Suse Linux Professional 9.3

12 May 2005

Product: Operating system software
Price: €93.82
Although Linux has been around at the server level for a number of years now, it is still a relative rarity on the desktop — Windows is the operating system used on more than 90pc of computers worldwide. The Linux community is hoping to change this by bringing out software that is packaged and sold in a way that home PC users are familiar with. Novell’s new Linux offering, Suse Linux Professional 9.3, is the latest example. The product contains the Linux operating system, numerous open source packages and applications, productivity software and home-networking capabilities.

We installed it on a fairly old Pentium III 500MHz machine with 128MB of Ram, which slowed down the OS slightly when it came to processing certain commands. Assume this would not be a problem with newer, faster hardware. The installation itself was quick and routine, taking about 20 minutes to complete. The desktop you’re presented with when you reboot the machine is not
dissimilar to a Windows desktop. Instead of the Start button at the bottom left of the screen you have one with the trademark green Suse Iguana. Clicking on this gives you a list of all the available programs. The primary ones are 2.0, which contains the usual office applications from word processing to spreadsheets; Konqueror or Firefox for web browsing; Evolution or Kontact for email; plus a range of security, multimedia and wireless applications.

The big issue with this product, as with any Linux package, is that while the software might work beautifully and contain all the functionality of an equivalent Windows system, the all-important user interface will come as something of a culture shock to experienced Windows users. Where to find stuff is the big problem. Simple operations like printing or changing a network card are no longer the no-brainers they were before. This then raises the spectre of training. If you are self-employed can you afford to spend hours getting up to speed on the software? The same concerns would apply to small businesses. Home users/hobbyists with the time and interest in getting to know Linux are a different proposition and this new product will most likely appeal to this group. Linux advocates would argue, however, that its stability and reliability, coupled with the fact that it is less prone to viruses and other security headaches, means Linux is well worth the learning effort required.

Price is always going to be a big selling point of Linux packages and, at €93.82 incl Vat, Suse Linux Professional 9.3 is considerably cheaper than Windows. But whether or not it will be enough to persuade Windows users to switch in droves is very much open to debate.

By Brian Skelly