Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

On the Bench: OpenSUSE 10.2

Suse 7.2 was my first Linux distribution ever, around five years ago. I was impressed but also had to struggle with all kinds of issues. That was part of the fun. I remember the sales pitch that working with Linux is like working on the engine of a car while it is running. You were supposed to fix things as you went along. Ever since, the distributions became more and more userfriendly. Suse was bought by Novell, Yast was open sourced and recently Novell made a pact with Microsoft. Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is considered by many as a solid enterprise ready desktop and community development is taking place in the OpenSUSE project. Over the years I have been impressed and disappointed with the Suse releases. I had serious issues with either 9.1 or 9.2 that would destroy the ability to multiboot to XP. There was a simple patch, but in the Novell Linux package six months later that patch was still not integrated. Then there were the issues with the software update module in 10.x. On the other side there were the spit and polish and the ease of use of Yast, so SUSE and OpenSUSE are distribution I like to keep my eye on as serious contenders to convince Windows to Linux migrators.

OpenSUSE 10.2 is available in either 5 CD’s (plus 1 Add-on packages disk), 1 DVD (http://en.opensuse.org/Download) or a retail double-layer DVD. For this testrun I downloaded the DVD through bittorrent.

Installation

Yast is still taking care of the installation routine and that remains a solid and powerfull tool. You can select either KDE or Gnome as your favorite desktop. The option “other” only provides two new options, minimal or no graphical interface. I decided to stick with Gnome for now and accept the default packageselection, which left me with a 2,33 Gb install. This is somewhat bigger than a default Ubuntu install. One thing I really like about Yast is the overview screen where you can tweak all installation settings. This would certainly appeal to the Windows powerusers, but could overwhelm the more average users.

Personally, I like to play with the partition scheme. By default OpenSUSE offers you separate root and home partitions which definitely make sense. As an experiment I decided to take the route of customizing the partition scheme and I was impressed. Even in this route you have the option to go less expert and it results in the scheme you like. From then on Yast will take it’s time to install all packages, which takes about 40 minutes. Just accept (or reject) the licenses for Adobe ICC and the flashplayer.

The configuration part of Yast can be daunting for new time users. The Hostname screen asks some questions, but without any explanation there is no idea what consequences your choices might have. The Network options are extensive, but the defaults were okay for me.

Next is the challenge of the online update, the weak spot in previous releases. After a few scary minutes I got the message that the configuration was succesful and an updateserver was added to the configuration. I decided to run the online update and was surprised to see two security updates already along with the option to install the Microsoft TrueType fonts. After this I was provided the option to add two new repositories to the list. Nice. I always want maximum access to packages through an easy interface. Be patient, it takes some time to finish this step and it isn’t free of errors. After adding the users comes the tricky step of configuring the hardware. It is always a wise decision to check the graphics configuration.

First boot, first impressions

OpenSUSE boots into a barren looking Gnome desktop, with the menubutton in the left bottom corner screen (where about every Windows users would look first 😉 ). The new menupanel should make novice users at home with a decent list of default applications (Firefox, Helix Banshee, F-Spot, Evolution, OpenOffice.org Writer) and easily accessible, categorized other applications. Two other options interest me now, the control center and the software installer. The software installer comes with three main options: by pattern, by package or by patch. The pattern selections deal with various developer packs, the KDE desktop, the various server possibilities, Xen and Voip. Personally I ran into a snag immediately with Bluefish. Bluefish is a nice PHP editor and it is not in the repositories.

To test the installer I decided on getting the KDE desktop. And there was snag number two. As a user you are confronted with an error message. Of course, you need root privileges for this action but why not take the route Ubuntu takes and come with a request for the root password. Now we first have to add the single user to zmd, the Zenworks install tool. This might make sense in a multi-user environment, but even there a less recoiling message would have been better. The overall impression of the interface is not good. Too geeky, especially when compared to Synaptic (apt-get frontend) or Kuroo (portage frontend). No casual browsing through categories or applications, which prohibits new users to find new and attractive packages.

