Linux as a viable desktop operating system has been apparently coming over the horizon for so long that it would easy to dismiss as a mirage. But recently, a few developments have shown up on the radar that are worth paying attention to for anyone wondering what the fate of Linux will be.
One of these must be the recent deal awarded to Germany's SuSE Linux to replace 13,000 ageing Windows NT desktop PCs with Linux installations. SuSE is also putting 4,000 desktops into place for insurance company Debeka, and says four or five Fortune 100 companies in the US are considering installing its desktop product alongside their existing SuSE Linux server installations. Red Hat, which has never claimed to be very interested in desktops, unveiled end-user-focused software with its most recent distribution, and is rumoured to be planning an enterprise desktop product for this autumn.
Linux companies have been releasing supposedly user-friendly distributions for years, but selling thousands of desktops to large businesses is another matter entirely. Is the new enterprise-oriented desktop software really all it's cracked up to be? ZDNet UK took a closer look at the newly minted SuSE Linux Desktop -- the software the city of Munich will be using -- to find out.
But the big question is, does this operating system, with its CrossOver Office software, make a viable alternative to Windows on your desktops?
In general, we were impressed with not only the ease of installation -- which has been consistent with most Linux distributions for years -- but with how easily SuSE's software worked with all the stuff the typical office computer has to deal with: Windows networks, networked printers, Exchange servers and the like. Many of the features we appreciated, such as licensed fonts that are identical to those found in Windows, are also found on other modern Linux distributions; others, such as a the polished-up user interface, are SuSE's own touches. In the past, quirks within Linux might have kept us from getting on with our work, but this time around it was easy to forget the platform entirely -- a big step forward.
First of all, some background. SuSE Linux Desktop (SLD) is one of several SuSE distributions that could be considered end-user oriented: there's also SuSE Linux Office Desktop, aimed at small businesses, as well as the standard SuSE Linux Personal and Professional editions. The key difference with SLD is it uses the same code base as SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES): this is intended to fulfil the needs of large businesses, with an 18-month release schedule (instead of twice a year, like SuSE's other software) and five years of support. It is binary-compatible with SuSE Linux 8.1, meaning you should be able to install any application that's been packaged for that OS version with no problems.