3 different control, setup and program selection folders!!!??? Well excuuuuuuuuuuusssssseeeeee me!!

          Does not Windoze have a Program Start menu, which, if you have a Windoze system (as I do) which is as loaded with programs as my Linux system, is just as complicated and cluttered with programs, documents and other functions?

          Does not Windoze have its setup functions spread around between the Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and the Device Manager, which if you want to moan, is 4 levels down into the My Computer>properties folders!!

          Its all the same!! A computer is a computer, an OS is an OS and an App is an App! It's "I've got to have some excuse to write a potboiler blog" that drives the OS packagers to move everything towards the Windoze trend of making everything automatic and taking control away from the end user, or at least the local installer.

          Please, find something honest to write about. Try why Wall Street got their money in a week and the American People get nothing but dissembling and delay for healthcare!!!

          <a href="http://www.westernnewsco.com/seamus/wine/winearb.html"> Wine Arbitrage</a><br><a href="http://www.thevault.WesternNewsCo.com"> Bullet Proof Backup Systems</a><br><a href="http://www.theodosius.us/LinuxShop/index.html"> The Linux Shop</a><br><br><br>
          Seamus O'Brog
      • Perlow is seeking talkback posts.

        His posts are designed to get the greatest number of talkbacks to up his ratings. He looking to inflame the reader to solicit a response. Once he figured out that he could get more responses if he flamed a product, his posts went totally in that direction.

        He is simply out to push buttons as he has yours.
        bjbrock
        • Let's get something straight

          I have absolutely no predisposition to flame a
          product or a vendor in order to generate
          pageviews and controversy. I am equally
          comfortable with praising a vendor when they do
          a good job (such as with my coverage of
          Microsoft's Hyper-V and Windows 2008 Server)
          than castigating them when they screw up (such
          as with Vista and SLED 11).

          One could say that as I work for a Novell
          strategic partner (IBM) that it would be in my
          best interests to go lightly on Novell's latest
          release, but doing so would completely
          compromise my integrity as a reviewer and a
          writer. I call them as I see them, period. It
          doesn't matter who the vendor is or what the
          technology is, I have no religious leaning
          toward anyone including technologies from my
          own employer.
          jperlow
          • Could you perhaps respond to...

            Richard's points about your "critique" then?
            zkiwi
          • I made my points quite clear...

            and his opinion differs from mine. That's all there is to it.
            jperlow
          • So you're saying...

            His points about your lack of grasp/understanding are not of concern to you?

            You don't even consider his (very valid) commentary on your piece worthy of even a consideration and reply?

            Ah well...
            zkiwi
          • No!No!No! Not Clear! Not Matter of Opinion! Your Facts Wrong!!

            No Sirree Bob, it's not just a matter of opinion. Your facts are wrong and you should be addressing Richard Flude's points.

            And along with Flude, I intone that you stay away from *nix systems if you can't properly configure a firewall!!
            Seamus O'Brog
      • WoW didn't know you were a SUSE fanboi Richard

        You've just highlighted why desktop *nix will never make it beyond the small group of rusted on users.

        In the rest of the world we don't really need to know any of the arcane rubbish both of you have been spouting - and this was mainly just the install.

        and heaven forbid you actually run a distro on different hardware - it might break ;-)
        tonymcs@...
  • I agree

    OpenSuse 11.1 does seems more buggy than previous releases, maybe this will be addressed with 11.2 and backported to SLED 11 by then, one hopes, otherwise it will be another distro for me too.
    Alan Smithie
  • RE: SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11: Lots of Tech but Short on Polish

    Wow, you know linux is in very very bad shape when even one of its biggest fanboys agrees that its a piece of crap. The rest of us already knew this but its fun to watch them find out on their own. If this is a polished distro I'd hate to see what an unpolished one looks like. I just couldn't imagine. Then there is the oxymoron of linux desktop, that in itself is pretty laughable.

    Now for the sad news, the only company who had the power to do anything with linux failed, and that is Novell. They were linux's only hope. Now will you guys finally admit linux is dead and let it fade out? It can't do anything on the desktop well. You have to recompile each package, it doesn't do multimedia, flash crashes the web browser, it only plays one sound at a time, and it leaves telnet open which led the recent botnet.

    Fanboys, start your compilers! LOL!!
    Loverock Davidson
    • Well not quite

      Loverock,

      Many modern Linux distributions do not require recompiling of packages for installation, have a stable Flash and do multimedia. I had installed and configured Ubuntu on a laptop and it was running well until an updated (Ubuntu-authorised) graphics driver ensured I could no longer boot into a GUI.

      What I could have done if I wanted was re-install Ubuntu and turn off updating. However, I decided to return to Windows just in case there were any other surprises which I had not encountered. Also, I found XP to run faster on the laptop than either Ubuntu 7 or 8.

      Some Linux distributions are on the way to being eligible for mainstream usage but, imo, they are not there yet. They require a few more years of development and may be left behind if Microsoft sticks to releasing a new version of Windows every couple of years now.

      I know others here will disagree with me and I am fine with that. I am not looking for a fight, again unlike some posters here.
      mikeybrass
    • You sure sure are one of those broken clock nuts

      You get it right twice a day, and wrong all they long.

      I don't like SUSE, but I love Ubuntu.
      InAction Man
      • your post stinks!!!

        You up the ante with personal attacks, (looser,crazies,goons).

        Why do some take it so personally as you do?

        Grow up!

        Linux has a long way to go, as a desktop.

        But for devs and server rooms its great, when an engineer is at the helm.

        DUH!

        Otherwise shut up.
        pcguy777
        • Is that all? Feeling more relieved now?

          Good!

          You do realize you just lost an excellent opportunity to stay silent, don't you?
          InAction Man
          • Re; is that all

            I have never seen anything from you except juvenile ranting at anyone who does not agree with your opinion
            dougbeer