Linux nearly ripe for the enterprise desktop
Looking at four commercial Linux desktop OSes, the Test Center finds lack of enterprise-level manageability a common shortcomingFollow @pvenezia
One of the more divisive concepts in IT these days is Linux on the desktop. There are those who would prefer nothing else, pointing to myriad security and stability problems found in Microsoft operating systems, and there are those who would prefer it not at all, talking about wide disparities among Linux distributions, insufficient management tools, the lack of certain software, and esoteric hardware compatibility issues.
When investigating the realities of corporate Linux desktops, choosing a distribution can be challenging. According to distrowatch.com, there are 309 active Linux distributions available. Most of these are highly specialized, fringe distributions with limited audiences, but there is still contention for the top 10.
Recent forays into commercial distributions by major vendors have underlined the need for focus, support, and management. I looked at four commercial distributions: SuSE Linux Desktop 1.0, Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS (Workstation) 3, Xandros Desktop OS Business Edition 2.0, and Sun Microsystems JDS (Java Desktop System), Release 2.
Based on my testing, my overall impression is that for general-purpose desktop systems, Linux still isn’t quite there, but it is moving along quickly. Desktop Linux has made great strides in ease-of-use and the quality of available software, and many desktop applications for Linux compare favorably with their Windows counterparts, such as OpenOffice.org and the Evolution e-mail client.
But barriers to enterprise adoption remain. Management continues to be Linux’s greatest weakness (see “Manageability Will Prove Key to Success,” page 27). At this time, only Sun’s JDS offers any form of policy management for controlling various aspects of desktop presentation, application default settings, and so forth. The other solutions stop at automated package management capable of widely deploying new software, if they get there at all. For now, administrators are applying mass changes to deployed desktops via home-brew methods.
Notably, none of these distributions runs the v2.6 kernel . A significant amount of the kernel’s code has been included specifically for desktop and workstation implementations. Red Hat’s highly modified 2.4.21EL kernel is the closest in performance and compatibility to the v2.6 kernel, but when commercial desktop distributions are brought to market with a true v2.6 kernel, performance and hardware support will be greatly enhanced (see “Hardware Headaches,” page 31).
SuSE Linux Desktop 1.0
SuSE’s current workstation is showing its age. It ships with the elderly v2.4.19 kernel, which dates back to August 2002, although SuSE has tweaked it significantly. In keeping with the age of the kernel, many of the included packages are a bit behind the curve. SuSE does offer online updates via YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) Online Updates.
The OS will, however, be heading for a whole new look by the end of the year. With Novell’s acquisition of the formidable Ximian Desktop, the next version of SuSE’s desktop product should be a significant change, depending on the choices Novell makes. The Ximian Desktop is fluid and attractively Gnome-based, and SuSE has been a predominately KDE (K Desktop Environment)-based distribution. How Novell will reconcile this divide is still up in the air but bears watching.