While Suse 9.2 Pro was announced close to a month ago, it was only made available for purchase recently. I was originally going to compare Suse 9.2 to something like RedHat WS 3.0. However, both Novell/Suse and RedHat seem to now be offering a corporate desktop solution and a “desktop for the masses” solution.
Fedora Core 3 is what would have been RedHat 10 or 10.1 had RedHat not abandoned the boxed, retail-shelf market and therefore is its closest offering to Suse 9.2 Pro. Novell/Suse have recently announced their corporate desktop which appears to be in direct competition with RedHat WS and Sun’s JDS. As such, with different offerings from both parties, I wanted to make sure I was comparing apples to apples and comparing Fedora Core 3 to Suse 9.2 Pro seems to be the best match up.
In all honesty, I’ve been a loyal RedHat user for many years. I started into Linux with Slackware, moved to FreeBSD for a while, then tried Solaris on x86, and eventually went back to RedHat around release 6.0. I faithfully bought or downloaded each RedHat release from 5.0 to 9.0 and have used both FC1 and FC2. I like RedHat. I’m most familiar with RedHat. I support RedHat for my paycheck (AS & ES). Since my network is comprised of about 70% RedHat servers, it makes sense that I’d use RedHat/Fedora on my own workstation. Honestly, I’d never really given Suse much thought until this last year. They were always a little too German for me. Searches on google for third party RPMs or support often left with me German-only web pages. However, with the Novell acquisition my thoughts of Suse have changed. I now see them more as an international company with better US (english) support. I also saw HP ship the NX5000 notebook (a Centrino-based system) with Suse 9.1 Pro with all power management and wireless working and realized that they had made some significant improvements. Over the last year, I’ve switched back and forth between Fedora Core 1/2 and Suse 9.1 Professional. With new versions of each being released, I decided it was time to pick one.
Scope of Use:
I think its also important to understand how a system will be used for a review. A review of FC3 as a web server will be different than FC3 as a desktop system. As such, understand that my intent is to replace my Windows XP system. On any given day, I use Mozilla for browsing the web, Mozilla Mail for checking my 5 personal email accounts, and Outlook for corporate email to our Exchange 2000 server. I use MS Word and Excel regularly. I access shares and printers on 2 Windows file servers. I watch an occasional DVD and listen to a music collection of both MP3 and WMA formats. From home or anywhere I have broadband, I VPN into our Windows 2000 VPN server and then use Outlook natively. If dial-up is my only choice, I use OWA. Lastly, I got the Centrino system for the battery life. I value my battery life. WinXP gives me about 3 hours with the stock battery. So, its with these ideas in mind that I tested both Fc3 and Suse 9.2 Pro.
I read lots of reviews on different Linux installations. In my opinion there is entirely too much time spent covering installation (and far too many screenshots). Granted, installing Linux hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do, especially on a laptop. However, in recent years this has gotten much easier, even on laptops. While it used to be the norm to see article after article on workarounds for installing Linux, its now more common to be surprised when it doesn’t install. So for simplicity’s sake, I’m not covering installation except to say that I did a fairly standard install on both, though did a custom package selection on each and made sure I had both KDE and Gnome on both. Both installs were to my raw hardware (not cheated by using VMWare). My installation system is an IBM Thinkpad T41 (2379-DJU) which is a Centrino system with a 1.6Ghz CPU and 802.11b (ipw2100) wireless. My concern was more with usability than installation and since neither installation suffered, suffice it to say that both have good installation routines. Suse 9.2’s installation routine was a bit different from FC3 and even from Suse 9.1 Pro. The installation was almost the same as 9.1, but appeared to only copy enough to boot, then rebooted and copied the rest of what I needed. I installed approximately 3.1Gb with each install, but Suse took about an hour to install while FC3 only took 20 or 30 minutes.
Fedora Core 3:
After installation, I booted into the default Gnome session. The first thing I did was to start up Evolution and get it configured. Within about 10 minutes I was connected to my Exchange 2000 server with the Exchange connector and accessing email, contacts, and calendars. After another 5 minutes or so of tweaking, I had auto-complete checking my personal contacts and the Global Address List and was able to fully communicate with my other Outlook-using co-workers. Before installing I had backed up all my docs and my Mozilla profile to a 1Gb USB key. I plugged in the key and within seconds I had a new desktop icon and was able to view my documents.
