Survey of YaST2 Configurator on SuSE 9.0

All of us who are in computers know that at present we are using enhanced software products for applications, which our predecessors never thought about or used. Why do we need a word processor when a simple text file does the same job of documentation.

Why do we need Access or Oracle like DBMS when spreadsheets can do the same job of data storage. Why do we need an IDE like Visual Studio.NET or Borland when we can use vi or emacs for code writing.The answer lies in the ease of use and comfortable handling. We all love when the software does the bothering of trivial management and we are left only to concentrate on the important or core stuff of the application.

When I installed SuSE 9.0 Prof on my machine I was totally zapped by the way of its functionality and user friendliness. I have been in Linux for the past 4 years. [Not much I know] and have used various flavors [RedHat, Mandrake, Gentoo, Slackware FreeBSD etc]. My most favorites till date being Fedora Core Yarrow and Debian Woody 3.2. I have seen that all of them are improving in their user friendliness with the eye-candy applications in the GUI. Thus posing as tough competitors to the Microsoft Windows OS.

I think SuSE 9.0 Prof is the most amazing and user friendly flavor of Linux. Can anybody argue on that ? With its neat and colorful interface and ease of application deployment even the most diehard users of Windows XP are tempted to install it on their box. But the real icing on the cake is YaST2 the standard configurator for SuSE. I have never used SuSE before but have heard from my friends that YaST was a real bliss even in the earlier versions. Many people might argue that why do we need a rich and easy configurator in Linux, isn’t ‘linuxconf ‘ good enough to do all the configuration and ‘kudzu’ for new hardware detection. But hey my hacker friends and tux nerds, we are talking here of easy functionality and user friendliness. Guys, seriously the future of software lies in easy application deployment and newbie friendliness. In fact it’s rumored that Oracle has gone so much in costumer friendliness that it has declared that its next RDBMS can be installed and managed by an average 7-10 year old kid ! Call that believable.

So when I popped in the CD No.1 and booted the machine the first thing I noticed was the trademark chameleon icon on the blue screen and various languages welcoming the user to the world of the penguin. A good place to start for a novice. It then asked for the type of installation (Boot from the Disk, New Install, Manual Install). I selected new Auto Install [ I think I’m still a newbie !] Then with the initial system profile understanding the YaST2 configurator was directly loaded. Now here, I don’t mean to compare but I see the difference between RedHat’s and SuSE’s approach. There is no Anaconda and CD testing. SuSE knows that all the CD’s it has provided are perfect and without wasting any time it means business. [ After all it’s a German company] So once the colorful YaST2 is launched the first thing it asks for is the language selection. Then it asks for the type of installation setting. The choices are (New, Repair, Upgrade and Boot) . Once again good thinking here very clear for any user, not to confuse the newbie with the custom option and the default types (server, personal. Laptop) . When I selected the New option……….whoaaa ! Now wait here, what’s this ? YaST2 configured every thing on it’s own. The keyboard (/d4 key US), the mouse (PS-2 Web-wheel wireless) and even the partitions- it selected the most appropriate one on my disk for formatting (/dev/hdb2) as swap and (/dev/hdb3) for / which I had previously allocated to Slackware 9.1. My other partitions (/dev/hdb1) containing Fedora Core Yarrow, (/dev/hdb5) containing Debian Woody and disk (/dev/hda) partitioned as (/dev/hda1) Windows 2000 C: and (/dev/hda5) D: were detected and mounted as well. I just had to sit and watch – no fdisk or disk druid here. Everything done automatically. Now even for an experienced user with multiple OS on the disk partitions YaST2 selects the most appropriate empty space and configures the default reiserfes file format. Changing the default stuff if you want to install each directory on separate partitions ( /, /usr, /var, /boot etc) is a matter of few clicks. Then comes the software – where it selects the default home user or workstation packages consisting of KDE 3.1 as the desktop interface and file manager along with a few web related apps. Even here if you want GNOME 2.2 as well as other kernel, GNOME, KDE, TCL/TK dev kits as well as other networking packages you may select them as groups or individually. [Seen in almost all Linux flavors]. If you select all the apps the total size comes to around 5 GB.

