First Look: Novell’s SLED 10, pt. II

Last week, I wrote about my first impressions of SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop 10, after only a day of usage. I was quite impressed by the whole package, claiming that “I can confidently say that this release candidate outshines Windows Vista’s beta” and “I’d even go as far as to say that even Apple should be worried”. I still stand by those two statements, but after a week of daily usage, some reflection on just how much it outshines Vista or how worried Apple should be are justified.

As I said in that article, it is difficult to draw any sane conclusions on a product’s quality after only a day of usage. Many bugs and annoyances usually rear their ugly heads after a longer period; SLED 10 has been no exception.

Package management in SLED 10 is handled by Novell’s ZENworks. However– it is extremely buggy and unreliable. Right after the release of the preview many users complained about dependency problems in SLED with a batch of updates the ZEN-updater wanted to install. This issue took a few days to fix, with proposed patches coming and going; in the end, about 11 patches of the original 47 or so were left, and they installed fine.

During the past week, the updater has given me lots of database errors, making it impossible for me to use the graphical method of installing individually downloaded .rpm files, forcing me to use the command-line method. As if this was not enough, the last few days, three of the four updates sources magically disappeared from the updater, while they are all still showing in YaST2!

To sum it up, Novell needs to put some serious effort into bug-fixing the new update/install tool, as it seems to have some serious bugs that simply stain this otherwise above-average distribution.

Xgl also has its bugs– two, specifically, are systematic and can be reproduced easily on my machine. The first one is the least annoying: after going through a sleep/wake cycle for the first time after a fresh reboot, tiny stacks of 5 pixel wide lines appear atop of my screen.

A second, far more annoying bug in Xgl is that, also after the computer’s first sleep/wake cycle, the top half of the screen sometimes goes completely black. Just like that. It is only the top half, never the bottom one, and the only remedy is to ‘paint’ the original screen content back by drawing a window over it or by spinning the famous Xgl cube.

Speaking of the spinning cube, I would like to say that the wrapping of virtual desktops around a 3D cube finally brought me to using virtual desktops. I never got around to using virtual desktops because they lacked a place, they lacked ‘presence’ to me. When you wrap them around a cube, however, they suddenly have all the presence needed, and within a few minutes, each side of the cube had gotten its specific task (one is for instant messaging, one for email, one for browsing and current tasks (i.e. writing this follow up article), and a ‘spare’ one where I dump Banshee, Xine, or similar).

However, there is one feature I dearly miss, and I hope it will find its way into the final or at least a future version of SLED: the option to confine applications to virtual desktops. For instance, in my current SLED setup, when someone sends me an instant message, Gaim’s conversation window will pop-up in my current desktop, instead of it popping up in the desktop I have the Gaim window running in. This is quite annoying as it kind of destroys the purpose of virtual desktops (moving tasks away from you current one so you are not distracted).

SLED also has serious issues concerning multimedia, especially video-wise. As most GNOME-based distributions, it comes with Totem installed, and, well, that is about it; Totem is installed. It does not do anything, refuses to play any video or DVD, even with the proper codecs and usual Linux DVD packages installed. You are basically forced into using Mplayer and Xine, and even though they are not bad applications or anything, they do not integrate well with the GNOME desktop in any way.

Last, but definitely not least, I would like to touch on the subject of wireless drivers. My Inspiron laptop comes with a Broadcom wireless chip, so I figured I would just use the open-source drivers of it in combination with the firmware cutter; I have done that a million times before for this laptop, so it was a routine job.

Or so I thought. Apparently, the kernel used in SLED does not come with the bcm43xx driver; this driver has made its way into the vanilla Linux kernel in version 2.6.17-rc2, while SLED 10-rc3 comes with 2.16.20. Since I am in the middle of moving to my new apartment, I simply have no time to go through all the troubles of compiling it myself. Hence, I tried the sissy route by using ndiswrapper; again, this turned out to be a no-go. The ndiswrapper module loads fine with the correct Windows bcm43xx driver loaded; however, after setting it up correctly (I checked about 128374 different guides on this to confirm I was not making a mistake) using YaST2, it refused to work in any way– either via command line or via Network Manager.

I had similar problems using a Sweex PCMCIA wireless card which uses a RaLink chipset. Another minor issue: my internal SD card reader does not work; it does on Ubuntu.

So, let me sum up the positive and negative aspects of this 3rd release candidate of SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop, version 10:


  • Good, intuitive menu applet;
  • Xgl;
  • Xgl’s Exposé and wobbly windows gives windows a physical quality;
  • Lack of ‘ducktape feeling’;
  • Virtual desktops made easy.


  • YaST2 needs a Gtk+ frontend;
  • Buggy patch/package management;
  • Annoying Xgl bugs;
  • Lacking video support;
  • Out-of-date kernel leading to lacking wireless support;
  • ndiswrapper appears to be broken.

All in all I still find SLED one of the best, if not the best, Linux distribution you can use today. However, the bugs I encountered after a week of intensive day-to-day usage should have been ironed out by now; broken package management, for example, should not be allowed to rear its ugly head during RC stage. Can it fix the above issues, Novell has a real winner on its hands. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

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