[Editor's note: this article was written a couple of months ago, but for
various reasons we delayed publishing it. Now we are pleased to present
this review of SLES 9.]
A few weeks ago, Novell released SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9. We
decided to take the distribution for a spin, and see what it has to
offer. We installed SLES 9 on an SMP system with dual 500MHz PIII Xeons
with 1 GB of RAM and 40GB drive.
Installation of SLES is a breeze, though there's a lot of CD-swapping
during package install. YaST2 did just fine at detecting and configuring
all system hardware. The automatic disk partitioning scheme, however, was a
bit odd. We chose to use the "Expert" partitioning mode, which is actually
quite simple to use as long as one is familiar with Linux
partitioning. SLES defaults to the Reiser Filesystem for new partitions,
though users have the option of using Ext3, Ext2, JFS or XFS if they
SLES 9 ships with the 2.6.5 kernel, but doesn't seem to include a 2.4.x
series kernel. This is somewhat surprising, since it seems likely that some
SUSE/Novell customers may be standardized on the 2.4.x series and not quite
ready to move.
One interesting feature we discovered is the ability to install a UML
virtual host using YaST2. Unfortunately, and for no apparent reason, this
requires a network installation source -- users who have installed from CD
will have to set up an FTP or NFS installation source to make use of the
UML feature in YaST, negating the convenience of the feature in the first
For the most part, though, SLES 9 was very easy to set up and
configure. YaST2 has really matured into a nice system administration tool
over the years. For example, YaST2's DNS Server module makes it very simple
to set up DNS zones. YaST includes modules for administering services,
hardware, software package management, user administration and much
more. We're still not quite sure what a pineapple icon has to do with
"Misc" settings in YaST2, though.
The default desktop is KDE 3.2.1, though GNOME is available as well as a
FVWM and twm. For a "server" OS, SLES 9 also comes with a odd selection of
desktop software -- though there are a few packages that are conspicuously
absent. For example, OpenOffice.org does not seem to be available, nor is
The Gimp. Obviously, desktop users interested in SUSE will probably want to
use SUSE 9.1 instead.
Users might wonder whether they should be looking at SLES 9 or SUSE 9.1,
and what SLES 9 has that you won't find in the retail package. For the most
part, SUSE 9.1 Professional comes with the same features you will find in
SLES 9. You will find support for Novell management tools that isn't
present in SUSE 9.1 Professional, and a few YaST2 modules that aren't
available in 9.1. For example, 9.1 doesn't include HA configuration or UML
configuration through YaST2. The end-user experience for SLES 9 and SUSE
9.1 is pretty much the same, though and there's no steep learning curve or
anything for users migrating to SLES 9 from SUSE 9.1 or older versions.
What do companies and organizations get for their extra money when buying
SLES 9? Long-term support, for one thing. While the retail packages have a
two-year period for updates and so on, SLES 9 will be eligible for full
maintenance through August 31, 2007, and security maintenance through
August 31, 2009. Companies and organizations that are considering a
platform for long-term use should be looking to SLES rather than SUSE's
home user offerings.
Another consideration for SLES 9, though not something we were in a
position to test, is that Novell is working towards Common Criteria Evaluation
Assurance Level (EAL) 4+, though it has not yet been awarded that
certification yet. SLES 8 received EAL 3+. For environments where this is
an issue, SLES is the obvious choice.
We reviewed SLES 9 for x86, but it bears mentioning that there are also
versions available for 64-bit x86 processors, Itanium, IBM Power
processors, IBM S/390 and IBM zSeries. A full
list of packages for each version of SLES is available through SUSE's
Novell does make a "evaluation" version of SLES 9 available
for download, though users who want online updates past the 30-day
trial will have to buck up for a subscription. The x86 line carries a $349
price tag for one year for up to two CPUs.
In all, we were pretty happy with SLES 9. It's a robust system that's easy
to use and administer. It will make a good impression on those new to
Linux, and it's still a usable system for longtime Linux users as well.
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