posted by Aki Kolehmainen on Tue 29th Apr 2003 03:30 UTC
IconThis is a desktop comparison of Red Hat Linux 9 and SuSE 8.2 Professional Edition. We have used Red Hat Linux 8 for all our work since last fall, and installed version 9 as soon as it became available. However, we have not been fully content with Red Hat, so we gave SuSE 8.2 a try when it became available this month.

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of

1. The System

Note: This is not a review whether these key Linux distributions are ready for the desktop. They are - we use them for all the work we have - and we have plenty of it. This is a review whether Red Hat Linux 9 is a better choice than SuSE 8.2 Pro for desktop use.

The test machine first had Red Hat 9 installed. SuSE 8.2 was installed to the space left free by Red Hat. The machine was a very ordinary PC with a 60 GB hard drive, a R-DVD and RW-CDROM drives and 256 MB of RAM.

Both SuSE and Red Hat have a graphical installation manager. That's about all that's common. General installation logic is very different. Red Hat installation is clearly easier for a newcomer to understand and click through. However, with a little bit of knowledge of Linux, SuSE's feature-rich KDE style installation manager is very useful. Better check SuSE packages before you give it a go, since several key applications are not installed by default, like "locate" does not work on the command line. During the installation SuSE performs an unexpected reboot of the system that felt confusing. In general, installation itself is not an issue.

Both distributions use Grub, but very differently. SuSE overwrites Red Hat Grub configuration, so better save it somewhere. Later, you can add Red Hat titles to the boot loader using SuSE's graphical boot loader manager.

Both distributions failed to recognize the second sound card that is integrated to the mother board (well, we knew beforehand that kernel 2.6 will be needed). Both also failed to properly configure the RW-CDROM since it refuses to mount any media. To us, this is just a reminder that we have to put more pressure on our hardware vendors to take care of installation and hardware compatibility issues themselves, like they would do for Windows.

Funnily, and for an unknown reason, SuSE regarded the existing Red Hat EXT3 partition as a FAT32 Windows partition and tried to mount it as such to /windows/c, naturally with little success. This can be corrected at /etc/fstab.

2. KDE vs. Gnome

By default, SuSE goes with KDE and Red Hat with Gnome. We have relied on their default choices. To us it is just great that different distributions have started to make choices for the user. This helps the distribution makers to ease their workload, to collect their resources to better support the way they go and to help their applications of choice to integrate more efficiently. It also saves a lot of time for those users that do not want to make all the decisions themselves but willingly rely on professionals' opinion.

SuSE's default KDE 3.1 interface is faster than the Gnome 2.2 interface coming with Red Hat 9. The difference is so big that it is difficult to go back to Red Hat after some time with SuSE. Especially annoying is that basic everyday applications are tediously slow in Gnome, like Nautilus, calculator, text editor and others. You almost here clock ticking when you select "run application" from the menu ... Gnome may have a perfect architecture down there, but as long as it reflects this bad to the usability compared to KDE, Gnome has little chances to overthrow KDE in the desktop race. Gnome's general slowness may result in from the fact that everything is not ok with the general configuration, rather than from Gnome itself. However, default configuration is used, and failures in that are regarded to the loss of the vendor.

In my opinion, Red Hat's simplistic Bluecurve theme is not very efficient. It mostly fails to hide the fact that Open Source applications come from here and there and look very different. KDE's Keramik icons and SuSE's own window decoration are so effective together, that old and new, Gnome and KDE applications all blend together surprisingly well. However, if you go changing the SuSE default window decoration, Gnome applications get an ugly out-dated appearance under KDE.

A major plus for SuSE is a rather well-working clipboard. Perhaps the most annoying single issue in Red Hat (and Gnome) is the lack of an integrated copy & paste solution. For example, if you copy a piece of text, close the application from which you took the copy and then try to paste to another application - and find the clipboard empty...uh-oh! That drives you mad. Also the paste may be available via CTRL + V, SHIFT + CTRL + V or via the mouse roller. Red Hat really must work on this, there was no progress whatsoever in 9 as compared to 8.

SuSE has integrated their system control tools much better than Red Hat. Basically, SuSE's control tools are divided into two sets, one for KDE and one for system hardware, called Yast. Red Hat barely has any controls over hardware, bootloader or other lower level parts of the system. Also Gnome controls are scattered here and there, but not as badly as they used to be in Red Hat 8. Gnome 2.2 controls for desktop appearance and functionality lack seriously behind those of KDE 3.1.

Overall, Gnome still has a long way to go, that is, to catch KDE. You can use Gnome for your daily work, but be prepared for continuously annoying moments. A typical example of Gnome is that if you have a shortcut on the desktop, it does not say in its properties what application it will launch. Only the minimum amount of features seems to be implemented in Gnome. From my personal point of view, KDE 3.1 is not lacking any important features any more. It has tons of nice touches here and there that make you feel happy and relieved when you realize that hey, they've done this too, great! I can not name a single feature where Gnome would be ahead of KDE. Or actually, even close.

Table of contents
  1. "Introduction, KDE vs. Gnome"
  2. "Linux applications, Windows applications, Conclusion"
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