SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

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An easy and smart install, abundant documentation and plenty of configuration options make SuSE 8.2 ideal for the desktop.

After being blown away by how well SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 handled the Ultimate Linux Box, I decided I would see how well SuSE handled on a more pedestrian machine. In the carton along with SLES 8 was a copy of SuSE Linux Professional 8.2. Unlike the fancy ring-binder SLES 8 came in, this was the traditional cardboard box, containing a fairly standard set of books and CDs. I kept unfolding the jewel case and counted one, two, three, four, five CDs, plus two DVDs tucked into a multi-flipout little thing that looks like it should hold only two CDs. Seven disks in all, plus a new logo sticker that looks like a green radiation symbol but is too big for the usual 25mm divot on a lot of PC cases. Ah, well, if that's the only problem we have today, we're doing real well.

The manuals are substantial; the user guide is almost 400 pages. In addition to the usual installation and configuration walk-through, it contains tutorials and references for everything from Evolution and Galeon to burning CDs. There's even a section on ergonomics. The administrator's manual is nearly 600 pages, and where the user guide covers the bright shiny side of Linux, this discusses its grungy underbelly. It covers such topics as file synchronization, security in the network, SAMBA, LVM and software RAID--the printer section alone is 80 pages long. It even tells you what the strange-looking logo is--"a quintic surface with four higher-order double points" (page 3)--and gives you not only the equations for drawing it but a URL for software that handles the equations and renders it for you. Our German friends are nothing if not thorough.

And that's only the manual. Being one to boot first and read the manual later, I put CD 1 in the drive, fiddled with my BIOS and away we went. My system, for reference, is a K6-2/450 with 128MB of RAM atop a DFI Aladdin-IV-chipset motherboard, with a 4.3GB Seagate system drive, a 3GB Quantum Fireball home drive, an S3 Trio 64 video card and an AMD PCnet32 LANCE NIC. SuSE took to it like a duck to water. The boot splash lets you boot the installer normally (sans ACPI), manually or safely. It also gives you choices for booting from the hard drive (nice, if you hosed your MBR), booting a rescue suite or running MEMTEST. It's good to have the installer and diagnostics on the same CD. Cranking the installer, I was presented with a choice in short order: it had found my old system, and asked if I wanted to update or abort. No, go ahead and install, please.

The installer is menu-driven, not dialog-driven. You're presented with a scrolling screen of stuff you can click on to change. If you're happy with the defaults, you don't even have to see them. I tinkered with the software settings, as I didn't want everything for my small system. By default it had already unselected GNOME and reduced KDE to a basic system. I had a few conflicts--I wanted to take out some things it needed for other things I wanted. I discovered both GTK 1.4 and GTK 2 were present, as well as KDE 3, which is a good thing for some of the jobs I eventually want to do with this machine. The conflict resolver can be a little confusing at first, but it tells you everything that's wrong. If you learn to focus on the conflict resolution part of each section, it gets real easy real fast. When I got done I had 1.4GB of stuff to load from CD.

So away we went into grey-bar land. I really like the way SuSE set up this part. You get the usual this package and total progress bars, but you also see separate little ones for each CD's worth of data, in both percent and minutes, so you know if you've got time to go get a cup of joe before having to change CDs. My slowpoke CD drive took about 40 minutes to pull data from two of the five CDs. There also aren't any ads, just a scrolling log of which packages have been loaded.

Once everything is loaded, it asked for a root password. I had to press the Expert options button to make it do this in MD5 format. (Why installations don't do this by default is beyond me; you always could give the option to go back to DES if necessary. A minor quibble, however, it's easily fixed.)

Next was network configuration; I provided a static address and filled in the usual numbers. Nothing fancy; it just works. Ditto the New User page. At this point it asked to test the network by downloading the latest release notes and update notifications. Sure, why not? The modem lights on the firewall went blink, blink, blink, and everything was fine. Did I care to go ahead and update right there? No, thanks, I'll do that later.

The release notes revealed, among other things, that the IMAP dæmon no longer accepts plain-text passwords on unencrypted sessions. This is a good thing, and I wish more people would do it. With these notes read and accepted, the graphics configuration screen appeared. I set up my monitor appropriately; everything else was auto-detected correctly and didn't need help. The test went fine.

