SuSE Linux 6.1
Manufacturer: SuSE GmbH
Price: $49.95 US
Reviewer: Jason Kroll
Hailing from Nuremberg, Germany, SuSE Linux 6.1 is SuSE's latest release (SuSE Linux 6.2 will be available by the time you read this) featuring the new 2.2 kernel, custom SuSE software, commercial packages (Netscape, StarOffice with personal license, Applixware Office, Corel WordPerfect 8.0 and many others), five CD-ROMs' (and a disk's) worth of software, a 440-page manual and a green chameleon sticker. This is a serious, high-performance distribution which is more complete than practically any single distribution, and at the same time is clean and fast due to effective configuration and intelligent design. Much attention has been paid to the details in this release (as in past releases), and the production gains a lot from SuSE custom software and configuration. Although SuSE is the top Linux distribution in Europe, and the 1998 Linux Journal Readers' Choice for “Best Distribution”, it has not been particularly successful in the U.S. The reason for this is not clear (perhaps someone in marketing knows), but if word gets out about this distribution, the situation is likely to change.
Yet another Setup Tool is SuSE's software for installation, de-installation and maintenance. Once a system is installed, YaST stays around to help with many configuration tasks, and updates system files accordingly. (For example, if you want to change networking configuration, YaST asks what changes you want and automatically updates all files.) YaST is also the tool that installs the whole system in the first place.
Installation of SuSE is quite easy and extremely flexible, although not entirely automated—SuSE begins with a default (base) package and allows you to modify package selection to suit your needs. You can also load a few pre-configured selections (with the usual server, workstation, and complete installation options), though one ought to customize even these configurations. It is easiest just to have three or four pre-configured installations (as with Caldera), but SuSE probably has a number of reasons for taking the custom installation approach. For one thing, SuSE is more complete than most other distributions (five CD-ROMs is a lot of software, and the new 6.2 apparently has six) and customization makes more sense when dealing with so much software. Also, SuSE does not aim to be “Linux for Idiots” and would lose much of its flexibility were it dumbed down for people who can't decide what software they want.
One benefit of SuSE's devotion to custom installation is that SuSE has developed a system which incorporates many packages into the menuing system of KDE. In addition, YaST knows what dependencies the packages (numbering about 1000 for 6.1 and 1300 for the brand-new 6.2) have, and can automatically install these dependencies. YaST keeps track of redundancies to warn a user against installing software packages that are too similar or would be unused. Also, YaST has good descriptions of the software packages, so you always know what you're going to get (well, except for the occasional !! HIER FEHLT DAS LABEL !!). In these areas, SuSE is unique. For example, Red Hat offers far fewer packages and mostly does not incorporate selected programs into menuing systems. Caldera also offers fewer packages, and while it effectively incorporates programs into KDE, it offers four installation packages and no custom option. However, Caldera's installation program, Lizard, is probably the easiest.
Installation can take place in over a dozen languages (English is second on this list). Before installation begins, you have to load any special drivers you might need. Secretly, I wish SuSE would autoprobe, and in fact there is an automatic detection for necessary modules which actually works, but you have to find it first. Once the modules are taken care of, proper installation can begin.
Ultimately, installation is straightforward and easy to navigate, but, like Red Hat, often requires you to know what hardware you have. I would prefer more probing and perhaps more complete default installations (I had to select so many packages, it took a while), but there were no technical hang-ups, freezes or crashes. Manual configuration of networking was just like most distributions, and the system was booted and on-line fairly quickly.