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Quick Review: Novell Linux Desktop 9

The Basic KDE Interface with printers and networks established.

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System settings organized in a Windows-like control panel.

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NLD is based on SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9. Early this year, Novell acquired SUSE outright. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first Linux distribution to be manufactured by a large, well-known corporation with R&D money to burn. The installer is composed of three CDs that can be downloaded from Novell's site. Yes, that's a 1.83 GB download. And bear in mind that you're only downloading an evaluation copy. This distribution isn't completely free; it has an MSRP of $50.00 per system.

The first thing you will notice is the extensive branding. The Novell logo and the big red 'N' are everywhere. Aside from that, this distribution behaves very much like SUSE. Installation is done via a simple, yet straightforward GUI. You can choose to use either Gnome or KDE as the desktop environment. From what I understand, Novell prefers Gnome. I've always had a soft spot for KDE. To be fair, I installed NLD with KDE on one computer and NLD with Gnome on a second one. The Gnome system appears to be more polished and has a better interface than KDE. Thankfully, neither interface posed any installation or setup problems. You also get Firefox with Gnome, Konquerer with KDE and the suite with both GUIs.

In the time I've spent working with NLD, I've run into a few oddities. During the installation, gimp-help and xine-lib failed to install. The error was a mismatched MD5 checksum. This type of error is odd, something you don't expect to see in a standard install, and indeed everything else installed fine. Additionally, there wasn't any apparent way to join an Active Directory domain, although you can authenticate against an LDAP server. Obviously, Novell has spent its time developing appropriate hooks into its own directory and various network services. Along those lines, you can use ZENworks to centrally manage and deploy patches. Sadly, GroupWise support is still in the development branch. But support for iFolder is available if you run the Novell Open Enterprise Server.

The most frustration I experienced with NDL stemmed from its help system. Searching for "network" only gave me a link to the release notes and a few man pages. I didn't get any hits for creating sym links. Also, there isn't a training guide for new users. This is something I think all operating system (Windows, Linux and Mac) manufacturers are lacking today. Remember the old "Macintosh Basics" and "Mouse Practice" programs that came with early Macs? They were animated programs that guided you through the interface and explained how to actually use the OS and the mouse. These have disappeared in recent years, which is a shame. At least in Mac OS X there is an HTML guide for new users to the operating system as well as help guides for new computer users, for Mac OS 9 users and for Windows switchers. Novell would be wise to include a "Windows converts guide," as NLD is obviously a replacement for Windows on the desktop.

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