back to article SLED 11: a distro for businesses, not idealists

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) is perhaps best known as the distro whose owner Novell, in 2005, signed an extremely unpopular patent-protection deal with Microsoft. From that moment on, Novell was essentially dead to those that prize the free software aspects of Linux. Given SLED's $120 price tag, individuals unconcerned …


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  1. Tom Maddox Silver badge

    Got my popcorn

    I'm just going to sit back and wait for the zealots to light up the flamethrowers since this article mentioned Linux and Microsoft in the same breath . . . and the review is positive.

    Come on, guys, don't let me down.

  2. Macka
    Thumb Down

    Usual crap distro review

    How about doing some real work for a change and digging into those features that really matter for businesses, like the tools Novel provide to automate installation and patch management for thousands of SLED installs? Where wasn't a single mention of Zenworks in that article. Show us your experiences using Zenworks to install and patch a SLED system; then compare it to Redhat's RHN Satellite (using Kickstart and reposync) or if you can't afford that (it's expensive) trying using the Open Source upstream Spacewalk server.

    How about giving us something different for a change. Something that businesses can actually get some value from.

  3. Adam Williamson

    Not about idealism

    It's not about idealism. That's not the point. The idealists run obscure distros because RMS believes the stock kernel is being evil by including binary firmware or whatever the hell he's on about this week.

    The Microsoft / Novell patent deal is fundamentally dangerous to all free software development, because it lends legitimacy to Microsoft's "we own patents on all this stuff and you can't touch it" stance. That has nothing whatsoever to do with idealism.

    Please get it right.

  4. Anonymous Coward


    Why would you pay $120 for linux when you can pay $120 for windows and have known interoperability?

    Lets face it ... all the stuff thats mentioned you get as standard anyway with Windows ... so it's going to be more expensive to reinstall 1500 workstations, however easy, when you currently have 1500 windows machines all running happily in your enterprise.

    Not to mention the IT support staff trained in Windows and the users who will groan no matter what it looks like.

    Don't see why you'd bother for desktops if your sys admin with SMS server and exchange etc etc all happily working already ... never mind the 1500 office licences you already paid for.

    You can do the same things for the same price ... wow ... hold me back ... the excitement is overwhelming.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No flames, just a few polite questions

    Are we talking here about the ISO-approved OOXML for which nobody has ever seen the specifications or the proprietary Microsoft OOXML which ensures a forced upgrade to MS Office 2007 ?

    What is going to happen with Mono when Microsoft will take back its promise not to sue those who use its precious IP ? This, if Mono hook will get implanted deep in the bowels of SLED, will kill it instantly due to GPL provisions. Can any large enterprise afford to ignore the fact that Novell's offer might very well be a limited time edition ?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Oh wow

    I thought I misread something, but apparently not... An actual non-biased, non-sensationalist review from El Reg. Good to see everyone cleaning up their act after the whole "Microsoft Conjures imaginary Apple Tax" bit, was so slanted that I was surprised the entire article wasn't in italics.....

  7. myxiplx
    Thumb Down

    But do the numbers work?

    It's all well and good saying these tweaks save admins time and money, but when you mention 1500 workstations at $120 a pop, that's $180,000. I hope there's a lot more under the hood, because exchange and open office integration isn't exactly difficult.

    As a linux newbie, it took me a couple of hours to get exchange email working with Ubuntu, and under an hour to get full blown outlook installed and running under Wine. Considering the Outlook license is free if you have Exchange, why would I want to use Evolution?

  8. Mark Donnison


    I have seen alot of crap flying back in forth between both camps over the years. But the facts remain, until recently Microsofts products were a bit crap and let down the average user. Until recently Linux was all but useless for the average user due to a very steep learning curve.

    In the bad old days Linux was un american and practically communism and Microsft were basically a big bunch of bastards.

    Things are different now. Windows is a fairly stable environment, that just about does what is says on the tin. Linux now resembles windows to such a degree that most windows users could find their way around with little difficulty, even installing software etc is not a major headache, due to improved instalation tools. The only thing that remains undiminished is the animosity between the two camps.

    Microsoft getting on the Linux bandwagon is purely a business decision on behalf of Microsoft. For all sorts of reasons the average user is unlikely to permanently switch to Linux, but if on the off chance they do want to at least try it, Microsoft have one that they can play with, as it is designed for business use it addresses that little issue too.

    I am naturally a cynic and think it is more a case of climbing into bed with the enemy so they can **** them rather than 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'. Only time will tell. For now, most Windows users will stay put and most Linux users would rather shoot their own grand parents than buy a MicrosoftLinux distro but that may change in the future, just don't hold your breath..............