Yes, finally we are done that too in such a small amount of time. It outputs a message in a complete green window warning about the formatting and deletion of the selected partitions, now is the last chance for you to go back. As you accept it, its ready…..the desired SuSE Linux of your choice is ready, and as the installation process begins you can sit back and relax. YaST2 will take care of everything. You merely have to change the CDs. If you have gone for a complete install then it would take about 2 to 2 1/2 hrs depending on your processor speed. Finally once the install process is over it asks for the root password setting. After choosing a strong root password and an additional user password the next screen asks for the network settings it starts by detecting the NIC as well as auto configuring via the DHCP. It also asks for the other network settings to install like DHCP, ISDN and Proxy. After this is done the system configuration is written and the installation is over. Bingo! The system directly starts with the KDE desktop interface. WELCOME to the SuSE world new user. Now out of curiosity any new user will start clicking and experimenting with the new system. And yes SuSE is so good that even a stark new user doesn’t need any guidelines to follow. Forget about bash and command line shell this is indeed a new transition in Linux development. The colorful rich eye-candy apps are a true pleasure to the eyes. This is so much fun !

But oh…. almost forgot to configure the system as a Samba server during the installation. Well don’t think about it twice just call in your favorite configurator YaST2 via the command prompt [if you still are a die-hard Linux nerd] or by clicking in the System-Settings. When YaST2 is launched its so easy that there is no need for me to explain, fiddle around with it for a while and you will know it for yourself. It basically consists of 7 main components. (Software, Hardware, Network Devices, Network Services, Security-Users, System Settings, Miscellaneous Settings) Now as you want to install the Samba server, you would like to go to the Network Services part and in there select Configure as a Samba server. That’s it ! It’s a breeze you are done. Of course you still have to select your LAN Workgroup and other settings like name of the server but comparing to the command line interface of any Linux flavor this is really far too easy, thanks once again to YaST2.

As you can see each of the 7 components are further divided into sub-settings like for instance the Software component consists of (Change of Source Installation, Install/Remove Software, Online Update, Patch CD Update, System Update). If you click on any one of these components another YaST window is launched which is completely self-explanatory. The documentation of the settings on the left makes a new user at ease. He/She merely has to change the settings and click the Next Tab. YaST2 manages everything else automatically. So when I decided to update some patches and install some new virtual components, I clicked on the Online Update window. It started by checking the installed services. Then it asked for the desired FTP site to begin the transfer [Here, obviously select the one closest to your geographical location]. Once the site is selected and if you have gone for a manual update [by default] it begins to check for the newer updated patches and recommended components. Here you may select as many components as you like and below you would see the size of the downloadable content. In my case it was 57 MB. Once I clicked on the next button it began to retrieve the packages and install them. The time required to do this depends on your network speed. In my case it took about 90 minutes [ I use Broadband Cable Access] for the complete update. Once the packages are installed the system is re-written and the window closes. There you go, once again far too simple.

The Hardware component detects the hardware settings of the machine it consists of (CD-ROM, Disk Controller, Graphics Card Monitor, Hardware Information, IDE-DMA, Joystick, Printer, Scanner, Select Mouse Model, Sound, TV Card). Here, if there has been any problem of the hardware settings during the installation you may reconfigure the required resource. I was amazed to see that it configured my scanner Acer 3300 just like that without bothering me about the SANE settings or documentations. Even the printer configuration is much comparable to Microsoft Windows easiness, with drivers of many printers already available. The Hardware Information clearly displays the present disk usage including the partition table.

