First look: Novell SLED 11, with screenshots

New desktop eye candy configuration options
Novell's SLED 11: The Control Centre is used to administer the system

Novell's SLED 11: The Control Centre is used to administer the system

Back in 2006, Novell took the plunge with its first significant Linux desktop for business product SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, or SLED, 10.

Since then Novell has been praised for doing a lot of software integration to make Linux “just work” on the desktop, including the glitzy 3D desktop, but soon after was derided for entering into an intellectual property agreement with Microsoft.

With that behind it, Novell has taken two years to produce the next generation, SLED 11, which should offer an even more polished user experience. TechWorld takes a look at SLED 11, including what's changed since version 10.

Getting started

The installation process has been refined over previous versions and involves fewer steps.

A media check “to avoid installations problems” is now part of the process, and a new “Auto Config” option will setup the hardware, including network interfaces, graphics cards, printers and TV Cards – we're not sure why you would have TV cards as part of an enterprise desktop, though.

A zooming, graphical world map is now used to set the timezone.

If you have Windows installed you will be prompted and asked if you wish to shrink windows for dual booting and the Windows partition is checked for continuity before resizing.

Easy partitioning has always been a welcome feature of SUSE Linux and SLED 11 keeps it up.

If you have not shut your Windows installation down cleanly a “Windows not Clean” message along with instructions to correct the problem are displayed.

With a clean windows system, the disk will be resized and installation commences.

Novell has done a lot more work with its software partners for SLED 11 so you need to accept more licence agreements than previously. These include agreements for the Citrix ICA client, Agfa Fonts, Adobe's Flash, Fluendo's Gstreamer, Sun's Java and the Java browser plugin.

The final phase of the installation involves registering and logging into the Novell Customer Centre and running an online update. Then a reboot is required to finish.

On our test machine – a Dell Optiplex SX280 with 1Gb RAM – the installation found and configured all the hardware correctly and the whole process took about 30 minutes.

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The SLED 11 desktop

The first thing you'll notice is that Novell has reverted to a “green” theme with the latest version of SLED which now resembles even more the interface of the community OpenSUSE 11 distribution as they are developed from a common code base.

SLED 11's compositing desktop is enabled by default and sports a new configuration interface with a much nicer layout.

Here you can set custom key strokes for the fancy 3D effects and window manipulation.

As before, holding down the Ctrl + Alt keys and pressing the left mouse button will create a 3D cube. Moving the mouse to rotate the cube and display other desktops. The desktop in front of the cube when you release the mouse key will be the desktop that comes into focus.

The overall look-and-feel and the level of application support in SLED 11 is best described as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, but with every step it takes, Novell certainly does get closer to producing a “mainstream” desktop operating system that would not be uncomfortable in the hands of an average office worker.

For example, SLED 11 includes the Novell Edition of the OpenOffice.org 3.0 office productivity suite, which has better support for Excel's VB macros.

Further evidence of Novell's adoption of, and collaboration with, Microsoft technology is in the advancement of Mono-based applications like F-Spot for photos and Banshee for music.

Another notable addition is PulseAudio for audio configuration and overall device support has improved, especially with 3G mobile broadband cards which are now “plug and play” if there is a driver available.

All up, Novell with SLED 11 has made a good thing even better and we recommend you give it a run.

Time will tell whether the commercial ISVs can further validate the platform with more applications – a key factor in getting the Linux desktop in business.

- Andrew Glassock, IDG Australia's (publisher of TechWorld) information systems manager, did the SLED 11 installation and most of the review. Andrew's interests include sailing and figuring out what to do when Windows XP is no longer supported. He can be contacted at andrew_glassock@idg.com.au.