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SuSE entices Red Hat users and other distro tales

Red Hat users are enticed by SuSE and Novell, and others. asked users for in-depth explanations of their Linux distro choices.

Longtime Red Hat Linux users are feeling like playing the field these days, and quite a few will be browsing the SuSE distribution at Novell's booth next week at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Francisco.

The allure of SuSE was a dominant theme among IT pros canvassed by prior to LinuxWorld, but they also said Red Hat and SuSE are not the only enterprise server and desktop distros on their minds. Here's a synopsis of two dozen IT pros' views on which distros are in, out or in-between.

SuSE is the beautiful, sexy, young lady who was broke, and Novell is the rich, old man who married her.
Andy Canfield
System AdministratorSuSE Linux user

Red Hat Linux was the primary commercial distro around when several IT pros brought Linux into their company's IT environments. Red Hat's longevity and strong track record is a tie that binds some to that distro. Others, however, have switched to SuSE or are eager to see SuSE in action at LinuxWorld.

At the time of Bong Park's first Linux server distribution evaluation, he found Red Hat had better support and was technically superior to other distributions in features, installation, setup and management. He wonders if that's the case today.

Currently, the Monterey, Calif.-based senior systems architect's firm uses Red Hat Enterprise Linux on its servers, but the strong relationship between Novell and IBM has bolstered his interest in SuSE.

Bong and several other respondents said they'll be taking a look at SuSE next week.

For longtime Red Hat desktop user and hardware refurbisher Russell, the affair with the Raleigh, N.C.-based commercial Linux server and desktop vendor began with version 7.0. Russell is a Linux trainer and author and has served as technical adviser for Computerbank Queensland (Australia), a not-for-profit organization that donates refurbished Linux computers to financially strapped individuals and groups.

Russell said 7.0 fit well, at the time, with low-end P1 desktop computers that he and his team were refurbishing. Their good experiences with 7.0 led to the evaluation of Red Hat 8, 9 and Fedora, all of which fit the P1s to a "T."

When Russell's team began receiving high-end P2s and low-end P3s for refurbishing, however, they moved to Fedora Core 4 and Novell SuSE 9.3.

"For desktop use, both Fedora and SuSE are very robust, easy to install on new and old hardware, and easy to customize, recognize and supply plenty of help for the newbie," Russell said. "Fortunately for us, most of our clients have never been able to afford a computer before, so they haven't been indoctrinated with the Microsoft way, and [they] find learning Linux a very easy exercise."

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While both distros are good, Russell said SuSE wins out because it supplies a greater choice of software packages and supports a wider range of peripherals without having to download extra packages during the setup process.

"In a factory, office or learning environment, especially when giving users a new tool that can be used to solve ad hoc problems, as well as perform traditional MS-oriented tasks, the more choices one has at hand, the better one is able solve the problem," Russell said. "For this reason, I think SuSE 9.3 is the better desktop solution at the moment."

A Baskin Robbins approach

Rather than just evaluate the market-leading distros, Helio Marques Sobrinho -- an IT consultant and software developer with Brazil-based Starix Informatica Ltd. -- sampled all the "candy" in the shop. He, too, got a taste for SuSE.

When Sobrinho, who has been committed to Linux since it was loaded on 20 floppies in 1992, decided to go with Linux on servers after a history with Unix and C development, he had no specific distro in mind.

"Some installations didn't have a formal distributor behind them. The first one used for industrial automation was the FlorianLaRoche jurix. I also tried Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Mandrake and a few others," he said.

After a series of evaluations Sobrinho settled on SuSE Linux 5.0 when it "outperformed them all."

"It installed smoothly in all kinds of computers that we had at the time," he said. "Some applications, which caused problems even in Red Hat, just run perfectly on SuSE Linux. Most of my customers also switched to SuSE Linux -- from SCO Unix, Novell and Windows -- within days or at most few weeks."

Today, Sobrinho said, Novell's latest SuSE Linux releases is as easy to install and manage as Windows, even for desktops. In his opinion, SuSE beats other distros in stability, security and ease of installation and administration.

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While Park is attracted by Novell SuSE's partnership with Big Blue, others have chosen Red Hat Linux for its family connection. In particular, several IT pros said they chose Red Hat for its Oracle affiliation. IT administrator Tim Henderson, for instance, chose Red Hat when migrating Oracle enterprise databases to Linux servers.

The decision to switch from Unix to Linux was based on Oracle's stated direction and benchmark tests between Unix and Linux. Henderson's own demonstrations had proved that Oracle performance on low-cost x86 servers far exceeded performance on Unix.

In Henderson's Linux evaluations, several commercial and non-commercial distros did not make the final cut. They flopped because they didn't offer the stability, control and support that had been available in Unix environments and that customers had been comfortable with.

Henderson ultimately opted for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. He was impressed by Red Hat Linux's performance in his lab environment and swayed by the fact that Red Hat was the first vendor to package a distro in an enterprise format.

Not smitten, resigned

System administrator Andy Canfield tried to buck the major distros and go with a smaller player.

Canfield's small operation had initially used Mandrake Linux 8.2 and then 9.0, but that distro, their conversion from dial-up to an asymmetric digital subscriber line, required something more secure. didn't provide the eventually moved on to the SuSE Linux Professional 9.1 desktop distribution because

After the switch, however, Canfield said a problem arose with SuSE that originated in the operating systems' insistence that guest access be prohibited.

SuSE subsystems run on five components. In addition to the application and the standard config file, there is a SuSE config file, a GUI tool to set the SuSE config file, and hidden code to read the SuSE config file and generate the standard config file.

"Well, you can imagine the problems this causes [us]. We use Samba, and all our shares rely on guest access. SuSE insists on prohibiting guest access," Canfield said. "So I have to run the SuSE GUI tool to configure Samba, then exit the tool to generate smb.conf, then hand-edit smb.conf to fix it," he said.

Canfield currently runs a version of SuSE 9.1 installed from the Internet, meaning he legally downloaded the entire install directory from the Internet to the hard disk. He said he does not pay for support, mainly because he believes he can find better support online than he can from a commercial vendor.

"Why don't we pay for support? Because I've never gotten decent support out of any vendor, so why pay for it?" he said. "We paid Mandrake for support, and then they refused to answer my e-mails. The support I survive on comes from Google and the Linux community."

Canfield did add that he is impressed with SuSE's online update capability, however. In fact, he is having doubts about choosing Mandrake over SuSE. Mandrake, he said, is good enough for now.

"SuSE is the beautiful, sexy, young lady who was broke, and Novell is the rich, old man who married her," Canfield said. "With his money and her looks, they could be quite a team, but he shouldn't delude himself into thinking that he's young and sexy just because he's acquired SuSE."

"Weld a truck to the side of a rocket and you get something that will neither drive nor fly," Canfield said.

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