The Control Center gives easy access to fine tuning hardware settings, look and feel, personal settings and system setop. The original Yast Control Center is still accesible by choosing Administrator settings. I could only find one problem with using the Control Center: it doesn’t give any indication whether your double-click was actually working. This way I wound up with three screens for the same function.

The KDE desktop

To round of this first impressions review let’s have a look at the KDE desktop. The new KDE menu again should be recognizable by Windows XP users and the new Vista users. For others it might take some getting used to. For me it feels less organized and less polished than the Gnome desktop that is part of OpenSUSE, especially when compared to the KDE desktop under Sabayon.

Final impressions

OpenSUSE 10.2 is a nice next release in the series, but certainly not mind blowing. The installation procedure is still one of the longest compared to other distributions and it doesn’t result in a larger set of packages. The installation of new software from the desktop interface really needs some work done on it. It is too rough around the edges. That, along with the unpolished KDE desktop, would not make OpenSUSE 10.2 a first recommendation for novice Windows to Linux migrators.

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23 thoughts on “On the Bench: OpenSUSE 10.2

  1. 1. “No casual browsing through categories or applications, which prohibits new users to find new and attractive packages” — there IS casual browsing, etc, with the yast software management tool! The main administration tool in suse is yast anyway..!

    2. if you want the “ubuntu approach” you can just add the main user to the /etc/sudoers file. You don’t even need to edit it yourself, the option is there in…yast!

    3. unpolished KDE desktop?? SUSE is the distribution that defined KDE polish and usability a long time ago!
    (Sabayon, which looks great and functions a bit less so, received the start menu from suse)

    i’m no suse fanboi, but after having used fedora, (k)ubuntu, sabayon and mepis, i’ve found that suse is by far the best *kde* distro (IMO of course).
    and i definitely prefer kde to gnome.

  2. I agree that yast is still there, but it is not the default management tool for the end-user under Gnome. And the end-user perspective is what I have chosen for this review. (The first article in the Linux on the Bench thread makes that clear) As you will notice the default tool for software management has no categories.

    Your second point is correct as well, but -again- that is not the normal route for a W2L (windows to linux) migrator. The current implementation creates an extra step that could have been avoided. Hence my reference to Ubuntu and Sabayon, but I could have mentioned other distributions as well.

    As for the unpolished KDE desktop. Why are there two entries called “Install Software”? Yes, SUSE defined the KDE desktop for some time, but people have been wondering what would happen to that with Gnome being the favorite desktop since the acquisition of Ximian. SUSE had the better implementation of KDE, but I sincerely doubt whether OpenSUSE 10.2 can still lay claim to that.

    But isn’t choice a great thing 😉

  3. (first of all i’m sorry if my comment came out as aggressive, it was definitely not intended)

    The main point we disagree is that to me suse’s biggest selling point is yast and its central system administration. My view is that any user (W2L migrator or not) going to suse will come accross yast and use it. (though personally i prefer smart for s/w management)

    and yes, choice is a great thing…:)

  4. LOL. No apologies needed. I didn’t see anything agressive in there. I welcome a bit of interaction.

    The good thing is we do agree on yast being a great tool, which makes me wonder only more why it isn´t the default software management and control panel tool in OpenSUSE 10.2.

    And please, continue to interact and disagree with me any time you think it is needed. This can only sharpen my writing and reviewing skills. Thanks.

  5. Sebastian on said:

    Too superficial a review for my taste. A quick look at the desktops. And too subjective.