  9. asdf
    Thumb Down

    flame on is right

    Fact is even as evil as M$ is at least they did create a lot of their own software. Novell on the other hand has contributed very little to the open source ecosystem as compared to say RedHat. In addition they had the gall to try and speak for the whole linux community by selling out and getting a handjob from M$. Divide and conqueror only works if you have at least one idiot. What do you expect out of a Utah company? Religion and business in Utah often seem to be based on a giant pyramid scheme where one cunning bastard at the top rips off all his stupid underlings all the way down. A great business model if you have a lot of inbred dumb friends.

  10. asdf
    Thumb Down


    Oops didn't mean to bring religion up. All you need to know is Utah is scam central in the western US and if you want to see shining example of business practices in Utah see SCO. Getting rich by claming credit for others work seems to be perfectly acceptable in these parts. I just feel bad for the euros for having one their favorite distro so corrupted by greed and hubris.

  11. Avi
    Thumb Down

    Retrieved mail from Exchange flawlessly in Evolution?

    I don't believe that for a second. I've _never_ managed to do that.

    Actually, that's a bit of a lie, the mail's the easy bit to live with. It's the not-quite implementation of everything else that users expect Outlook to do (calendars, public folders etc.) that Evolution just doesn't seem to like doing. It crashes well, though, which I guess is something.

    No, I've not tried it on SLES, but I can't see it being an awful lot better.

    <standard please-stop-making-linux-look/work-like-windows-i-like-it-because-it's-different rant>

  12. Trevor


    I don't think you can blame SUSE for some mangled characters you get when opening a word doc made by a 3rd party app can you?

    @Tom: I hope you brought enough popcorn for everybody....

  13. John O'Hare

    Unexpected side effect?

    Of course it's nice to have choice and SLED might be a good choice to use for businesses as a transitional desktop to completely move away from MS proprietary .NET solutions, while still being able to use the old proprietary solution while a new solution is being built that is based on truly open standards.

    This is the only reason I can think of that might persuade me to use SLED instead of any other Linux distro. Of course, once the proprietary solution has been migrated to a truly open solution, there's nothing that SLED can offer that Ubuntu can't match for $120 a seat less, which would still not be good for Novell.

    Still feel that Microsoft made the deal with Novell hurt Novell's position in the Open Source community and eliminate a competitor, but it might just have the opposite effect of what they intended.

  14. Bassey

    But why?

    I can't actually see the advantage here. Surely, the main advantage of Linux is that it is free. The disadvantage being that the hundreds of thousands of windows apps particularly beloved of the Enterprise won't work. Here, you've removed the advantage whilst keeping the disadvantage.

    You might as well install Windows XP and run OpenOffice on it.

    And I regularly use both Windows and Ubuntu/gOS/Presto depending on what I need at the time.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poor review

    Interesting but not very useful. This is supposed to be an enterprise level distro so anything but an enterprise level review is useless. What about AD, pushing out changes, etc, etc?

  16. A J Stiles

    @ AC 03:05

    Because your $120 buys you one copy of Windows, but it buys you as many copies of Linux as you want.

  17. Ilmehtar
    Thumb Down

    Very Dissapointing Article

    While I appreciate the conclusions and praise for a product I like a great deal, I must say I am very disappointed at the quality of the article. It includes a number of inaccuracies.

    Page 1 states that openSUSE has no 'direct connection' to Novell.

    openSUSE is sponsored by Novell.

    Its community board of 5 members is chaired by a Novell employee and contains two more.

    Page 1 continues to imply that SLED11 contains 'extras' (when compared to openSUSE) that come as a direct result from the Microsith/Novell agreement.

    Many of these are already present in openSUSE, such as:

    AppArmor - installed by default on openSUSE

    Mono - installed by default on openSUSE and integral to their GNOME desktop

    "It just works" functionality with Microsoft Networks - SLED copies its free-love cousin in this regard

    Page 2 seems to be where our reviewer seems to get even more confused. Application Browser is not a customisation tool, but an Application Browser, for launching applications.

    I'll concede that the Control Centre/YAST arrangement in SLED/openSUSE can be a little confusing (Control Centre includes links to some YAST modules), but on the whole, Control Centre deals with user specific settings, and YAST deals with system settings. That is why YAST requires the root password to open, and Control Centre does not.

