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A Review of SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10

I’m writing this entry under SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10, which I recently installed on my CBC-issued ThinkPad T42. The laptop came with Windows XP installed, which I decided to retain in a dual-boot configuration, because there are still certain tools at CBC (like our antiquated Visual Basic-based “Guests & Boardrooms” booking system) that still require Windows. I did manage to get Remedy ARS to run properly under Wine, however (the latest version, 0.9.28, that is; earlier versions had weird problems rendering dropdowns).

I decided to evaluate SLED because of a number of reasons:

  1. I am fairly satisfied with my OpenSuSE-based CBC-issued desktop, and wanted to see what a “vendor-supported” branch of OpenSuSE would look like;
  2. Novell Client for Linux is only officially supported under SLED, although I have it installed under OpenSuSE, with some hackery (like --force and --nodeps manual installation of RPMs);
  3. There is a rumour flying about the IT grapevine that in the not-too-distant future, CBC will be converting many of its desktops to run SLED.

My expectations for SLED were somewhat low. Although I fully expected everything to work as advertised in the product literature, I worried that the feature set would lag behind the cutting-edge by at least twelve months, as is the norm with RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). For example, I was surprised to see a 2.6.16.x Linux kernel; had I installed RHEL, I would probably be running a 2.4.x kernel.

I decided to put SLED through the paces by trying out a few things that it advertises as working, but with which I’ve had problems in the past:

  1. stable wireless networking
  2. wireless networking with WPA2-PSK encryption for my home
  3. NovellVPN client which purportedly talks to Nortel Contivity VPN concentrators (used at CBC)
  4. NetworkManager for switching connection profiles
  5. suspend/resume to disk
  6. Evolution connectivity to Groupwise servers using the Groupwise SOAP interface
  7. On-board Intel modem

Finally, I wanted to play around with the Xgl display effects, and to see how well that worked (and whether it looks as nifty as my colleagues claim)

I have to say that after a couple of weeks of using SLED that I’m very impressed. This is perhaps the nicest-looking Linux distribution I’ve ever used, and everything does “just work”. Wireless networking is stable and functional, which is absolutely unprecedented for me under Linux. The NovellVPN client does in fact talk to CBC’s Contivity VPN with no problems. And all the problems that have plagued NetworkManager in the past seem to have disappeared. Connection profile switching is as seamless as Mac OS X, which is more than can be said for the IBM Access Connections hackery that is required under Windows.

There’s only one challenge remaining for me, and that’s to see if I can get PPTP working under SLED. This is because the CBC in-building wireless network requires it; association to the AP requires no authentication or encryption, but in order to get onto the BAN, a PPTP VPN connection through a Bluesocket concentrator must be made. I’ll keep you all posted as to my progress!

And yes, the Xgl desktop effects are very nifty — but my laptop’s video card is woefully underpowered, so sometimes X fails to start with Xgl turned on. However, on a desktop machine with a decent video card, I’m sure they would perform perfectly.

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