January 6, 2003

Red Hat 8 or SuSE 8.1 for the desktop user?


- By Pete White -

As both operating systems get easier and easier for the desktop user, which
is the best for the less experienced Linux user and why?

I will be taking a
quick look at both operating systems to find out which is easiest for the
following:

  • Getting a copy.
    Configuring.
  • General day to day use.
  • Distributions website.

For many years, Red Hat Linux has been the market leader for many reasons, but
it is only recently that Red Hat has put more work into the desktop side of
its operating system compared to the work put into its server side. Getting
a copy of Red Hat is very easy. You can either download the ISO images from
RedHat.com or purchase the personal edition from sites such as Amazon.co.uk
for around 31 Pounds. The biggest advantage of purchasing the boxed set rather then
downloading is that you get the manual that can be good for
inexperienced users.

SuSE has never been as popular as Red Hat. However, in recent years
SuSE has spent a lot of time and money developing its desktop side of the
operating system. Getting a copy of SuSE is slightly harder then Red Hat
because SuSE does not provide ISO images for its operating system, but
you can do an FTP install or purchase the personal edition from Amazon.co.uk
for 25:99 Pounds. The boxed set comes with CDs, a DVD, and a manual.

Here Red Hat 8 shines over SuSE, since many more people can get it by
downloading ISO images from the website.

Installation of Red Hat is fairly painless. The installer takes you through
a number of screens, each asking you what you want to do and providing a bit
of simple help on the left hand side. In total I spent about 45 minutes
installing Red Hat 8 compared to around 35 minutes for SuSE 8.1, but this
depends on how much you install and the speed of your computer. Installing
SuSE 8.1 was even easier then Red Hat 8, as I had a large Fat 32 partition, and
the installer was able to automatically split this and create the partitions
needed for SuSE. Of course I checked that it wasn't doing anything stupid, but it pretty much did
what I would have done manually.

Next there is configuring the distribution after installation. Red Hat does
this straight after installation and gives you options such as network and
xfree86 configuration. Red Hat failed to pick up my monitor so it took me a
while playing around in the console and xfree86config to get the right
settings for it. While this would be easy for an experienced user I
doubt that an inexperienced user would have goten this far. He or she would probably have
booted back to Windows by now.

Configuration in SuSE I found easier because of SuSE's configuration
program, YaST, which cut out a lot of the playing around in the console that
an inexperienced user may have found daunting, and displayed an easy way of
configuring hardware. While half the fun for many people is using the
console to solve problems, some less tech-based people may find it unusual
compared to Windows.

For configuration SuSE has to be the winner because of YaST. It not only makes things easy for the inexperienced, but can also save
time and effort for the more experienced user. Sadly, neither distribution
could properly configure my Conexant ADSL modem. SuSE detected the modem
but could not configure it, while Red Hat could not detect it at all. (In the
end, I had to set the modem up on a Windows 2000 machine, then access the
Internet through the network)

Red Hat has good support for both KDE and Gnome, which is good because like
many people I like using KDE but also like to use programs for Gnome such as
Evolution and Gimp. SuSE's support for Gnome is not as good, and Evolution
crashed when I was trying to install it in SuSE. I noticed that both distributions
had poor font support. Sometimes I could be using Mozilla and I would have
to squint to read the text. This seemed slightly worse in SuSE, especially
when web browsing and word processing.

After a quick download from Nvidia I had Unreal Tournament 2003 playing
nicely in both SuSE 8.1 and Red Hat 8. Hopefully, in the future more games
will come with Linux installers.

My pick

It was hard to pick a winner for day to day
use because both distributions did pretty much the same, but Red Hat won, for me, because of better Gnome support.

One of the important parts of a distribution package is they support and help you can find on the the distribution's Web site.

Redhat.com has an extensive support library covering all features from
installation to configuring to troubleshooting. SuSE.com has a much smaller
support area, and I was more disappointed by what the site what had to offer,but this may be because of the way SuSE is distributed compared to Red
Hat.

Overall, despite my personal preference for Red Hat's Gnome support, I think SuSE 8.1 is slightly better for the inexperienced because of
its simple installation, stylish graphics and simplicity of configuration.

SuSE seems more geared to the desktop market than Red Hat at the
moment. But both distributions are making it a lot easier for people to
convert from Windows to Linux.

This article was contributed by a NewsForge reader. The opinions it contains are strictly those held by its author, and may not be the same as those held by OSDN management. The author is the sole copyright holder, and should be contacted directly for information about republication. We welcome contributions from anyone who deals with Linux and Open Source at any level, whether as a corporate officer; as a programmer or sysadmin; or as a home/office desktop user. If you would like to write one, please email editors@newsforge.com.

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