Firefox is the default browser. I installed Mozilla (from Mozilla.org) then copied my Mozilla profile from my USB key to my home dir and after changing some paths had Mozilla accessing all my favorite sites and checking my personal mail accounts. I walked through the printer wizard and was able to use the Samba connectors to connect to all 4 of our office printers (after walking around and getting the model numbers). I fired up OpenOffice and randomly chose 30 Word, Excel, and Powerpoint created docs. With the exception of one, they all looked just fine. I then printed each of the 30 test documents in both color and black&white and they looked just fine.
I then took a trip over the pptpclient.sourceforge.net and followed the instructions for FC2. With the exception of some newer packages/versions, it installed just fine and about 5 minutes later I was on my VPN (Note: I use special characters in my password. When using pptpclient it is necessary to manually edit the conf file and put your password in quotes if you use special characters). Next was MP3 and encrypted DVD support. Thankfully, our friends at Freshrpms.net had their repository ready for FC3 the day of release. So I installed apt-get and synaptic and within about 30 minutes of downloads, I had all the software and codecs needed to listen to my audio collection and watch The Matrix (both from DVD and Divx). I also installed the mplayer-plugin, then went to watch the Quicktime video at the OQO website. Mplayer kicked in and all was working just fine. Then came getting my 802.11b working. I had previously played with the release candidate of FC3 and had some issues with the ipw2100 module due to the newer firmware. Searching showed that others had the same issue. So I crossed my fingers and tapped my heels together and went for it. Someone fixed something somewhere cause I had it working about 20 minutes later.
The next test was the integration of OpenOffice for certain file extensions. I went back to Evolution and emailed myself four attachments: one .rtf, one .doc, one .xls, and one .ppt. Once they arrived, I clicked on each within Evolution. Unfortunately, only the .doc and the .rtf offered both a “Save As” and to open with OpenOffice Writer. The .xls and the .ppt only offered a “Save As” option. My final step was to setup power management. Neither my Fn+F4 (standby) or Fn+F12 (hibernate) buttons worked out of the box.
Within Gnome, I tried to suspend the system but got an APM error. Looking it at, the Gnome battery applet was trying to use APM to suspend my system. However, APM isn’t loaded by default with FC3. By default, only ACPI is loaded. This seems like a bug to me… one that shows that none of the core FC developers use laptops. I replaced the APM command with an appropriate ACPI one and tried it. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I rebooted and went into KDE and enabled ACPI support, then tried to suspend it. It half-worked. So that’s when I decided to patch the kernel with “suspend to disk” support.
This was successful, and I was able to write a quick shell script to start the process, then configure both the Gnome and KDE battery applets to call my script to start it. So all told, about 12 hours after installation completed I had what I consider to be a fully working system. I could work locally and remotely. I could use all my hardware. I could maximize my battery consumption. Thanks to a host of third party add-ons and some well documented workarounds for FC2, FC3 is usable to me as a Windows XP replacement.
Suse 9.2 Professional:
After installation, I booted into the default KDE session. I have to admit, Suse’s KDE is much brighter than FC’s Gnome. The Bluecurve theme on FC3 seemed very grey and very Windows95’ish. Suse’s KDE is bright and brilliant. I’d almost swear my mood changed while using Suse 9.2.
As with Fc3, the first thing I did was start up Evolution and try to connect to my Exchange server. Everything worked just fine. I was almost immediately communicating with co-workers, getting appointment reminders, etc. Next I popped in my USB key, and sure enough, I immediately had a desktop icon and was browsing my documents. Just as with FC3, I configured Mozilla to pick up my profile and everything just worked. I tested the same 30 documents with OpenOffice and had the exact same results as with my Fc3 tests.
Printing setup was a little different, but worked just as well and all the test documents worked just fine. Next was the VPN. Back to pptpclient.sourceforge.net I went and just as I used the FC2 instructions for Fc3, I used the Suse 9.1 instructions for 9.2. A few packages were newer, but all worked fine and I was on my VPN shortly after. Next was MP3 and encrypted DVD support. It seems the MP3 support was already there. I searched all over google for “xine for suse 9.2” but got no hits. I did find rpms for 9.1, but all errored when I attempted to install them. Aside from “going to the source”, to quote from Matrix Revolutions, it looks like I’ll have to wait for the package maintainer to update his packages.
