In Novell’s new SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 SP2, announced yesterday, you’ll find only small, but useful, improvements, most of them for better interoperability with Microsoft protocols and formats.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10 SP2 includes support for fully virtualized Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003. Novell claims system administrators can also migrate these Windows Server guests across physical machines in real-time. Because of the Microsoft/Novell partnership, SLES is the only third-party virtualization solution offering full Microsoft support for its Windows Server guests. In return, the Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V hypervisor, now a release candidate, also supports SLES as a virtual guest.
SLES also includes the Xen 3.2 virtualization hypervisor.
The new SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 SP2 continues the Microsoft interoperability theme. For example, SLED 10 SP2 now supports read and write access to local NTFS drive partitions. This functionality is also available in other Linux distributions thanks to the open source NTFS-3G driver.
Both the server and desktop versions of SUSE Linux also have better Active Directory (AD) integration. This is also an area where, thanks to Microsoft being forced to open its network server protocols to open source groups like Samba, other Linux distributions will be able to offer similar functionality. That said, for now Novell offers the best Microsoft network integration, and SUSE Linux is likely to be the only Linux that receives official Microsoft support for its AD network integration.
On the desktop, I put SLED 10 SP2 through its paces on an IBM ThinkPad R61, which had come with SLED 10 SP1 pre-installed. Installation was not as straightforward as I would have liked. For example, you can’t simply tell YaST, the SUSE administration tool, to automatically upgrade to SP2. Instead, you must be certain that you’re up-to-date with your previous patches, then update with the “Update to Service Pack 2 patch,” manually set YaST to use the new SP2 Installation Source server, then apply the product-sled10-sp2 and slesp2o-sp2_online patch and reboot. It’s easier by far to simply download the media, which is available both as a set of CDs and a DVD, and boot from your optical drive and just follow the instructions for an update. For the details of the process see the Novell SLED 10 SP2 deployment page.
Once installed, you will find it easier to get SLED to work with an AD-based network. I had less trouble than I had ever had in integrating the laptop into my Server 2008/2003 hybrid AD/domain network. I also took the network down and brought it back up as a pure AD network and, again, working with SLED 10 SP2 on it was painless.
Perhaps the most significant changes in the new software, from a user’s viewpoint, are the upgrades to OpenOffice.org 2.4 Novell Edition. I was able to run several moderately complex Excel spreadsheets in OpenOffice.org Calc, thanks to its improved Visual Basic for Applications macro support. Impress can also now show Microsoft PowerPoint presentations with embedded audio and video.
Writer can both read and write documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in Microsoft’s basic Open XML (Office 2007) formats. This functionality is also available in a standalone program, OpenOffice.OpenXML Translator 1.1.1. This program will only work though with Novell’s 2.4 version of OpenOffice.
In the minus column, SLED 10 SP2 has a surprising hole. This desktop doesn’t come with a working Novell client. If you’re still using NetWare on the back end, you’ve got a real problem. A patch should be out shortly so that the SLED 10 SP1 client will work properly. There’s also a fix you can put in yourself if you don’t mind a tiny bit of code editing.
For the most part, SLED 10 SP2 worked well for me, though I found more “fit and polish” problems than I would have expected from a major release. Still, on the server side, anyone who needs to get their Linux servers to work hand in glove with Windows servers should start testing SLES 10 SP2. As for the desktop, I’d wait a few weeks for the minor bugs to be shaken out before upgrading.