SuSE Linux 6.1
The general failing of most distributors is poor support. However, Linux firms have recently been putting increased effort into providing better support, and third parties such as Linuxcare are raising standards in the industry. Support from SuSE comes not only as “tree-ware”, but as 60 days of e-mail/phone support. If, after 60 days, you can't get your system installed, buy a Mac or try one of the new pre-installed systems. I have not yet heard a complaint about SuSE support, and I expect that SuSE must be competent in this department—SuSE claims 35,000 business customers (including Mercedes-Benz), and businesses have a low tolerance for bad technical assistance.
The best support in my opinion is an excellent manual, and SuSE has done a superb job here. Just like SuSE's custom software (and the distribution itself), the manual is a product of thoughtfulness, attention to detail and cohesive design. The book is 440 pages, but quite dense—nothing is watered down, and even simplifications have footnotes explaining what the reality is. An example of this simplification and explanation approach is that the installation guide has a section for “quick install”, as well as an in-depth section on the whole installation procedure and its options. The book is also not condescending, and I find that refreshing.
The manual is divided into eight parts: Introduction, Install SuSE Linux, Network Configuration, The X Window System, Linux and Hardware, The Kernel and Its Parameters, SuSE Linux: Update and Specialties, and Security and Hints. The last of these chapters actually contains an introduction to Linux as well as the immortal line, “natural disasters such as lightning strikes, floods and earthquakes can damage your computer”. There is a bit of humor and some math in the book, and a noticeably “green” feel: the computer system in the book is named “earth”, and the manual says of the free books included in PostScript format, “If you don't care about trees, you can print them as well.”
SuSE Linux is a complete Linux distribution aimed at non-neophytes or perhaps neophytes who are good with computers. Although the price might suggest it is worth less than a copy of Windows (or some very expensive Linux distribution), it is quite difficult to do better for the money. Like any Linux distribution, there are menu options which don't work and software that's missing from the menu selections. The default package collections are good enough, but it's worth the time to step through every package and decide whether or not you want it. If you're going to get a commercial Linux distribution, you'll do well to consider SuSE—at the very least, you get several CD-ROMs' worth of software, good news if your CD-ROM drive is faster than your Internet connection. When the new SuSE Linux 6.2 arrives (with the 2.2.10 kernel and a whole bunch of new software), it will definitely be one to check out.
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