The same holds true for mplayer, the mplayer plugin, etc. In stark contract to FC3, however, my wireless worked out of the box. All I had to do was go into YAST and configure it (including adding my WEP key) and save the settings. Within seconds I had an IP and was able to browse wirelessly. As with FC3, I went back to Evolution and started testing file extensions. Unlike FC3, all the documents offered to open them in their native application. Kudos to Novell. Lastly, I tested my power management. Unlike Fc3, however, I didn’t have to reboot my system after a failed test nor install any extra software. I simply enabled “suspend to ram” and “suspend to disk” support in the KDE battery applet. Immediately after, I could do either and my Fn+F4 (standby) and Fn+F12 (hibernate) buttons both worked.
Now this is one area where Suse shined. Because they integrated the suspend to disk and suspend to RAM features, the KDE battery applet offers to let me do either. In contrast, my FC3 Gnone battery applet only offers a “suspend” feature which I had to manually link to my self-written script to suspend to disk. Unlike Fc3, after installation, I was able to work locally and remotely, use all my hardware, and maximize my battery consumption within only about 2 hours. The only thing that I was lacking was encrypted DVD support via Xine and mplayer (and its browser plugin). However, I also know these existed for 9.1 and if I wait patiently, I can probably get them soon for 9.2. All in all Suse 9.2 was also very usable to me as a Windows XP replacement.
Fedora Core 3 has one big pro in my opinion: the huge repository of add-ons at freshrpms.net! And with others such as kde-redhat, etc, I can have all the newest goodies whenever I want them. Suse doesn’t seem to have as big a following and thus their add-on repositories are fewer and contain fewer applications. But FC3 isn’t without its cons too. To get everything working, I had to install modules and kernel tweaks for my wireless, suspend-to-disk, and VPN. This means that anytime the FC3 update channel releases a new kernel, I’ll need to make sure each of these still works and/or re-build them. And for any that are kernel version specific, I’ll have to wait for the package maintainer to make a package for the specific kernel. Suse 9.2 Pro seems to have better out-of-the-box support. My wireless and power management worked immediately. They also include three thinkpad specific packages: tpctl, tp buttons, and configure-thinkpad. I’m sure Suse put a lot of work into making 9.1 run on the Compaq/HP NX5000 and those changes definitely made it into the 9.2 release. However, the available 3rd party add-ons seem a bit lacking. But, at least if Suse releases an updated kernel, I only have to worry about my VPN kernel module working.
I guess it comes down to completely free vs convenience. Fedora Core promises to be a completely free operating system which speaks loudly for the FSS/OpenSource groups. Suse seems to be about 95% free. But that 5% is made up for in convenience. And, sure, I can always go the “configure, make, make install” route, but why? If I want to go down that road, I’d go all the way with the LinuxFromScratch project.The Fedora/RedHat team have a long history with Gnome, but with Novell owning Ximian (which also has a good history with Gnome) and Suse (which has a good history with KDE), I personally see Novell as having the better platform opportunity if they can make the sales. They definitely have the server OS history and the “fight the big dogs” history. In conclusion, I guess I’m torn. Both systems worked well as a replacement for Windows XP for me. So on one side I have Fedora, which is closer to the RH systems I support, completely free, and with a large and diverse add-on repository(s). On the other side is Suse with Novell backing, better out-of-the-box support, better looking, and seemingly better polished. Which one am I going to use? I don’t know yet.
About the author:
I’m a Sr. Level SysAdmin with 10+ years of experience, on a path to CTO (hint, hint to any readers). I’ve worked in many different sectors, consulted, and watched the dot-com rise and subsequent implosion. I have experience with everything from Novell to Windows to Solaris to Linux to HA Clustering to end-user desktop support and all the networks, routers, firewalls, etc that connect them. I am neither pro-Windows, nor pro-Linux. I believe each OS has its place and purpose, though where either can do the job, I’ll go with Linux. Presently I work for a biotech in the Carlsbad, CA area.