The SUSE ExperienceBy Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2008-02-29 Email Print
eWEEK’s Channel Lab takes a second look at Lenovo’s Linux laptop. Does it make the grade this time around or will “Take Two” become "take two aspirin and call me when you get it right?"
With our system now prompting for a user, it was time to get down to brass tacks and see if Lenovo’s take on SUSE Linux offered the usability that a typical corporate user might need. I logged in and was presented with a handsome UI that was concise and to the point. But my first task was to completely shut down the system and do a cold boot – why? Well, when I tested the previous unit, the initial boot was complicated by multiple boot choices, one of which referenced a XEN virtualization option. When I restarted this new system, I was greeted by just two boot-up choices – the normal SUSE boot, which ran automatically after a few seconds and a "safe mode" boot for troubleshooting purposes. Clearly, this was what was expected and eliminated any confusion.
First I started poking around with some of the network settings, specifically I wanted to see how hard it would be to select another wireless network – a common task that would be performed by most any notebook computer user. While the process was not all together alien, it was not the same as one would find on an OSx or Windows system. A click on the networking icon on the task bar shows the available wireless networks, click on one of those to connect and your all set, unless you have to input a key for encryption purposes. There, once again things could be a little less confusing. After inputting the Wi-Fi encryption key, the system will prompt you with an entry for a password for a "default keyring." Most Windows users will be undoubtedly confused by this additional step, one that offers no real explanation for its purpose or use. The skinny here is that you need to add a password and that password can be used to reconnect to the encrypted wireless network in the future. A little contrived, but the process does err on the side of security.
Windows users will find that the SUSE task bar icons mimic what one would see in an XP or Vista environment. There are icons/applets for screen resolution, software updates, network connections, volume and power options. Although SUSE is different from Windows, in reality it is not that different when it comes to typical use.
For those willing to put a little effort into learning the ins and outs of SUSE Linux, the desktop offers a shortcut to run a "Quick Start Tour," a worthwhile endeavor that delivers on the promise of an easily understood tutorial. When I first looked at the SUSE-powered ThinkPad, I had noted that there was a "ThinkPad Readme.txt" file on the desktop that when opened mentioned some limitations and unsupported components. That file is still there on this new machine, but being as everything appears to work so well, the limitations seem to be not so important.
Lenovo, Linux and Productivity
Of course, having a working notebook is a great thing, especially when it is powered by Linux, but the real value of the product comes down to how productive a user can be with it. Here, Lenovo has worked with SUSE to make sure that the key features offered on a ThinkPad system work and that the system offers good network connectivity. The SUSE/Lenovo marriage does offer that network connectivity and users can readily connect to their corporate resources, as long as those resources support a Linux client system.
What users will have to be concerned with is application and file compatibility. For example, if connectivity requires a VPN, users will have to make sure that a compatible VPN client is available for their desktop Linux system. Those proprietary concerns aside, users will be well-served by the software application mix found on the system. SUSE bundles in Firefox for Web browsing, OpenOffice for office suite based applications, a photo browser (F-Spot), a music player (Helix Banshee), e-mail (Evolution), and several other commonly needed applications. Other notable applications include a Citrix ICA client, FTP and IP Telephony applications.
Questions and Answers
Well, the big question here is did Lenovo get it right this time around? The short answer is yes, the system should live up to the expectations for those pursuing the path of Linux. What’s more, good support, an excellent tutorial and solid performance could make the SUSE ThinkPad a viable alternative to the Windows or Mac notebook computer. But be forewarned, you will only get what you want out of this notebook if you put some effort into it, while it is close to plug-and-play simple, there are little quirks here and there that may drive some users crazy. What’s more, if you’re a Microsoft-only shop, you will run into some integration and compatibility challenges. None will be insurmountable, but the question will be: Is it worth the effort?