After clicking Finish, it reboot..., wait, no, that's runlevel 5 we're kicking into. I'm not sure what kind of trickery they used--it went by entirely too fast--but the installer simply exited into a running system. KDM cranked right up, and when I logged in as the user I had created, I was presented with KDE.

SuSE did a good job customizing KDE. The desktop has a Gecko eye icon that brings up the launcher you see the first time you log in; it links to support, updates and the like. A matching icon is in the Start position for the usual KDE menus, and a second green icon with a lightning bolt pulls up a menu of standard desktop functions (word processor, e-mail, music and so forth). A third icon, the classic document icon, handles text, pictures, presentations and the file manager. Over on the right, next to the clock, is the YOU (YaST Online Update) icon. A click on it brings up the YOU configuration panel, allowing you to configure automatic checking and updating or to launch YOU itself manually. I chose manual launch, and YOU came up with a pre-configured mirror ready to pull down updates. I advise against tinkering with that setting; I did and ended up aborting the index download. Returning to the default setting gave me an index in short order that allowed me to pick which patches I wanted willy-nilly and then showed me whether they were Security, Recommended or Optional. I unchecked a number of things in deference to my firewall's 56k modem and let fly. Like the installer, YOU's grey-bar screen has a nice scrolling log of what's going on.

YaST 2, SuSE's second-generation setup tool, is a total dream. (Keep in mind this is a Debian fan talking here.) The software installer looks very much like the install screen and shows you which CDs you need to use and for how long; I imagine it's much of the same code. The system tool lets you do everything from edit /etc/sysconfig files to back up the system. The firewall tool, under Security, allows for some fairly advanced configuration, including DMZ and IP masquerade, right there under the GUI. I could go on about this, but it's getting long already. Oh, and if you're shelling in on a slow modem from Timbuktu, you should know that YaST 2 works in text mode, too.

No, it's not going to run like a scalded cat, as SLES 8 did on the Ultimate Linux Box. But, a whole heck of a lot of 400MHz-class boxes are floating around out there for real cheap, and I've seen a lot of them being used as Linux desktops and servers. YaST 2 looks a lot like a Windows Control Panel, too, so if you're looking to transition a friend to Linux, SuSE and such a machine are just the ticket. If you want something hotter on the cheap, I hear tell a certain Very Large Retailer is selling machines with SuSE preloaded on its Web site.

SuSE Professional, the version I used, includes Sun's Java 1.4, Apache 2 and a few other goodies, plus 90-day support. This package costs you about $70 at your local big-box store. The Personal Edition has less stuff, obviously, and runs about $40 on the street. Those of you with fat bitpipes can be have it for the cost of bandwidth. I encourage those of you with the budget to grab a box, however; between the books and what SuSE is putting back into the community, it's well worth the investment.

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Anonymous's picture

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Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

medavid's picture

Glenn, nice review of SuSE 8.2. I thought I'd mention one or two things I discovered about it that I really liked.

The first is X configuration. I have yet to find anyone else who has a better configuration tool for X... SuSE's SaX2 makes setting up X a breeze, especially if you are running a multi-card/multi-monitor setup. My machine is a low-end 1.1 GHz Celeron with 640 MB RAM, 20 GB drive, DVD and CD-RW drives and two video cards: an onboard Trident/AGP (not the best) and a PCI-based nVidia GeForce 4 card. SaX2 made running multi-headed with Xinerama a no-brainer.

I mention this because I tried several other distributions (Red Hat 9, Mandrake 9.1) and had problems getting them to set the displays up the way I wanted. RH just didn't seem to care about it, and I could never get both displays working. Mandrake did detect both cards and monitors, but kept throwing one of them into a weird state that would send the monitor off into never-never land.

SaX2 even has a "drag and drop" monitor configuration (a la Mac OS) that lets you reorder the displays with your mouse. They also let you test your new setups without killing your old X setup (something that used to drive me crazy with some distros).

Now, my problems with RH and Mandrake could be due to my lack of knowledge about X, but in the end, it was just so easy to get SuSE set up the way I wanted that I stuck with it and am happy I did.

Secondly, I was impressed that SuSE just worked with every piece of hardware I had. I could immediately burn CDs, listen to music, and get on my network at home with no effort.

Mark

Re: Red Hat 9

Anonymous's picture

Red Hat 9 is a fine product...