    Evolution and OpenOffice in SLED have few, if any, modifications from the version currently available in openSUSE - the Exchange functionality is the same, and Novell make their 'Novell Edition' of OpenOffice available for all (including Windows users)

    It's a real shame that the reviewer seems to have done a rather superficial review of SLED, and in practice it ends up being a review of openSUSE 11.1 (though a better one than TheReg did for 11.1)

    SLED brings a lot of unique stuff to the Linux business plate:

    Zenworks for Central Management

    Novell's desktop platform for their future client software (iFolder, iPrint, Teaming&Conf, Groupwise, Novell Client) - Many sites still have a very Novell heavy ecosystem, you just don't hear much from us because it all works ;-)

    Update/Download Software Repositories that are considered the most secure in the Linux market

    Traditional Long Term support for multiple years, similar to Ubuntu's LTS releases

    Support from Novell and their partners, which are considered some of the best available.

    Its a real shame the reviewer didn't give any of the above a mention, or put any of them through its paces, particularly Zenworks, which is probably any Desktop admin's fantasy

  18. Anonymous Coward

    OpenSuse vs SLED

    "The enterprise version of SUSE should not be confused with openSUSE"

    Indeed. So what exactly are the differences then?

    "a number of Novell-developed features like the AppArmor security tool, and some proprietary apps you won't find in your typical open-source Linux distro, such as Adobe's Acrobat Reader."

    I'm not at OpenSuse 11.1, and away from my home system, but as a SuSe user since Suse 8, my recollection is that AppArmor is part of OpenSuse. And so, iirc, is Acrobat (Adobe Reader, AcroRead, whatever it's called this week), though it may not be installed by default. Both are available on the OpenSuse 10.3 here at work.

    I don't personally give a monkey's about .NET or Mono, but the fact that Suse 11.1 is available on Itanium is surely going to set the world on fire ? Oh ok, maybe not then.

    It could have been a much much better review. But thanks anyway.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >>>Novell on the other hand has contributed very little to the open source

    >>>ecosystem as compared to say RedHat.

    Not true.

    According to the Linux Foundation, Novell is the fourth largest contributor to Linux (with 8.9% of changes) to Red Hat's Third (with 11.2%). Yes, Red Hat has contributed more but to say Novell has contributed "very little" is clearly tommyrot.

    Source: The Linux Foundation - see

    >>>What do you expect out of a Utah company?

    Novell is now run out of Massachusetts and the Suse bits done out of Nuremberg so very little influence from the Mormon Mafia.

    Now jog on, sonny, back to your bedroom with the Manga posters - mummy will be up with a cup of tea and a fresh box of Kleenex for you soon.

  20. Gerard Krupa

    Screen Layout

    "Windows-like arrangement of Gnome, with the main panel, and even start button, down at the bottom of the window"

    So, exactly like SLED 10 then?

  21. A J Stiles
    Thumb Down

    Why GNOME ?

    What's with the popularity of GNOME all of a sudden?

    You can prise my KDE (which, incidentally, has oKular which reads PDF documents without need of Adobe) from my cold dead hand. Unless I'm using WindowMaker that week.

  22. DZ-Jay

    Re: Why GNOME ?

    Here're a few hints:

    - GNOME was originally developed by Miguel de Icaza

    - Miguel de Icaza then turned into a Microsoft fanboi

    - Miguel de Icaza started and spearheaded the MONO project

    - The MONO project is sponsored in large part by Novell

    And as a bonus:

    - Miguel de Icaza worked (at least for a while) at Microsoft.

    You put it together. The circle is complete.


  23. Ilmehtar

    RE: Why Gnome?

    When Novell bought SUSE, one of their first changes to SLES/SLED included a totally horrific dalliance with KDE as the Default GUI for SLES 9.

    It was a terrible implementation of a not so great version of KDE, and made the entire SLES 9 experience as fun as administrating a Windows 2008 box.

    Novell's senior Linux staff (Nat Friedman, Miguel de Icaza, etc) mostly come from a very GNOME centric pedigree, I suspect we have them to thank for Novell's policy implemented after SLES 9 that GNOME was to be their 'Enterprise' desktop, and the default on all their Enterprise products.

    In the last year, I've actually turned from a total KDE fanboy to a GNOME user. I've seen huge improvements in GNOME in recent years and I jumped ship when KDE 4.x shipped and started trying to be LinVista

    All that said, its worth mentioning that openSUSE doesn't share its Enterprise cousin's (or my) bias.

    I understand that KDE 4.x on openSUSE is one of the best implementations of KDE 4.x, and both Novell and the great openSUSE community seem to be big players in the KDE world while Novell's Enterprise division focus mainly on GNOME.

