If you're looking for a practical business desktop replacement for Windows, your best choice is Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11: a true Windows replacement.

There are lots of Linux distros being touted as great desktop operating systems for PCs. However, there's only one that we can wholeheartedly recommend to business owners as a Windows replacement: Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 (SLED).

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11, which was released on March 24, stands above its competitors because it works and plays well with existing Windows business networks, data files and application servers. You can, of course, add this functionality to other Linux distributions - if you're willing to do it manually. SLED gives you pretty much the full deal out of the box.

This new desktop is based on openSUSE 11.1. If you've already used openSUSE, you might think at first glance that SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 is little more than openSUSE with a $120 annual service contract. It's more than that, though. Here's what we found in our recent run with it.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 is built on Version 2.6.27 of the Linux kernel. You get two choices for a desktop: Gnome 2.24.1 or KDE 4.1.3.

For the default file system, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 is now using the rock-solid ext3 instead of ReiserFS. ReiserFS will, however, still be supported.

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We installed SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 on a Dell Inspiron 530S, a low-end computer that retails for approximately $450. It's powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800MHz front-side bus, along with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive and an integrated Intel GMA 3100 graphics chipset. We also ran the operating system on a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 with a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500, 2GB of RAM and 120GB hard drive.

Installation of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 was a snap. We inserted the DVD and told the install program to do its stuff; the process was over in a few minutes.

A Novell representative told us that the company is in talks with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo to get SLED 11 pre-installed but, as of mid-March, no deal was in place. We did receive a review unit from Novell, an HP EliteBook 2530p with SLED 11 pre-installed, but the notebook still had a Vista Business sticker on it (HP's Web site currently offers either Vista or FreeDOS on that model).

Hopefully, that deal will go through, because SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 ran flawlessly on all three PCs. It had no trouble working with a variety of Wi-Fi and graphics cards, or with the EliteBook's un2400 3G EV-DO/HSPA Mobile Broadband Module. If only Windows Vista were as compatible with today's hardware.

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