posted by Tyler Bancroft on Tue 25th May 2004 06:41 UTC
IconSuSE Linux 9.1 is the followup to an excellent desktop distribution. SuSE gave me the opportunity to use SuSE 9.1 Professional for a couple weeks. This is a review/personal thoughts on the distro.

Review Systems

Dell Inspiron 5150
3.06GHz P4-M w/ HyperThreading
256MB RAM
30GB Hard Drive
64MB NVidia GeForce Go 5200FX
Broadcom 440x NIC
QSI CD-RW/DVD-ROM
Intel i810 Audio

HP Pavilion N3478
AMD K6-2 550MHz
64MB RAM
6GB Hard Drive
Trident CyberBlade Graphics chipset (4MB shared)
DVD-ROM Drive
3Com Etherlink III PCMCIA NIC
Integrated Audio

HP Pavilion Desktop
466MHz Celeron
192MB RAM
8GB Hard Drive
Integrated Intel Extreme Graphics
Integrated Audio
Generic NIC
CD-ROM Drive

Installation

SuSE 9.1 Pro comes on 5 CDs. (SuSE let me download them.) Boot off the CDs, and you're at a nice, blue splash screen. For the record, SuSE's installer is very easy on the eyes. You have a choice to either install or boot an OS off the hard drive. Start the installation, and the graphical installer will start loading a kernel off the CD. (You also have the choice of installing without ACPI or in safe mode.)

Choose your language. As per most distributions I've tried before, no Canadian English. Not like I expect it. As soon as you select your lingo of choice, you'll move on to installation settings.

The installer typically does a pretty good job of detecting things like hardware here. For example, it noted that one of the systems I was testing was an Inspiron 5150, something I hadn't seen before.

Click for a larger version At this point, you have to configure things like software selections, bootloader, partitioning, and more minor things like mouse and keyboard configuration. The partitioner automatically comes up with a partitioning scheme; it's up to the user whether they want to use that or something more custom. If you want to go custom, the partitioner is easy to use. You have your choice of several file systems, including Ext2, Ext3, ReiserFS, JFS and XFS. SuSE defaults to Reiser, but some users may want to use Ext3. If you're installing on a desktop system, don't bother with JFS or XFS. It's very self-explanatory, so I won't go into details here. When it comes to your bootloader, you have the option of installing either LILO or GRUB. I selected GRUB. Although the installer will detect a Windows installation and add it to the boot menu, it didn't pick up on the Debian installation on my main system. When you decide to start choosing software, you're in for some fun. The default selection includes KDE 3.2.1, OpenOffice, and some other apps. You'll probably want to add more software to the mix. At the bare minimum, you want to install Mozilla Firefox. In my opinion, it's the best browser you'll ever use. That being said, you'll probably end up installing far more than the defaults. 5 CDs hold a lot of software. Take advantage of it. After you're done selecting software and all other pre-install tasks, start the installation. For a nice touch, the installer shows how long each CD will take to copy to the hard drive. After the first CD is done, the system will reboot. Select SuSE at the GRUB boot menu, and you'll start copying data from the other 4 CDs. For me, the whole process took about 40 minutes, but if you selected all available software, it'd probably be closer to 2/2.5 hours. After all data is copied to the hard drive, you'll be asked to enter a root password. Do so. You can also select the password encryption scheme. The default is DES, but you may want to switch to MD5 or Blowfish, as DES limits password length, (and therefore reduces security), to 8 characters. Next is network configuration. The install detected network cards on all three of my systems without a problem, and configured them automatically. You can now test your network connection by having the installer check for release notes and updates; this is a good idea. If there are updates, you can download and install them; again a good idea. I have a DSL connection, and downloading all of the patches took about 30 minutes. If you have a dialup connection, you may want to consider running the update overnight. In addition, you can also download and install Microsoft TrueType fonts. Once the update is done, you can set up additional users. After you've populated your system with users, you can view release notes and set up graphics and sound. SuSE doesn't come with the nvidia driver on the CDs, but you can download it later. Aside from that omission, SuSE 9.1 comes with an amazing range of drivers. You shouldn't have a problem with your graphics hardware. Once your hardware configuration is complete, reboot.

