The SUSE Experience

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article 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?


Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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