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Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4
Vendor Red Hat
Product type Linux distribution
IT requirements Can be deployed on any 32-bit or 64-bit Intel or AMD platform, with support also for IBM POWER systems, zSeries mainframes and other platforms; SMP, NUMA and clustering support is provided as standard
Functionality profile The leading commercial Linux distribution, RHEL 4 is available for both servers and desktop use; application bundles vary depending on the version involved, with the usual Apache Web server, Samba file and print and SQL database applications in the server bundles and OpenOffice on the desktop products
Usability profile Relatively easy to install and manage, with lots of support available through Red Hat and third parties; some technical expertise is required to get the best out of server implementations, and desktop users may find other distributions easier to get to grips with
Price Desktops from €143 and entry-level servers from €279 (per system per year)

The latest version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL V4) is an open source solution with the source code freely available. However, you have to take out a subscription to obtain the executable code and to get access to Red Hat’s online support service (Red Hat Network). Subscriptions are based on the number of processors and users involved, with four distinct RHEL implementations (two for servers and two for desktop use), all based on the same core 2.6 Linux kernel.

The flagship enterprise server product is RHEL AS, which is licensed for any number of processors and any amount of memory. There’s full support for 64-bit processors, SMP and NUMA and a wide range of architectures with implementations, for example, on IBM POWER and mainframe systems as well as Intel platforms.

Lower down the scale, RHEL ES is designed for smaller entry-level servers and is licensed for dual processors and up to 16GB of memory. For desktop use, there’s RHEL WS for dual-processor workstations and Red Hat Desktop for general-purpose PCs with a single CPU licence.

A very mature and well supported solution, the server implementations of RHEL come with an Apache Web server and Samba file server. There’s also a journaled Ext3 file system as standard, plus a variety of tools including Red Hat’s own Logical Volume Manager (LVM) to help with network and storage management.

Installation is straightforward, with plenty of automation options and a special security-enhanced implementation for fine control over what users can and cannot do. The Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) is one of the best software deployment and update tools around, although the lack of a fully integrated management setup could be an issue in small businesses with limited expertise.

The RHEL product line uses the GNOME interface, while the two desktop distributions ship with the OpenOffice suite of productivity tools plus Novell’s Evolution email/calendaring client and Mozilla's Firefox browser.



SUSE Linux 10
Vendor Novell
Product type Linux distribution
IT requirements Can be deployed on 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD platforms; also available for IBM POWER and mainframe systems, with multi-processor and clustering support on all implementations; Bluetooth and wireless networking are now standard
Functionality profile Skewed towards desktop use, with KDE desktop and a good bundle of productivity tools including OpenOffice; can also be used on servers, with the usual bundle of applications for file/print sharing, Web, email and database servers
Usability profile Straightforward to install thanks to the graphical YaST tool, which also simplifies day-to-day management; nice KDE desktop although some users prefer GNOME; good set of personal productivity tools
Price Free download or £38.95 for packaged product

The latest version of the SUSE platform, SUSE Linux 10, is available for free download; a paid-for version is also available with media, documentation and 90 days of installation support. Either way this (now Novell-owned) product is angled primarily at desktop use, although it’s not unusual to find the software on servers too. You also get the usual bundled applications, including an Apache Web server, Samba and both MySQL and PostgreSQL databases as standard, making SUSE Linux 10 a good all-round small business solution.

SUSE Linux 10 is based on a 2.6 kernel with a KDE desktop by preference, or GNOME if preferred. Processor support is similar to that of the Red Hat software, with implementations for 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD platforms plus IBM Power and mainframe systems. Support for SMP multi-processing is also included, as is -- of special interest to notebook users -- power saving, Bluetooth and wireless networking facilities.

SUSE has long been one of the most straightforward Linux distributions to install and configure thanks to its graphical YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), which has to be a key selling point for new users. This utility also simplifies day-to-day management with additional plug-ins for third party software in the latest version, making for a comprehensive offering.

For companies wanting a higher level of support, separate SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Novell Linux Desktop solutions are also available. Currently based on the earlier SUSE Linux 9 release, these use a 2.6 kernel and are kept up to date with service packs to apply bug-fixes, security patches and so on. The enterprise products also offer the same platform support and, for server use, extensive scalability and clustering options including the Oracle Cluster File System 2. These products will soon reach end of life and will be replaced by SuSE Linux 10-based equivalents.



Mandriva Linux 2006
Vendor Mandriva
Product type Linux distribution
IT requirements Support for 32-bit and 64-bit Intel/AMD processors plus PowerPC; automatic detection of most hardware options including wireless networking
Functionality profile Different implementations for desktop and desktop/server deployment, with the usual choice of bundled applications in each case; well supported with regular updates and a good choice of third-party services
Usability profile A straightforward product to install and use, Mandriva Linux 2006 is a good small business distribution that can be used both to host server applications and as a desktop platform
Price Free download; commercial packages start at €44.90

Mandriva Linux 2006 is the first completely new product to come from the French producer since it changed its name from Mandrakelinux. It also incorporates technology acquired from Brazilian developer Conectiva and desktop specialist Lycoris -- all now part of Mandriva.

Based on a 2.6 kernel, Mandriva Linux supports industry-standard Intel and AMD processors with 32-bit and 64-bit implementations, plus SMP support and optional clustering facilities. A PowerPC implementation is also available.

The Mandriva software is available for free download from various FTP sites or can be purchased along with discounted membership of the Mandriva Club, which provides access to updates, support and other services. The paid-for version also includes a variety of third-party applications not in the free download, such as Real Player and the Skype Internet telephony utility.

There are three editions of Mandriva Linux 2006, starting with a Discovery/LX package aimed mostly at home users and hobbyists. This is limited to a KDE desktop with a Lycoris colour scheme and accessories, and doesn’t include any server applications. However, basic server tools are bundled with the PowerPack version for advanced users and business deployment. This edition also offers a choice of either KDE or GNOME on the desktop and includes the latest OpenOffice release and a Firefox browser. Finally, for all-out business servers, the PowerPack+ version has all the usual tools plus several thousand other applications as standard.

Installation is easy, with custom setup wizards and automatic detection of most hardware devices -- including wireless networking. Indeed, Mandriva Linux 2006 is the first distribution to be certified for the Intel Centrino platform. It’s also a very easy distribution to get to grips with. Desktop users in particular will appreciate the new KAT search tool; there are also user-friendly utilities to help install updates and manage third-party packages.

Note, however, that the separate Corporate Server and Corporate Desktop products are based on an earlier implementation and will soon be updated.



More Linux distributions


Products Highlights Server Desktop

Debian GNU/Linux Popular Linux distribution with -- despite regular updates -- stable releases suitable for business deployment yes yes
Fedora Core Community-developed version of Red Hat Linux, sponsored by Red Hat and used as a testbed for its RHEL product line yes yes
Gentoo Linux Source-based Linux distribution that can be compiled and optimised to suit different hardware platforms; not for the novice yes yes
Knoppix Debian-based, Knoppix is primarily Linux on a bootable CD-ROM or DVD, although it can be installed and run from hard disk too no yes
Slackware Linux A very stable Linux distribution aimed at server use and lacking the graphical frills of most of the competition; requires a high degree of technical knowledge yes no
Ubuntu Linux The Linux flavour of the month, Ubuntu is Debian-based and very well supported; stable desktop and server versions are available yes yes

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Topics: Operating Systems, Reviews, Software

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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