  6. But Sebastian, why should a review be objective? The whole idea of this thread is to be found here: http://opensourcelearning.info/blog/?p=109. Of course I could have gone in depth about all the progress that is made in the kernel, the package management, the applications, about the hard work of the team, the under the hood improvements. There are plenty of other reviewers doing that and I am glad they do. The sole criterium here is the following: will it convince a new W2L migrator that this is the time to ditch Windows and give Linux a serious try. Why this choice? Well, I think it is now the time to start pushing for solid, stable and easy to use Linux distributions. And -as the old saying goes- you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  7. I’ve been waiting for reviews of the latest Suse and I think yours did a good job of a basic review. I agree that overall it’s a good distro, but some of the error messages could be daunting to a Windows user. Of course nothing as bad as some Windows errors I get from customers ;o)
    You are also correct that the install is relatively smooth, but there is still that “geek” factor that would scare away most Windows users. Good review

  8. Wanted to try this latest release on my new AMD 64 XP Media Center system in a dual boot configuration, but no luck. XP is installed on first SATA drive and 2nd SATA hd has 25GB of free space for the Linux install. The 10.2 open source install would not detect any SATA drives. Hopefully, to be fixed soon

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  10. Sorry to hear that, I have a SATA hard-drive and everything works fine.

    Frankly I think this is by far the best Linux distro I’ve used to date – I certainly won’t be going back to windows anytime soon :). I like it a hell of a lot more than Ubuntu, package manager and all.

    Thanks for the review,

    Mark.

  11. Neopath on said:

    Hi there…

    Ok I’m not trolling here… but what do you guys find so great about yast? I mean installing software with yast is an exercise in frustration.. it’s slow,unreliable and whatnot… How many “apps” do you need to manage software? one to install,one to uninstall,one to browse software,one to.. you get my point. Drop this excuse for a package manager from suse,integrate apt-get and i’m your man… Don’t take me wrong.. I like suse.. it’s polished and all that.. but christ, this yast freak is destroying everything… sorry if that sounds like trolling.. it’s not.. I just hate the package management portion of yast with a passion… it sucks.. there, I said it…

    have a nice day 😉

  12. suse like all its predecesors is slow, cumbersome, takes too long to start up, too long to update via Yast (which should be renamed to Yawnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn Zzzzzzzzz)
    When you wish to close a program you click on the required button and wait, and wait and wait and wait..
    Kubuntu, Zenwalk, Easys, Mepis are far superior.

  13. I eagerly installed OpenSUSE 10.2 on a machine which I had previously installed CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu, Zenwalk, PCLinuxOS and others other flavors of BSD. SUSE installed without any problems but soon the problems. I installed GNOME desktop first but did a complete reinstall after the pc would not shutdown properly. Was working fine, able to logon and off and shutdown fine, but then the pc would not shutdown. After a hard shutdown the pc would boot directly into desktop without prompting for logon. This happened again and again even after reinstalling with KDE as the desktop. There were other minor annoyances such as some already mentioned by others, but the inability to shutdown and reboot properly was too much. I reinstalled CentOS and guess what, “NO PROBLEMS”. This distro was a major disappointment. OpenSUSE in great if you are looking for a lot of eye candy on the desktop, but for doing real computing NO! My suggestion to the OpenSUSE developers is to concentrate on functionality first and eye candy last. What makes a distro like Ubuntu so popular is that it just works!

  14. @Mike: those are some serious glitches you have there and it would be interesting to know the machine specifications for the benefit of the OpenSuse developers. One point to realize though is the main difference between OpenSuse and the other distro’s you mentioned. OpenSuse is a project that pushes the envelope, while the other distro’s focus more on stability. If you like a stable Suse I suggest you try Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop.
    However, I would also promote the creation and maintenance of stable, solid and secure desktop version by the top ten distribution in line with Ubuntu Dapper Drake. In my opinion this would benefit W2L promotion greatly.