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

> ... and what SuSE is putting back into the community, it's well worth the investment

yes, sure, but releasing yast2 as open source would be even
nicer. this is no new objection.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

Have to agree with that! And you would think that SuSe would be into it too. If we wanted to talk like aging capitalists, you would think they would recognize the opportunity for a little more "market penetration."

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

Agreed. Yast gives the source code but is not Open Source as OSI definition (http://www.opensource.org/)

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

> yes, sure, but releasing yast2 as open source would be

YaST2 is open source (source ships on any media), but not free software. You're free to modify it or add something to it, but AFAIK you have to use it in SuSE-based system.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

hi

yast is not open source. open source means that there should be no discrimination. read the open source definition please

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

Yes, that's nothing new.............
So SuSE uses Yast to show that they cannot only compile a set of different programs, but actually add something. You can view the source of yast and adjust ist to your needs. But you are not alllowed to make money with yast, without contacting SuSE first.... big deal ...

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

YaST2 is open source. You get the source on the CD's. Please say what you mean. You wish it was LGPL or GPL..which concidering the BSD's, Mozilla, Apache, SAMBA and many other programs are not *GPL but are most definately Open Source .. I think you should get your terms correct when posting. :)

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

s3pt1k's picture

Thanks for the excellent review! I've been a long time SuSE user and am always glad to see them get such good press.

The ONLY thing I find lacking in SuSE 8.2 is it's lack of a YaST SAMBA tool. There are other config tools available, but I've never had any luck with them. Other than that, I think that SuSE is one of the strongest distros in the running.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

Good Review, I like SuSE also, but having purchased 8.2 recently and having a had time getting it to recodnige my Serial ATA harddrive is really a problem is hangs at installation boot and won't go any further, cause it can't find my SATA DRIVE. any suggestions/help.?

William

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

I agree that SuSe is one of the best distros out there. My problem was getting the sound to work for my intergrated sound card. However, I wasn't the only one and SuSe already had a solution for me insight with a quick donwload from OSS. I am basically new to this whole Linux thing and have switched mainly for political reasons. I am tired to the IMperial Emperor Gates. But thanks for the great SuSe review.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

s3pt1k's picture

Sub to the suse-linux-e mail list. You can do this from suse.com. I get all the help I need there.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

Using swat under SuSE 8.2 works well for me, but I wouldn't mind a YaST module:)

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

s3pt1k's picture

I've never had much luck with SWAT unfortunately. I will personally wait for the new release. On another note, I hope SuSE doesn't follow suite and call it 9.0. As much as I understand the desire to do so from a marketing perspective, I'd hate to see SuSE start "keeping up with the Jonses" in this regard.

Re: SuSE Linux Professional 8.2 Review

Anonymous's picture

SuSE 9.0 (or 8.3 ?!?) will include a YaST SMB configuration tool. & that's 4 sure :-)

Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Open Source Components:

* SuSE Linux Desktop 1.0 Variant
* GNOME 2.2
* Ximian Evolution 1.4
* Mozilla" 1.4 browser
* OpenOffice.org 1.1 (basis for StarOffice 7 suite)

Website: http://wwws.sun.com/software/javadesktopsystem/index.html

SuSE Linux Desktop 1.0

Anonymous's picture

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

You forgot:
* Costs: $100 (vs. $70/$40 for a SuSE Box)

Your comment:

* Relatation: vague
* Motivation for your post: unclear
* Made your point: no

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Not to forget that Sun/SCO promises not to sue you if you buy the Sun/SCO Java Desktop System! A $699,- value!

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Stop imagining things...

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Your comment:

Relevant: Questionable
Amount of money paid by Suse to post here: unclear
Have a point: apparently not

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Ohh that's so damn stupid that I would advice: Go play minesweeper on Windows.....

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

Wrong. The SuSE Enterprise Workstation edition is $140* in cost. The Sun product is based on it so this would mean the Sun product is cheaper.

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

And your point is that a $30 spread makes all the difference?

Re: Sun's Java Desktop System

Anonymous's picture

I don't know what point the previous poster tried to make, the difference is much more. In addition to beeing $30 cheaper you get more SW packages and you get a distro from the most experienced distro maker, not a first try from a new Linux player. So I agree with him and don't see the relevance.

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