    (ps. GNOME in openSUSE can open PDF's without Adobe too, Evince is installed by default)

  24. Damien Thorn


    Installing SLED 11 is a snap. Just insert the DVD.

    Into what exactly? answers on a postcard.

    My servers all have perfectly good cd drives - and im perfectly aware novell have cd versions too. but i dont like novell, they took open source and closed it.

    Then left "open suse" which is what my machines run, $120 or $20 im not paying for something that is free and probably "easier" from multiple other locations.

  25. John Savard

    Another note

    If I remember correctly, what costs $120 is support for Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, not a license to install and use the software on your computer. Also, while SLED 10, at least, offered KDE as an option during install, for whatever reason, despite there being more KDE apps than GNOME ones, I have read somewhere that GNOME is more popular - with other commercial distros like Red Hat as well - in commercial environments, for whatever reason.

    If Agfa/Monotype is making some freeware replacement for True Type available in Linux, the fact that it isn't under a GNU-type license doesn't dismay me; hinted vector fonts are an important feature lacking in Linux - and the feature that made Windows 3.1 usable where Windows 3.0 wasn't.

    Of course, we have every reason to mistrust Microsoft's intentions, but the original news about what Microsoft was offering to Linux distro makers - a license to use disputed technology, in return for including actually working interoperability with certain parts of Windows - seemed generous enough when I read of it. Understandably, they don't want their de facto standards getting fragmented.

  26. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Down


    asdf: as AC@10:05 said, you're rather wrong there. Novell's a very big contributor to F/OSS development. It's one of the things they do right.

    @Bassey: "I can't actually see the advantage here. Surely, the main advantage of Linux is that it is free."

    No, not really. That's the main advantage of hacking up your own Linux infrastructure, which is generally done by small companies working on the cheap, or skunkworks projects. Or big companies who don't have enough control over their IT departments...

    The market where Novell plays with SLES/SLED (and Red Hat with RHEL) is entirely different - it's a market of very large installations where people are entirely willing to pay rather large amounts for Linux (well, really, for good support, which is what they're actually paying for) if it actually works better. In this market, the advantage of Linux is that it's more reliable and efficient - and also somewhat cheaper. But definitely not free.

  27. E

    One very nice thing about SuSE

    SuSE admin tool, called YAST, is quite complete and straightforward. I do not think Ubuntu or Redhat or Fedora can touch YAST.

    Also, enterprise distros - Redhat and SuSE at least - come with enterprise support. Can you call up Canonical and get dedicated tech support?

    And, well, I can't resist some flameage: Ubuntu makes it a pain in the neck to become root. Why would a real sysadmin use such a distro? I thin Ubuntu is popular mainly because it rides on the back of Apple's gorgeous UI strategy. Under the hood, the idiot root thing aside, it's no different from any other distro.

  28. Jay

    Re: One very nice thing about SuSE

    We are a Novell shop and hate SLES because of YAST! YAST is crap! It Sucks! I want to kill whoever developed it. Now back to replacing SLES servers with CentOS and Red Hat

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why would you pay $120 for linux when you can pay $120 for windows and have known interoperability?

    Uh. Because it's significantly more than $120 maybe? Because MS have the worst track record for security, stability, interoperability and performance in the entire industry perhaps? Because you'll be forced to upgrade at MS' whim without any consideration for your requirements?

    Stop me when I hit the nail on the head..

  30. Mandi

    Adam Williamson and Red Hat's patents

    Before Adam Williamson -from Red Hat- goes on criticizing the Novell/Microsoft agreement perhaps he should explain why his company is grabbing software patents and most importantly why are they getting patents on technologies that they do not even develop?

    For some background on the Red Hat patent grabbing fiasco see:

    From there we see that Red Hat went behind the community's back to patent areas that they felt the nascent standard was going to infringe upon without having contributed any code, or telling anyone about this.

    It is also worth pointing out that there are no "defensive patents", that is a marketing term for "patents used for exchange with other companies". The only reason why Red Hat has not signed a patent agreement with Microsoft is that it owns very few patents that Microsoft wants or needs.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    To DZ-Jay

    Miguel de Icaza has never worked for Microsoft, get your facts right.

    As for Mono, the project predates Novell's acquisition of Ximian, the company where Mono was started in the first place. Another Register article prompted a few years ago the following explanation of Mono and its funding and its roots as an open source project. This is Miguel de Icaza's response from back in 2002:

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Re: No flames, just a few polite questions

    In 2008 I was part of a team for replacing aprox 100 desktops in a midsize german company with new linux desktops -- SLED (probably because of its german roots?) was the management's choice. At the final go/no go meeting the responsible managers withdrew their support for the SLED desktops and opted for standard Windows XP desktops for that department. They explicitly stated that Microsoft's IP claims were one of their main concerns and reason to cancel to project.

