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Despite my best efforts, this software just didn't work for me, so the rest of this review will cover what the software includes and what it should offer if you manage to get it installed and working on your machine. I can't verify that any of these features work as stated; I can't even verify that Sun Java Desktop System 2 works at all on any computer hardware, although I'd say it's a safe bet that someone, somewhere has a computer that this software will work properly on.
Sun has some "canned" screen shots available if you'd like to see what the programs and the desktop look like. I was unable to save or send screen shots when in Safe Mode on my notebook system.
The operating environment
Java Desktop System 2 is billed as an "operating environment," not a GNU/Linux distribution or an operating system. The technical difference between the terms is simple: an operating system is software that controls the hardware and lets you use the computer. An operating environment is an operating system plus an array of tools and utilities that allow you to use the system for a specified purpose. In this case the operating environment is geared toward both system administration in a corporate environment and software development using the Java programming language.
What this means is that you can substitute the operating system module for a different one and still retain the same functionality and purpose for the operating environment. Sun is already developing a version of Java Desktop System that uses Solaris instead of GNU/Linux. Despite the abysmal hardware support and restrictive licensing that Solaris generally offers, it should still be a better choice than the SUSE-based release that Sun currently offers. It would be a different story if they'd used a modern GNU/Linux distribution like SUSE 9.1 or even 9.0, but the basis for JDS2 is SUSE 8.1, which uses the 2.4.19 Linux kernel. At this point in Linux development, 2.4.19 is prehistoric -- it's about a year and a half old.
I bet you could probably upgrade the operating system while leaving the interface and the rest of the environment intact by installing a newer version of SUSE after JDS is on the system. I had the opportunity to try it on my laptop system and it seemed to work at first (JDS was recognized as a viable distribution to upgrade to SUSE 9.1 from) but I didn't have enough space to install all of the packages that I needed with the existing partition setup, so I had to repartition and thus lost the ability to test the upgrade further.
Sun Java Desktop System Release 2 comes with more software firepower than almost any other GNU/Linux distribution on the market. It's not that it has more in terms of the number of packages -- certainly it doesn't have more than what is contained on all of the Debian CDs, or even in the full SUSE installation -- but it has more specially designed software than any other distribution. Specifically I'm talking about:
As components of SUSE's distribution, YaST and SaX are part of the same backbone that provides automatic hardware detection and manual configuration through graphical dialogues. YaST also provides an excellent control panel for managing your system's network and other administrative duties that would otherwise have to be done by editing text files by hand.
SaX makes configuring the X Server an easy task if your hardware is supported. You can change the screen resolution and color depth or change hardware settings for your video card and monitor if necessary.
The Java System Update Service is much like Red Hat Network and SUSE's YaST Online Update. It downloads security patches and bug fixes on a schedule (or at your convenience) and installs them for you automatically. This is what you're buying when you pay the yearly license fee. If you don't renew your agreement at the end of one year, you will no longer have access to software updates through this service.
Sun StarOffice 7 is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. It has a more-than-competent word processor that can read from and write to the Word .DOC file format; a spreadsheet that can do most of what Excel can do; an equation solver; a database program; and a presentation and slide show production program like PowerPoint. Those who are heavily entrenched in Microsoft Office may find it difficult to switch or adjust to a different office suite at first, but if you will be using StarOffice exclusively within a company, you'll have little trouble being productive with it.
The Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE) 1.4.2 application development environment is included with Java Desktop System, something that doesn't come with very many other GNU/Linux distributions because of licensing issues with Sun. Of course this being their own operating environment, they can't run into those hurdles. J2SE consists of the Java Development Kit (JDK) and the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) and provides the necessary functionality for developing and using software written in the Java language.
The Sun Control Station 2.1 is a resurrection of the Sun Cobalt Control Station product that was previously discontinued. Control Station allows a system administrator to remotely administer, update, and control all nodes on the network that are running Java Desktop System. Through Control Station you can apply patches to some or all machines remotely, track and apply system images, enable or disable services, or any number of custom control modules that you can either get from Sun or design yourself.
The Sun Java Desktop System Configuration Manager is a comprehensive graphical utility for assigning rights and restrictions to users and groups.
The Remote Desktop Takeover utility allows an authorized user to remotely view and interact with other users' desktops, thereby enabling them to help and guide users or troubleshoot remote machines. This appears to work much like the Remote Desktop function in Windows XP Professional and other third-party virtual network connection software.
The special features of JDS 2 -- the Configuration Manager, Control Station and Remote Desktop Takeover -- will not work with the previous edition of JDS, so you'll have to upgrade all of your systems if you're using JDS 2003 and want to take advantage of the new administrative programs in Java Desktop System 2.
I can't tell you much about Sun Java Studio Standard 5 Update 1 because I'm not a Java programmer. Despite the inclusion of this advanced IDE (and the fact that it's based on NetBeans), Sun also includes NetBeans 3.6, which is another fancy GUI-based Java IDE.
Lastly, JDS 2 includes enhanced language capabilities, including improved support for Chinese and new support for Japanese, Korean, and Brazilian Portuguese.
Using Sun Java Desktop System
From what little I saw of the desktop, JDS's GNOME-based interface was streamlined, productivity-minded, and aesthetically pleasing. It takes the familiarity of Windows XP, removes all of the extra garbage, and puts all of the right tools in all of the right places while remaining easy to customize. It reminded me vaguely of BlueCurve, but better.
Sun Java Desktop System 2 is a good example of a great idea poorly implemented. The base system is exactly the same as the original 2003 release, the only difference being the addition of the rest of the operating environment: proprietary system management tools and the Java development software. Those are significant enhancements, but considering the atrocious functionality that the base system has, the primary focus should have been on improving the range of hardware support rather than adding more software.
The idea of an operating environment specifically designed for Java development with the look and feel of a streamlined GNOME desktop intrigues me enough to want to learn Java just so I can use it. Only the licensing and the poor hardware support stand in the way of my use of this operating environment, and if it were more sensibly licensed I would recommend it to others who have older systems.
Sun hopes that JDS2 will displace older versions of Microsoft Windows in emerging markets, especially in Asia and South America. Given the expanded language support for these regions and the fact that older versions of Windows are certain to be using outdated hardware, Java Desktop System 2 may do quite well in those markets.
I recommend Sun consider making some changes:
|License||Mostly under the GNU GPL, but some parts are tightly restricted by Sun|
|Market||"Emerging markets" in Asia and South America; corporations that are trying to migrate from an old version of MS Windows|
|Price (retail)||$50 annually (click here to order JDS 2 at the Sun online store)|
|Previous version||Java Desktop System 2003|
|Product Web site||Click here|