posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 31st Mar 2003 03:17 UTC
IconWhat a big month this was with many Linux releases (and not just Linux ones). The third most popular Linux distribution (along with Debian), after Red Hat and Mandrake, is SuSE. While the company is more successful in Europe, with their 8.1 release a few months ago they were able to broaden their user base worldwide even more. The new version, 8.2, is coming out in about a week from now, but OSNews had early access to it so we were able to evaluate it. Read more for our experiences with SuSE Linux 8.2 and check out a few screenshots too.

Installation

Click for a larger view SuSE 8.2 came in 5 CDs full of software. The two stage installation procedure hasn't changed significantly, it just now features AA fonts and the Keramik theme. SuSE auto-detects most hardware and overall it is easy for everyone to install the operating system (except the dependancy problem with qt-odbc package that pops up even when you don't change the defaults - adding/removing packages creates 2-3 more dependancy alerts to come up and the user has to manually decide upon). However, I found three issues with the installation that I would like to see resolved before the next release.

1. SuSE uses GRUB by default as its boot manager, but it defaults to LILO if it detects a boot manager already installed. I found this fact later. But when installing the OS, it would use GRUB (and that part was fine) and it would be specifically set to "leave MBR code untouched". Well, too bad, because SuSE did not detect my existing boot manager, neither respected the MBR flag that was set, and it overwrote my existing boot manager. Next time, I will know better, and use LILO with SuSE and maybe edit its lilo.conf file by hand during installation, just in case...

2. Now, this part is a bit difficult to explain, as it is more visual: in the partitioning screen, it defaults to use existing Linux partitions as its "/" partition. If I set it to use another partition and then give it a mount point of the "/," it wouldn't accept it because there is already a "/" partition. In my case, it was my Red Hat Linux 9 partition that SuSE wanted to nuke (for my other machine that I tried, that already had 4 different Linux distros installed, it insisted on trying to nuke my Mandrake 9.1 partition and use it as its own). Now, if I "Edit" the Red Hat partition and give it an empty " " mount point (in order to give the "/" to another partition that I want SuSE to get installed), would that render my Red Hat Linux 9 partition unbootable, or these mountpoints are only relevant for SuSE's installation/point of view? This part of installation there is just not clear and many users would go from afraid to confused when contemplating what would happen if they were to change the "/" of another existing Linux distro installed there to an empty mount point, just to get SuSE to accept another partition as its "/."

Click for a larger view 3. Red Hat Linux 9 auto-detected my PnP monitor without a problem (and Mandrake 9.1 was pretty accurate, but not completely). SuSE's monitor/gfx installation module couldn't find the info needed for my monitor (vertical/horizontal syncs, monitor name etc). The funny part is that when later I had SuSE up and running, and ran the hardware information application from Yast2 (the one that shows you info about all your hardware), it would correctly find all the monitor info with only a small problem (it would only report up to 1280x960 res, while this 19" monitor can do 1600x1200@75Hz). RH9, Windows and OSX have been the only OSes I've tried that auto-detect my monitor correctly so far (Envision EN-980e). Check the third shot for info.

On the brighter side, SuSE Linux 8.2 was able to boot from my standard 4x Panasonic DVD-ROM (a bug happening with some DVD-ROMs that plagued SuSE specifically for quite many versions of their product as we reported in our previous SuSE review a few months ago). The rest of the installation went as expected, even if it requires a bit of user interaction and is cumbersome at places.

Usage

SuSE's default booting procedure is fully graphical, it doesn't take too long, and it is indeed beautiful. During installation I had clicked on all major categories of software to be installed (please note that not all packages get installed by doing this), so I could choose between KDE, Gnome and WindowMaker.

KDE 3.1.1 is included, and, as in 8.1, SuSE uses the default Keramik theme, but with an updated and very clean, nice window manager theme (which has "onmouseover" and "onmousedown" states). KDE's menu has been re-worked and it is now easier to find the applications you need and launch them. A large number of applications are installed (Konqueror continued its crashing party with SuSE as well as all the distros I have tried recently), and there are even more if you use the Yast2 installer to install the rest of the apps from the 4th and 5th CDs. I think that every major application I could think of was there. With the exception of Webmin, VideoLAN and Ogle and maybe 2-3 more, I believe that the most popular free software is there. A few apps included could have more recent versions (e.g. Mozilla 1.3 instead of 1.2.1 and Galeon 1.3.x instead of the 1.2.x branch, especially since upgrading Mozilla manually breaks the installed Galeon which is set as the default browser under SuSE's Gnome - let's hope SuSE will provide nice XFT updated versions of Moz 1.3 and Galeon 1.3.x via YOU soon).

Click for a larger view SuSE announced that SuSE 8.2 would include the commercial video editing application "Main Actor". I found it bizarre that SuSE hadn't put its link to the desktop or to a more prominent place so people would instantly recognize this "asset" of SuSE to be able to include a fully licensed copy of this commercial app. Other than that, I could crash Main Actor (not the Sequencer) by simply trying to load a file that isn't a video file (its Open Dialog wouldn't tell me which files it expects on its drop down menu), while the Sequencer simply looks unatural for some reason as it uses the wrong fonts (is the Sequencer a Qt 2 app maybe instead of a Qt3?).

SuSE uses kernel 2.4.20-4GB (is this "4GB" indicating the amount of memory someone could use?) compiled on March 17th, GCC 3.3-pre, glibc 2.3.2, Alsa 0.9.0-CVS, Qt 3.1.1, XFree86 4.3.0 and GTK+ 2.2.1. During installation you can choose between XFS, ReiserFS, JFS and ext3 filesystems. SuSE also supports RAID and LVM while there is an NTFS partition re-sizer option (but only invoked by the command line, as it is not part of the main installation routine yet).

On the productivity side, you will find both KOffice 1.2.1 and OpenOffice.org 1.0.2, while apps like AbiWord 1.0.4 and Gnumeric are also included. The nice thing about SuSE's implementation of OOo is that when the "SuSE Update" application fetched Microsoft's Web fonts, these became available immediately to OOo, even if OOo doesn't use Fontconfig normally. On other distros, after you install new TTF fonts, you have to use OOo's spadmin utility to add new fonts recognized by the application. And speaking about fonts, the "Sans" font (this is just an alias) used by SuSE on 8.2, is much better than the font both Mandrake and Red Hat use on their desktops! The SuSE default font on KDE/Gnome just looks way better, cleaner and more professional.

Table of contents
  1. "Installation, Usage"
  2. "Usage II, Conclusion"
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