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    Novell’s Linux option offers business smooth sledding

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver September 5-11, 2006: issue 880

    High Tech Office column

    In last week’s column, we saw that users looking at the Linux operating system to replace Microsoft’s Windows on their computer desktops faced not just a single alternative but a potentially overwhelming range of distributions.

    That column looked at the Ottawa-developed Xandros Linux, which is targetting Windows 98 users with tools to migrate documents and settings and to run Windows programs from Xandros.

    Judging by its name, Novell’s recently-released SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 (SLED 10) would seem to be aimed at the large corporations and other organizations that have been customers for Novell’s networking solutions. And it does include tools to gladden a large organization’s IT department. But because it’s perhaps the slickest of the many Linux distributions, Windows users in smaller businesses could also move to SLED 10 comfortably.

    SLED 10 costs about $55 with one year of support; there’s a downloadable 60-day trial version. Novell also offers the similar but open source OpenSUSE Linux distribution for free with no formal support.

    Novell has taken a leaf from Windows XP with an XP-friendly start menu, including built-in search, recent documents, favorite applications and more, which replaces an application menu that too often hid commonly used applications several levels deep. Users can conveniently browse the application menu, searching by category or other ways.

    Like most other Linux distributions, and unlike Windows, SLED bundles a set of open source productivity applications along with the operating system. Users can get right down to work with an office suite, photo editor and more. Shipping on five CDs (or a single DVD disc), SLED has room to include a larger range of these applications than most versions of Linux, with more easily downloadable from Novell’s update servers.

    Multimedia fans will appreciate the F-Spot photo manager and Banshee music jukebox, and, yes, SLED worked with my digital camera right out of the box. SLED can generally be used on corporate, small business and home Windows networks without problem. SLED also includes a number of features that users sticking with Windows won’t see until Microsoft releases its next-generation Windows Vista sometime next year. One example is the Beagle desktop search tool, which indexes files on the hard drive in the background, making it quick and easy to locate content in a large collection of saved documents.

    Installation asks more questions than in some other Linux distributions but should not be too intimidating for most users. It does a good job in identifying most standard computer hardware and installing the proper drivers, though there may be problems with some recent WiFi adapters.

    Like other Linux versions, SLED is safe from computer viruses and spyware designed to infest Windows systems. That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing, however. Linux users get the same e-mail spam as Windows users, for instance. And a Linux user who enters bank account information on a phishing website is just as much a potential fraud victim as is a Windows user.

    Users looking for a Windows alternative and wanting support from a large corporation should put Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop onto their short-list.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan