Head to Head: SuSE 8.2 Pro Vs Red Hat Linux 9 in Desktop Usage

This 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 osnews.com

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.

3. Linux applications

Both SuSE and Red Hat have a well-designed main menu. SuSE menu structure is a bit better, but for some reason they stick to applications’ default names that make little sense to an unexperienced user. You have K3b, KSirc, gaim and KGet. Red Hat has omitted original titles altogether listing names like “Digital Camera Tool” in the menu. Furthermore, Red Hat is going for the best-of-breed kind of thinking by selecting just one application they see best in its field. SuSE often includes overlapping applications which is confusing. Frankly, it is not clear in Linux yet – even if Red Hat so hopes – which application is actually the best one in its category. Often you have to rely on the “second” best to get your job done since the “best” one just happens to lack a feature you need. Anyway, SuSE should follow at least Mandrake 9.1 that in the menu states both the application name and its purpose.

SuSE’s default email application is KMail, but Evolution is also there. Red Hat defaults to Evolution. KMail is snappy and fast. Evolution is slower, but as a copy of Microsoft Outlook it has a taste of professionalism in its interface. Both have their annoying features, especially with multiple email accounts: KMail does not remember which account received the email when you are replying to it and Evolution
keeps (still in 1.2) losing some of your account passwords every time it is restarted. Especially annoying is Evolution’s attachment preview function that can not be turned off. If you get a lot of big images via email, you may not be able to save them, since Evolution FIRST tries to make a preview of every one of them using a very clumsy piece of code and easily runs out of resources before the task is accomplished. A major flaw.

Konqueror is KDE’s default file and Internet browsing tool. Red Hat prefers Mozilla and Nautilus. All these applications are rather stable,
but not without crashes. Konqueror seems to be slightly less stable than the others. Konqueror also has problems with some Internet sites. It does not support all Unicode characters, like Vietnamese. Nautilus is very simple to use, and its picture zoom operation is excellent.
Konqueror does not zoom pictures too well. However, Konqueror is so fast to launch and operate, that even if SuSE also offers Nautilus and
Mozilla, the performance factor just makes you leave them aside. Konqueror is also very well integrated to the overall system, and has
several excellent features, like an in-built PDF viewer.

A big minus for SuSE is the lack of a Jabber client. There is no PSI and no Gabber. Actually, Red Hat has neither as well, but at least you can get proper RPMs from the Internet with a minimal effort.

OpenOffice.org is better blended into Red Hat than into SuSE. Actually, Red Hat has just changed the ugly default OpenOffice background gray to a
lighter one, but that gives a surprisingly more professional feeling. Otherwise both include OpenOffice.org 1.0.2 with similar functionality. SuSE has clearly left KOffice, the KDE office application set, for lesser focus. As long as KOffice lacks common read/write formats with both OpenOffice.org and MS Office, it makes little sense to anyone.

Installing applications later into the system is much better implemented in SuSE. Red Hat offers a complete graphical package manager to only those RPMs that come with their own CDs. That is not good, especially when they are encouraging people to go to Internet to get the decidedly left-out applications. If you are to remove, list, or check your own packages, command line is your package manager. SuSE’s Yast has a slightly strange interface, but it offers all you need to manage packages.

Red Hat’s well-known hysteria regarding license issues somewhat cripples their distribution. There is no MP3 support, no RealPlayer, no Adobe Acrobat Reader. The fact that you CAN go to the Internet and get them yourself does not make this issue go away (you can also go to the store and buy yourself another distro). SuSE, a German distribution, does not take these issues as seriously perhaps because in Europe the risk to become “blackmailed” due to potential unclear patent and license issues is much lower than in the United States.

By the way, a message to Adobe and RealNetworks: please update your Linux offering to match the current grace and style of Linux distributions. You only harm your own fame leaving it like it now is.

4. Windows applications

Red Hat does not provide Wine to install and run Windows applications, but SuSE has integrated it nicely in their system. However, Wine is not released yet, and SuSE clearly acts as if their inclusion of Wine is more experimental than for serious use. User manual does not say
ANYTHING about it, but there it is in the menu, anyway. Does it work? Well, yes and no. Basically, using Wine is very simple. Just download a Windows application installation package and click it in Konqueror. If you are lucky, things go as if you were in Windows. When you do it for the first time, your jaw drops. Windows application installation using Wine is actually better than installation of most native Linux applications. Wine creates proper menu entries and desktop icons, using the program’s own graphics. After installation, running the program is a click away and there you go. Sadly, many applications that I wanted to experiment with, ran into unrecoverable problems during the installation even though WineHQ database lists them to be ok. These include Delphi 7, Quicktime 6 and Internet Explorer 5.5. Many smaller applications, like WinZip, installed and operated perfectly.

The promise is there, almost. I could seriously imagine that the year 2004 is the one for Linux distributions to run most applications designed for Windows. In the meantime, check CodeWeavers’ CrossOver products that run on top of Wine.

5. Conclusion

Kudos for SuSE 8.2. As a desktop operating system, it beats Red Hat 9 in almost every issue. Red Hat 9 is not a bad choice, but you can get a better user experience with SuSE 8.2.

                      Red Hat 9        SuSE 8.2

Installation          8/10             7/10
Hardware support      8/10             8/10
Usability             7/10             9/10
Visual appeal         6/10             9/10
Applications          8/10             9/10
Stability             9/10             9/10
Integration           7/10             9/10

About the Author:
Aki Kolehmainen is an engineer working for a Finnish IT company. They are using Linux for all their activities. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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