General Experience and Application

Click for a larger version At your first login as a user, you'll be greeted with a pleasant blue background of mountains and KDE 3.2.1. The default theme is Thin Keramik, with the Crystal icon set. It's easy on the eyes, but without being too flashy. The menus, as well, are very well laid out. Most programs are not labeled by name, but by function. For example, OpenOffice.org is labeled "Office Suite", but Mozilla Firefox is labelled "Firefox". It may be a pain for the veteran user who is hunting for a specific program, but it makes navigating menus easier for the newer user. A newcomer to Linux may not know what XMMS does, but if it's labeled "Audio Player", they'll understand. The default software is well-selected for the most part. Konqueror is the default browser, but some may think that Firefox does a better job of rendering pages. I've included a picture of the two browsers, side-by-side. You make your own call. OpenOffice.Org 1.1 is the office suite included. If you want, you can install KOffice during installation, but most people will be more than happy with OpenOffice. XMMS is the default audio player, while KsCD plays audio CDs. You have three choices for a video player, Kaffeine, Noatun, and Xine. However, none will play DVDs. For legal reasons, SuSE didn't include support for playing DVDs. Your best choice for adding DVD playback to Suse 9.1 is probably Ogle, but veteran Linux users may have another favourite. Interestingly, PIM functions by default are handled not by Ximian Evolution, but by the built-in KDE apps. More than likely SuSE made this choice in order to keep applications as integrated as possible with the DE. Keep in mind that this is default, Evolution is included on the installation CDs. The GIMP 2.0 is included, and if you haven't used it before, you're in for a treat. It's stable, fast, and ultimately easy to use. Going from applications to speed, SuSE 9.1 feels fast. This is probably a result of the new kernel. SuSE 9.1 uses kernel version 2.6.4 as default.

Miscellaneous and Conclusion

Laptop users will probably appreciate SuSE 9.1. With a simple edit of a file, SuSE 9.1 supports suspend and suspend-to-disk functionality out of the box. To enable these features, (SuSE disabled them by default, as they're somewhat experimental), edit /etc/powersave.conf. Change the values of "POWERSAVED_DISABLE_USER_SUSPEND" and "POWERSAVED_DISABLE_USER_STANDBY" to "no". For the record, standby, (suspend to memory), didn't work on either of my laptop systems, but suspend to disk worked on my Inspiron. You can test to see if they work by typing "powersave --standby" and/or "powersave --suspend" at a command line. Most people will have better luck with suspend to disk, as apparently it is better developed. In general, SuSE 9.1 Professional is a well-developed, stable, well-supported distribution. I tested their email tech support by sending them a newbie-level question about file permissions. This was on a Saturday night, around 7pm EST. Although SuSE tech support didn't reply over the weekend, a well-written answer was in my inbox by Monday morning. Is it the fastest tech support you'll ever use? No, but it's better than what you'd get from Red Hat or Microsoft. So what are you getting for your money? A nice box, good manuals, a great software package, and good, if not incredibly fast tech support. Major drawbacks? The lack of a DVD player is annoying. For the amount of money you're paying, ($100 USD), SuSE could (and should) have licensed DVD codecs. Is it a deal-breaker? No. But it's one of those little things that push this closer to being a perfect product. In the end, will Windows converts like this? Yes. Will Linux users who want a simple, integrated OS out of the box like SuSE 9.1? Probably. Will veteran users want to buy SuSE 9.1? That's a more difficult question. SuSE 9.1 is fast, but not as fast as, say, Debian or Slackware with a 2.6 kernel. If you're a veteran user who likes compiling their own programs, you don't really have a reason to buy. If you're anyone else, at least take a look, it'll probably be worth your while.


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