    So yes, your question is sadly very real.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    @Why? (AC)

    I can give you about a 10 million reasons (est) why it is worth paying for a pro backed alternative to the Manuresoft offerings for business.

    Conflicker x 10M ,and that's just the start.

    Security through diversity, just ask Charles Darwin (if you can find a medium)

  34. Inachu


    Anyone try Playing World of Warcraft under Suse 11.x?

    Just wondering on how to go about it.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    linux i only free

    if your time is worthless.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article

    The more charged for distros the better, and if they are done right they all go to help with the interoperability between operating systems, which is really what most of us want.

  37. James Butler
    Thumb Down

    Enterprise Management

    I can't think of a single enterprise manager who goes out and buys 1500 copies of an operating system and then goes around to each machine, installing and tweaking it.

    Much more likely, and less expensive, scenario is that the admin loads up ONE machine with the OS they will be using, tweak it and install everything their users will need, then IMAGE that installation and dd it over to the other systems over the network.

    That being said, why would any company consider using $120 per seat (x1500 = $180,000) installations of this distro when they could simply set up one OpenSUSE system with all of the stuff that comes with SLED and then push it out to their users? The article talks about how inconvenient it is to tweak all of those workstations, which is obviously coming from a Microsoft-centric (i.e. licensing) perspective, and not from a sysadmin (i.e. efficiency) or even a bean-counter (i.e. cost) perspective.

  38. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Down


    YaST also *still* rewrites every single config file it controls every time you use it to touch *anything*. So if you use YaST to look after your X config, don't go making manual changes to how NTP is set up.

    I can't believe it's still that dim after all these years...

    Ubuntu doesn't really make it a pain in the neck to get a root shell. 'sudo su' is all it takes, I believe.

  39. E
    Thumb Down

    @Adam Williamson

    I cannot imagine where I got the crazy idea from, but I think I should be able to log in at the console as root.

    Log in as root via the network is bad IMHO, but when I am standing in the server room with the cold air howling about me and the security door closed, and my squad of armed guards outside, I think I should be able to type 'root', '***********' '<ENTER>' and get root.

    Any distro that won't accept that out of the box is a nanny-distro. That is all.

  40. Ilmehtar

    @Adam Williamson

    YaST in openSUSE 11.1 and SLED 11 doesn't rewrite all configuration files, especially not the X config - if it did, the Nvidia driver and its lovely (read annoying as M$) configuration tool wouldn't work, given that likes to write strait into the X config

    I find YaST to be quite a nice management tool, and improving - web-based Yast coming in 11.2..

  41. Adam Williamson


    Ah, so you're going on ingrained prejudice rather than a rational evaluation of the actual implications of the system Ubuntu uses.

    I don't use Ubuntu, never have, never will, I'm famous in very small ponds for not liking Canonical much, but all the palaver over sudo has always struck me as a bit silly. It's a perfectly workable system, it just happens to be different. It achieves the goals it needs to in a perfectly sensible way, and if you really really really must do it the traditional way, it takes two commands to set up a root password. It's really not a big deal.

    ilme: ah, neat - last time I checked was somewhere around 10.2, I think. Although, of course, the nvidia tool *would* work, just up until you next ran YaST - and it still might be OK if YaST knows how to interpret and write NVIDIA-managed xorg.conf files, which wouldn't be too hard to arrange.

  42. E

    @Adam Williamson

    Ingrained prejudice - I don't know that I entirely agree. I know about su & sudo and I use them. However if I have a serious amount of work to be done as root, then I just do not want the hassle of su'ing to root in some number of xterms. I want to be able to log in as root at the console. I can defeat Ubuntu's silliness by changing the config, but I also do not see why I should have to.

    Do you remember flame wars between users of vi & emacs, or even between users of different versions of emacs? I don't claim that arguing over the Ubuntu Way is any more useful than that - but I have a perfect right to be irritated by the number of hardware vendors offering Ubuntu not something with a more normal security concept. Certainly I can be legitimately irritated by grad students and docs that speak the Holy Word "Ubuntu" with the same reverence that Apple fans speak the Holy Word "Macintosh".

  43. iZmOliGy

    ubuntu and root

    Either, "sudo -s" will keep you in a shell with root privs so that you don't need to keep adding sudo to every line, or "sudo passwd root" will allow you to give root a password and log on as root from then on.

    No big deal really.

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