SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional

by Logan G. Harbaugh

SuSE is well known in Europe, though less so in the US. It is, however, often available in stores here, along with Red Hat and Mandrake versions of Linux. As a desktop OS, it offers a good installer, a vast selection of applications and an excellent set of utilities--features that make it an excellent business desktop choice. However, if you're a GNOME user looking for the latest 2.0 desktop, you'd better look elsewhere.

During the initial installation, the YaST (Yet another Setup Tool) hardware detection routine generally worked well. It detected all installed cards, peripherals and printers, but it set one system's screen resolution to the maximum allowed by the graphics controller, which was higher than the monitor supported. This was not an issue with two other Linux distributions installed on the same system. The resolution problem happened using the default settings; it would have been possible to set the monitor resolution correctly if I'd been paying attention. Installation from a single DVD, rather than the seven CDs, is supported as well.

Figure 1. Installation Screenshot

The installer supports a very wide variety of hardware, including CUPS (common UNIX printing system) and many printers, 802.11. It also supports wireless, including WEP, Firewire and USB 2.0. Kernels optimized for Pentium 4 and AMD processors are available. You also are offered the option of installing the GRUB boot manager instead of the LILO boot loader, which will make dual-boot installations easier.

Once the operating system is installed, a tightly integrated software installer provides menu-driven installation of all applications included with the CD set. Instead of locating and installing a package file from one of the seven CDs, you simply select an application to install from the software installation menu, and it prompts you to insert the appropriate CD. The vast array (hundreds) of applications includes office suites, emulators, games, server applications, development environments, utilities and many more.

Default GUIs include KDE 3.0.3, Windowmaker, GNUstep (an OpenStep version), MFM and TWM, as well as a text shell login--but not GNOME 2.0. Indeed, installing and enabling GNOME as the GUI is not a simple process and is not covered well in the manual. Instead of selecting it from the installation menu, you have to find the YaST package manager and then add the GNOME set of applications. Even after GNOME is installed, standard GNOME applications, such as Galleon and Evolution, are not available from the start menu. They are installed, though, and are accessible from the SuSE applications submenu.

The standard office suite is 1.0.1. It includes TrueType support and improved import filters. KOffice 1.2 is also included, though it is not installed by default. Other new applications include GPhoto 2.1, an application that transfers images digital cameras for editing with The GIMP; the Ogg Vorbis 1.0 audio encoder and player; and K3b, a CD burning tool.

Figure 2. OpenOffice Spreadsheet

The YaST Online Update (YOU) utility lets you keep the system up to date. It downloads a list of all available updates from the SuSE server, and you decide which ones to install. In addition to installation from CD-ROM or DVD, the Software Installer allows installation from FTP and HTTP servers, local directories or network drives.

Administrators, users who work from more than one location and home users with several users on a single system will find the system profile manager, SCPM (SuSE Configuration Profile Management) a great benefit. It allows separate profiles for different users or locations, allowing you to control access to system configuration, applications, printers available and more.

For security, SuSE Firewall 2 includes encryption of the filesystem. Other security technologies included in the distribution are GNU Privacy Guard (GPG encryption) OpenSSH, PAM and IPsec.

SuSE Linux 8.1 includes kernel 2.4.19 and gcc 3.2. The Powertweak program allows experienced Linux admins to modify kernel parameters to maximize performance.

A number of server applications are available as well, including Apache 1.3.26, an IMAP/POP mail server, LDAP server, DNS, NFS, NIS servers, NNTP server, RADIUS server, a mail retriever for picking up mail from ISP accounts, WINE (Windows emulator), Samba (for Windows file sharing), marsnwe for NetWare emulation and a variety of others. Four journaling file systems, ReiserFS, JFS, XFS and Ext3, are available.

SuSE is a participant in the UnitedLinux initiative, but UnitedLinux features are not available in version 8.1. The upcoming Enterprise Edition should include UnitedLinux, however. A Live Evaluation CD image can be downloaded from the SuSE site.

The distribution includes an excellent set of revised manuals with new chapters about digital cameras, USB 2.0 and Firewire support and the CUPS printing system. Documentation in general is clear and accessible, though GNOME users will probably be disappointed.

SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional (7 CDs, 1 DVD, a User Guide and an Administration Guide, 90 days of installation support) is USD $79.95. The price for SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional Update is USD $49.95.

  • Excellent documentation

  • Great selection of additional software, with a very easy installer

  • Sophisticated administrative tools

  • Poor GNOME support

Logan Harbaugh is a freelance writer specializing in reviews of network operating systems, clustering, load balancing and network hardware. He is located in Redding, CA.

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