Novell hits a desktop home run with SLED 10
SLED 10 offers unmatched ease-of-use, polish, and hardware support
For the forthcoming SLED (Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10, Novell went back to the drawing board to rethink what makes a good desktop. The result is extremely impressive.
I installed the beta of SLED 10 on a Fujitsu LifeBook P5010 notebook, my stock torture test for new desktop Linux distributions. The P5010’s Intel-based hardware is standard enough to warrant support, yet funky enough that it throws Linux a few curves. No Linux install on this machine has ever passed with flying colors — until now, that is.
In the past, Linux distributions have always needed a special patch to support the full resolution of the P5010’s wide-aspect LCD screen. Not SLED; it accepted my custom screen resolution without complaint and booted to full widescreen glory.
Wireless networking was similarly painless. After I had selected my access point from a convenient GUI menu, SLED prompted me for my network passphrase and I was online, my connection secured with full WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) encryption.
SLED’s Gnome desktop environment offered easy plug-and-play access to removable media. New volumes appear and disappear on the desktop as they are connected and removed, just as users expect from Windows or Mac OS systems.
The desktop environment itself is clean, attractive, and free of clutter. Novell claims to have done extensive user testing to refine SLED’s UI, and it shows. This is not your average, stock Gnome system.
The first difference you’ll notice is the new Computer menu, which organizes the most popular applications in one menu. Less often-used applications can be found on a larger dialog box (see screenshot, below), which somewhat resembles Mac OS X’s Control Panel. Although it takes some getting used to, this approach is a welcome change from the dizzying layers of some distributions’ more Windows-like hierarchical menus.
Novell takes pains to emphasize SLED’s enterprise-readiness, but all work and no play makes a dull distribution. In addition to the expected productivity apps and Novell add-ons such as Beagle desktop search and Tomboy notes, SLED includes fun additions such as the F-Spot photo management software and Banshee media player.
Novell has tweaked the look and feel of many of the apps, such as OpenOffice.org, to give them a uniform polish. Moreover, fans of GUI glitter will appreciate the new, Mac OS-like Xgl desktop effects. Although disabled by default and officially unsupported on my card, they worked fine and provided fun eye candy (if not practical use).
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