SuSE 7.3: solid server reach and desktop usability

The latest Linux distribution from SuSE offers support for a broad range of server architectures, and its ease of use also makes it a good desktop alternative.
Written by Maggie Biggs, Contributor

Linux vendor SuSE has significantly enhanced its eponymous Linux distribution with its newest release, version 7.3. Enterprises should evaluate SuSE Linux 7.3 with an eye toward its broad server reach in addition to its ease of implementation and use, which make it a viable desktop alternative as well as a solid server platform.

On the server side, SuSE 7.3 extends its release beyond the Intel architecture, with support for PowerPC, IA-64, SPARC, and S/390. Moreover, SuSE's YAST2 administration utility has been neatly expanded to make server management simple for experienced administrators as well as for those new to Linux. SuSE 7.3 supports version 2.4.10 of the Linux kernel.

Companies seeking a desktop alternative will find SuSE 7.3 well prepared. Desktop setup is highly automated and can be performed across a network, if desired. SuSE includes the GNOME 1.4 and KDE 2.2 (including KOffice 1.1) desktop environments, as well as a wide selection of productivity apps, including the MS Office-compatible StarOffice 5.2 suite, the GIMP image editor, Acrobat Reader, several Web browsers and HTML editors and more.

We installed SuSE 7.3 on 20 different server systems from a variety of hardware manufacturers, including Sun, IBM, Dell, and Compaq. We also installed this release on nearly 40 desktop and laptop machines from vendors such as IBM, Dell, Compaq, HP, Gateway, and Micron.

In every instance--on servers, desktops, and notebooks--SuSE automatically detected and installed our hardware correctly and configured the graphical environment properly. SuSE takes care of low-level configuration tasks such as tweaking monitor settings and defining partition information, but still provides the ability to modify settings if necessary. Also, we upgraded several machines from SuSE 7.2 to 7.3; in each case, SuSE's installer promptly found our existing SuSE installations and performed the OS upgrade flawlessly letting us update our existing applications and add new ones without incident.

We put SuSE 7.3 through its paces in a test environment that mimicked the server and desktop arrangements found in many enterprises. We deployed SuSE on a heterogeneous network that included machines running Windows, NetWare, Solaris, other versions of Linux, and the Mac OS. For both server and desktop deployments, we found SuSE to be highly adaptable and easy to integrate with other systems.

Administrators will appreciate the ease with which SuSE-based desktops can be networked, especially in heterogeneous environments. The default SuSE installation configures a desktop client to obtain an IP address automatically, so if your company runs a DHCP-based network, no additional post-installation tasks must be performed to get a SuSE system on the network and the Internet.

SuSE 7.3 also offers a network installation option, with which you can define a default desktop image and then deploy it to desktops across a network SuSE's installation routine can detect the presence of other installed operating systems and install itself alongside them cleanly and easily. Such flexibility lets you migrate to Linux-based desktops gradually and in a highly manageable fashion.

The distribution is equally simple to set up on the server side. The majority of SuSE's server administration options can be configured easily via the YaST2 Control Center, SuSE's excellent graphical configuration utility; for example, the YaST2 GUI lets you easily set up a firewall, define user accounts and security policies. YaST2 automates most configuration procedures but administrators still can tweak server parameters via the command line, if necessary.

SuSE Linux 7.3 is well prepared for corporate computing, offering support for a broad range of server architectures and significant advances in usability for both administrators and end users. Companies looking for a solid server platform--and perhaps even a desktop replacement for Windows--would be well advised to evaluate SuSE 7.3's stellar offerings.

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