Review: SuSE Linux 9.2 LiveCD

Novell has recently released SUSE Linux 9.2 LiveCD/DVD edition. In line with its impressive track-record, SUSE managed to make yet another step forward each time. Having used SUSE 9.1 for a while now, I was more than looking
forward to this new release, so I downloaded and ran SUSE 9.2 LiveCD on my Dell Inspiron, and gave it a try.

After buying both SUSE and Ximian, Novell obviously feels challenged to keep not to prefer one over the other. With this release, Novell decided to provide 3 editions: KDE 3.3, GNOME 2.6, or both , if you run the DVD version.

As for branding, would it become Novell Linux or remain SUSE? It seems that Novel will keep the ‘SUSE’ branding for the free/community version, while the ‘Novell Linux’ branding will be reserved for it’s enterprise class variant.

Starting up

I downloaded the KDE edition for this test. I used K3B to burn the image and was quickly able to have a first glimpse: SUSE 9.2 boot splash seems a bit more refined.

From the welcome screen, you may either start the LiveCD immediately, or opt for a safer attempt, passing the kernel ‘acpi=off, apm=off’. You can also change the default screen resolution (F2), verbose mode (F3), or even change the preferred language (F4) – which is either English or German, although the default is indeed English.

My first attempt was a real blow. Trying to simply run it, SUSE just hanged a short while after starting up the PCMCIA modules. I already knew IRQ conflicts could occur, but I was hoping for a more refined experience trying
to resolve this.

Trying again to start up in safe mode, didn’t change much. I actually found myself looking at a kernel panic message, when I escaped out of the graphical bootspalsh.

I knew I would need to take a more direct approach, so I passed pci_irq_isa=7 to the kernel, which did the trick. SUSE, which has switched with this release to X.org, started X with the generic nVidia modules flawlessly, and I was soon staring at the all-too-familiar KDE desktop, with the some what naive desktop wallpaper SUSE seems to prefer.

Mind you, SUSE was painfully slow to start on my box, especially when compared with Knoppix or Kanotix on the same hardware. It took ages to pass the initial boot until it finally switched to run level 5. Though once every
thing was loaded into memory, it seemed quite responsive.

The Desktop

SUSE, being a somewhat conservative distribution, did not change much about the look of the desktop. It still uses the famous SUSE window decorations, and the ThinkKeramik widget theme. Not my cup of tea, and I was disappointed
to see Plastik is still absent, or rather removed.

The green camelion now has the slogan “a novell business” under it, and on the desktop you can find MyComputer, Help, Network, Trash and other launchers. The panel has Kontact (which replaces KMail) alongside SUSE Hardware Tool, Klipper and a new applet to handle SUSE’s SCPM profiles.

Hardware Support

Immediately after logging in, SUSE launched the hardware detection support, and found my IntelliMouse Explorer and HP PSC 2510 Multi-functional printer, which it also setup for me. Still, the printer didn’t show up in the Print Manager, until I manually finished the configuration
using YaST.

Another integration issue which I found disappointing was not setting up the scanner. The HP PSC 2500 was already detected and configured, so it seem it would have made sense that the scanner would have been configured as well. I had to do this manually though.

More so, I was not able to find the scanner using YaST (with the default ‘linux’ user), so I had to do this as root. I ran the pat_init setup script from the command line, and sure enough, it picked it up as a USB
device instantly.

BTW, YaST suggests installing Kooka when you try to access the Scanner settings, but it is actually not available on the CD itself it seems.

I then tought I should explore SUSE’s mythological plug and play capabilities a bit further. I’ve plugged in a Toshiba PCMCIA DVD/RW. No response from SUSE, even though a quick ‘dmesg’ showed me that the kernel was aware of it, or so it seems.

I then plugged in a Nokia SmartPhone, just for laughs – SUSE seem to only offer KitchenSync (for GPE/OPIE/Qtopia) and KPilot, and, indeed, nothing much happened. I could see it has a new USB device on my system, and I’ve managed to modprob the usbnet module as well, but AFAIK unlike Familiar, for instance, WindowsCE does not have a native
TCP/IP support over USB.

But most importantly was actually getting SUSE to have interent access. As with previous versions, it recognised both the onboard 3COM ethernet card (3c59x), and the Orinoco PCMCIA WiFI card (yenta_socket,orinoco_cs).

It didn’t route the network through the WiFi, however, even though it was the one with an active connection having obtained an IP from the DHCP server on
the AcessPoint. I had to disable eth0 before I could connect, though I’m sure there’s a better way of doing this – is there?

Software and Applications

The KDE edition seems to come with OpenOffice.org (1.1.3) and The Gimp, but without Mozilla/Firefox. As much as I like Konquror, it is unable to handle too many sites.

Also, OpenOffice would just crash. I managed to get as far as being asked to pick a template once, but then it would just crash poping up a message saying “An unrecoverable error has occured.” No KOffice here either …

Groupware and collaboration

Groupware and collaboration support seems quite impressive. The KDE Groupware Wizard can setup Kontact/KMail to login and work with Kolab, eGroupware, SOLX or Novell’s own Groupwise. It would add the appropriate incoming and outgoing resource to KMail, making it possible to retrieve mail and more. I didn’t
have a server to test this and I don’t think a server was installed on the LiveCD itself.

SUSE 9.2 LiveCD also has the VNC’s Desktop Sharing tools, which allows you to invite an authorized user to login remotely to share or take over the desktop. Invitation with full details allows this and can be sent by e-mail.
The wizard lets you edit the message in KMail, just before you send it.

Localization

One problem many users face is the localization issue. Even though SUSE provides good support for English and some European languages, Arabic, Hebrew and other languages will find such distributions restricting.

There are of course many localization projects, and many distributions catering for specific languages, but it seems that non-english speakers are excluded when it comes to the generic distributions like SUSE, Fedora,
Knoppix and others, with the exception of Mandrake which did include some support at the request of the developers community in Israel for example .

KDE and GNOME now offer excelent localization support. A minimal support ‘out of the box’ would go a long way to make it friendlier. The inclusion of high quality fonts for more languages such as Culmus – being an excelent example of GPL Hebrew Type1 fonts -, for instance, may be a more inclusive option. Even without a localized GUI, which most users don’t use in any case, Linux is more inclusive.

Summary

IMHO, SUSE is one of the best examples of how far Linux can go. Though Xandros and Lycoris do a fine job as well, and possibly even better in some areas, SUSE is more interesting because it is open and accesiable.
Other versions of SUSE/Novell Linux will, no doubt, have additional proprietary layer, catering for different customers, But the free version is impressive.

Still, with so many problems, both hardware and software, the KDE LiveCD edition is slightly disappointing. I hope that the full installable version should be a more positive experience.

About the author:
Uri Sharf, Editor of LInmagazine, Israeli interent magazine providing news, reviews and guides on Linux, Free and Open Source Software in Hebrew working with Hamakor (‘The Source”), an NPO dedicated to the promotion of OSS in Israel, and other sites.


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