The Network Devices component consists of detection of actual network components (DSL, Fax, ISDN, Modem, Network Card, Phone Answering). Each of these components can be detected and installed by mere few clicks. This feature is more or less common in the all the Linux flavors. Next comes my favorite component Tab – Network Services. The real joy of working in Linux is experienced via the services in this component. ( DHCP Server, DNS Server, DNS and Hostname, HTTP Server, Host Names, Kerberos Client, LDAP Client, Mail Transport Agent, NFS Client, NFS Server, NIS Client – Server, NIS+ Client, NTP Client, Network Services – (inetd), Proxy, Routing, Samba Client – Server, TFTP Server). So, you only have to select the desired service to run and click on it. If the service is not installed YaST2 will ask for the desired CD [Mostly CD No. 3-4] and install it. Then with some resource settings and server identifications the required service is installed. Even Microsoft Windows 2K/XP Control Panel can’t boast of such user friendliness. I got my computer running as a Samba client in no time, file transfer in the Workgroup via the SMB protocol was real breeze. I also intend to run Apache Web Server on my machine very soon and I think that with such easy services at hand the things are going to be comparatively much simpler.

Then we have the Security and Users component [Another one of my favorites]. It consists of (Edit/ Create groups, Edit/ Create users, Firewall, Security Settings). I tried the Firewall component settings, which can be configured in 4 easy steps.

1.Select the interface type (External / Internal ) [ In my case it was eth0] 2.Select the services to configure on the server (Web, Mail, Other) [ These were further sub-divided into HTTP, HTTP + SSL for Web, SMTP, POP, IMAP for Mail and SSH, Telnet, RSA for Others] 3.Select the features for the server ( Allow Traceroutes, Forward/ Do Masquereading, Protect All running Services, Protect from all Internal Network)
4.Select the Logging Options ( Standard – logging critically accepted/dropped packets, Debug – logging all the accepted/dropped packets)

I even tried the Security Settings Option. Here it has been very clearly mentioned about the type of settings to configure depending on the use of the machine (Home Workstation, Network Workstation, Network Server) .
There is an option of custom settings consisting of (Password Checking, Boot Permissions, Login Settings, User Additions and other Miscellaneous settings) for manually setting the security features.

The sixth main component is System which deals with all the System level features like ( Boot Loader Configuration, Language choice, Boot – Rescue CD creation, Editor for /etc/sysconfig, LVM, Partitioner based on GNU Parted, Power tweak, Profile Manager, Runlevel Editor, Selection for Keyboard and Time Zone, System Backup). All the settings very easy to manage and configure. [Again the STD settings found on any Linux box] . Finally we come to the last component consisting to Miscellaneous settings and services like [Load Vendor Driver CD, Post a Query, View Setup Log, View Sys Log] A standard option for any OS.

Well, till now we have been talking about all the goody and nice features of YaST2 but there are a few things SuSE people should work upon to enhance YaST’s QoS. First of all, the immediate drawback that I noticed is the app loading time. When a new app is launched the time taken for package initiation, reading and checking for the dependencies is still quite significant even on a machine with 128 MB RAM. This hampers the newbies patience and quest for new installation. Secondly, installing RPM packages is a pain on YaST2 even a small package of a few MBs takes a lot of time. The good old rpm –ivh (packagename).ix86.rpm is much faster to ignore. Also the idea to include YaST2 on KDE Controller is not good, by my opinion. KDE Controller has its own features, which cannot be compared with any configurator. If only YaST2 could get the apt-get feature of Debian it would reach the dream for any OS user.

Overall we can conclude that YaST2 is one of the best Linux configurator available till now [as per my opinion] and hope that with its next release YaST3 things go on at improving pace.

About the author:
Sameer Niphadkar is a final year Computer Science Engineering student from the University of Mumbai(Bombay). He has been in computers for the past six years and his main areas of interest lie in System Administration, Cluster Management and OS Program Development. He has worked with various System Archtectures and can be contacted at [email protected]


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