Linux gets a facelift

SuSE's upcoming operating system will get a makeover with the KDE 3.0 graphical interface, adding new multimedia features, while Mandrake adds an encrypted file system
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Two of the major distributors of the Linux operating system, Germany's SuSE and France's MandrakeSoft, are set to release new versions of their software, improving multimedia features as well as introducing more advanced versions of the underlying core technology.

SuSE's software touts itself as the first to use the KDE 3.0 graphical user interface, which adds graphical enhancements similar to those found in Windows XP or Apple's Mac OS X.

Mandrake Linux 8.2, likely to arrive in the next few days, is a relatively minor revision, introducing technology like encrypted filesystem support and a "minimum installation mode" that squeezes the essential parts of the operating system into 65MB of hard-drive space. SuSE Linux 8.0 is a bigger step, bringing in an upgraded version of the KDE graphical user environment and improved multimedia features. It will arrive in shops and be available for download by mid-April, SuSE said.

The Mandrake release arrives as the company says it is struggling with short-term financial difficulties. MandrakeSoft recently announced the Mandrake Users Club and Corporate Club, accepting subscriptions to contribute toward the company's bottom line, a step taken by many Web sites that have found it impossible to subsist on advertising alone. MandrakeSoft said in a statement last week that its troubles are the result of "the 'sins' of previous management", but insisted, "we firmly believe that if the entire community of users is mobilised we can easily get past this current situation."

Key features include the minimal installation mode, encrypted file system support, and a new "rescue mode" which remounts an earlier version of the system in the event of a catastrophic failure. The Mandrake Control Centre, a graphical interface for changing system settings, has also been retooled, MandrakeSoft said.

The first Release Candidate for Mandrake 8.2 arrived on 10 March, and the final release is expected as early as this week. Mandrake 8.1, launched last autumn, was considered a major step forward for Linux ease-of-use.

SuSE Linux 8 steps up from version 7.3, released last October. A major change is the use of KDE 3.0, which is so new that it is itself still under development. The environment uses a new API (application programming interface) and adds a host of new multimedia features; for example, the file manager plays a selection from a sound or video file when the mouse rolls over the file name, and displays a preview of file contents. Apple and Microsoft promoted similar features with the newest versions of their operating systems.

KDE 3.0 is currently at the Release Candidate 3 stage, and a decision will be made about final release on Thursday.

SuSE Linux 8 includes tweaked versions of its email client, organiser and media players. Other multimedia features include support for CD writing, video playback and editing, the Kooka scanning application, and version 0.9 of the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture.

The underlying technology has also been refreshed, using version 2.4.18 of the Linux kernel, glibc 2.2.5, and XFree86 4.2 for graphics card support. The operating system will include the Apache 1.3.23 Web server and Samba 2.2.3a for connecting to Windows file and printer networks.

SuSE Linux Personal will retail for £39 inc. VAT, while the Professional edition, which includes additional applications and technical support, will cost £59.00 inc. VAT. Present SuSE users will be able to upgrade for £39 inc. VAT. Under the open-source development model, SuSE will also make the software available for free download, but the download will not include manuals or support.

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