SuSE Rolls Out 64-bit Linux For PCs

The new operating system includes improved partitioning, while maintaining support for 32-bit applications.
SuSE Linux AG on Tuesday introduced the latest version of its open-source operating system, designed to take advantage of 64-bit PCs while still supporting 32-bit environments. When SuSE Linux 9.0 hits the streets on Oct. 24, the new operating system also is expected to feature a preview of the upcoming Linux 2.6 kernel, improved partitioning capabilities, and support for Microsoft Windows' NTFS (New Technology File System).

The partitioning utility lets users shrink the portion of their PC devoted to Windows so that they can have more resources dedicated to Linux while still retaining the ability to run Windows apps, says Holger Dyroff, SuSE's general manager of the Americas. SuSE Linux 9.0 also lets users take advantage of the upcoming Linux 2.6 kernel, which is more scalable and supports more memory than previous kernel versions.

"It has a number of incremental improvements rather than any single improvement that makes [SuSE Linux 9.0] strikingly better," says Dan Kuznetsky, IDC's VP of system software research. These include better performance, memory management, and user interface.

SuSE Linux 9.0's greatest hope for sales could be its relationship with chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which last week formally launched its 64-bit Athlon 64 PC processor, says Gregg Rosenberg, chief technology officer for Ricis Inc., a systems integrator and service provider specializing in Linux. "We've had a lot of dialogue with architecture and engineering firms about 64-bit Linux on the desktop," he says. "But it's not going to have to be on everyone's desktop."

Linux continues to mature into a more viable desktop operating system, Kuznetsky says. In the past, Linux users had compatibility problems with documents created in Microsoft Office, for example. But OpenOffice, an open-source suite of productivity applications, "is getting very close to full compatibility with Microsoft," he says. In the meantime, SuSE's strength continues to be its presence in the European market, where companies aren't as married to the Windows-on-Intel configuration as they are in the United States.

Windows is the dominant desktop operating system and is increasing its dominance every year, Kusnetzky says. Windows in 2001 held 94% of the market for desktop operating system licenses, while Linux had 1.6% of the market, he says. In 2002, Windows was up to 95.5% of the market, while Linux had grown to 2.8%, indicating very rapid growth but still a small share of the market.

SuSE is creating a platform for the future, particularly because 64-bit PCs and apps are hard to find in most businesses. Kuznetsky points out that, while SuSE is the first major Linux vendor to offer a 64-bit compatible operating system, this head start doesn't hurt Red Hat--which doesn't yet have a desktop version of its operating system--because the market is still evolving. Says Kuznetsky, "Red Hat wants to see demand in the U.S. market for 64-bit first."