SuSE beats Red Hat in ease of use

Thinking of a switch to Linux? SuSE's ease of use is likely to appeal to novice users, while Red Hat steals the show when it comes to stability and font management

Windows users thinking of switching to Linux -- either as an alternative or as an adjunct in a dual-boot system -- should turn to SuSE due to its ease of use. But more seasoned users will find the stability and stronger font control of Red Hat more to their taste.

A shoot-out between the two most popular distributions of the open source operating system found that each has its strengths, but that SuSE is the best option for people new to the operating system.

Among the strong points of SuSE 8.1 Profesional, according to ZDNet Labs, are the easy installation which includes automatic resizing of hard disk partitions during installation coupled with an "excellent" configuration tool. It is let down only by poor font management.

RedHat 8.0 Professional, by comparison, was found to be more stable, had much stronger font management and a wealth of applications included, but its setup remains daunting for first-time users, with no automatic partitioning of hard disks, it does not recognise some video cards, and the configuration tool is not as accomplished as the one supplied with SuSE 8.1.

In the review, SuSE Linux 8.1 was said to offer the best-looking desktop Linux distribution around with an installation process so smooth and uncluttered that it alone is enough to "merit consideration by Windows die-hards." But, said the reviewer, SuSE makes Linux palatable for any experienced Windows user and surpasses Red Hat 8.0 in both installation and interface. "If you're ready to switch to Linux, switch to SuSE."

There were criticisms, however. Better support for the GNOME desktop environment could be included. One of the two crashes that occurred during testing was due to GNOME's feature-rich email program, Ximian Evolution.

The default desktop however, which is KDE 3.0.3, will make Windows users feel right at home, said the reviewer, as it sports a Start button, cascading menus for accessing programs, and desktop icons that open to reveal applications, hard drives and system configuration options. "With its rich colours and stylised icons, the KDE desktop is little short of gorgeous."

It appears to be let down only by ugly screen fonts in word processing and Web browsing applications. "In fact, everybody's favourite Linux browser, Mozilla, is almost unreadable at times, so spindly, thin and jagged are its fonts," said the reviewer. This problem is somewhat made up for by the Konqueror browser, which makes better use of font anti-aliasing and creates much crisper, more readable fonts.

Red Hat 8.0 Professional, by contrast, had no problems running the same version Ximian's Evolution email program and includes better font control, although at £136 (inc. VAT) it costs more than double the price of SuSE. It is also tougher to install, said the reviewer and "suffers more hardware-recognition quirks."

Red Hat 8.0 includes the KDE desktop but opens by default with the leaner and more elegant GNOME desktop. GNOME's configuration tool offers fewer options than KDE's, but the options that it does provide -- such as fairly simple display, audio, and networking choices -- are very similar to those in Windows. "Red Hat 8.0 hides the huge range of configuration options that Linux is known for, so it's much more palatable to anyone who's used to tweaking Windows, which also hides some details for the sake of usability," said the reviewer.

Windows users who are used to Microsoft's ClearType display often find that Linux fonts appear appallingly thin and jagged. Red Hat, however, uses strong anti-aliasing to make desktop and application fonts look much smoother than in other Linux distributions, including SuSE Linux.

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