  15. I have installed SuSE 10 on my IBM ThinkCentre – and it is fine, but it refused to recognise my BroadComm network card – and after downloading drivers on another system. Managed to get it working. I also have another PC – Pentium IV, Intel 865 GBF board – with NVidia AGP (Primary) and Cirrus Logic(Secondary) – the damn thing just refused to recognise the secondary monitor. I like the Dual Display set for a number of reasons – and unlike most users – after a bit of twiddling with Xorg.conf – it was up and running. The point I’d like to make is – most people like things to work out of the box (without having to edit these files) – SuSE Linux Desktop has come a long way from 7.2 (Yes Janstedehouder – i started with 7.x as well), but i am comfortable with the glitches now because of the lessons learnt from then. Someone who seriously wants to use Linux, will still be turned away from this – because of these ‘Glitches’/’Features’ whatever we call it – which is a pity – because SuSE is such a polished OS. One more thing … (I agree with AJ) – my ThinkCentre has 512MB RAM and the other one has 1GB RAM, and SuSE is by far the slowest Linux Distro i have run on these machines – beautiful but slow. (My Windows Friend – he calls it a Blonde OS – the others be assured, he already has his rear kicked)Jokes apart – (and some of the more respected Kernel Maintainers/Linux Gurus have said this) its about time we trim the Kernel of some flab. Not sure if SuSE’s speed relates to the packages that have been installed along with the OS – but I for one would like a faster OS, with just the things I need.

    Note to those who are going to flame me: I really like Linux – and my comments above just reflect the frustration I feel at things which are so – obvious from where I see – that are not being seen by the SuSE folks. Of course, I might be missing the bigger picture – but then again, always ready to be enlightened about the same.

  16. Hi all i just came across this site looking for reviews for suse 10.2 I have just installed linux for the first time suse 10 i have it dual booting with XP I find it takes along time to boot but i must admit i like the system for trawling the internet i was wondering if i was better off with 10 than moving to 10.2 i need to learn more about suse before i completely get rid of windows but i certainly wouldnt be afraid to i would love to its just the lack of software and time.I am using it on AMD 4.800 DUAL CORE WITH TWO GIG OF MUSHKINS FINEST But takes along time to boot any hints.
    Regards Mark

  17. Hi Mark. Great to see you are trying out Linux. When migrating from Windows to Linux I always recommend a step by step process: (1) draw up a list of all software you have installed under Windows and categorize it (important/daily use, important/periodic use, not important and “what is this for”); (2) secure all data; (3) take the list under 1 and write the Linux alternatives behind it. For this you can use the current install or a live CD/DVD like Ubuntu or Knoppix.

    You might find that for most common functions very good open source alternatives exist. In some cases your current Windows-based software has more functions or doesn’t have a proper alternative under Linux. In that case you can either multiboot or install Windows under VMware Server, depending on the frequency with which you need it.

    If time is the major constraint drawing up a list like this is a small investment to see whether the migration is worth the time and effort. Besides that, you do need the time to learn about Linux, especially problem solving.

    It shouldn’t be a problem to move from Suse 10 to OpenSuse 10.2. There is a lot of progress being made on the boottime issue and I think 2007 will see major improvements there. Sabayon Linux shows that faster boottimes are possible and Ubuntu is integrating some novelties there as well.

    Personally I think Ubuntu is the better distribution for first time migrators. It’s ease of use, it’s very friendly user community, it’s complete desktop orientation and it’s access to one of the largest software repositories makes me gives that advice.

  18. Hi thanks for the insight i will go checkout Ubuntu.
    The reason i ended up with suse was i could buy book and get a years online help also.Whats the best and most stable version of Ubuntu.?
    Regards

  19. Jan Stedehouder on said:

    There are two versions of Ubuntu out now. One is Dapper Drake (6.06) which is the Long Term Support edition. Ubuntu guarantees support for at least three years for end-users, which makes it extremely stable. The second one is Edgy Eft (6.10) which has some new features. For now I would suggest Dapper Drake, so you can get acquainted with it. Skip Edgy Eft for now and try out the next release (7.04, Feisty Fawn) once that is released. The next release should have some serious improvements in terms of speed.

    Feel free to check out the Journey into Ubuntu thread about my own experiences with Dapper Drake here http://opensourcelearning.info/blog/?cat=8

  20. dustinw on said:

    10.2 installed flawlessly on my desktop but unable to run it on my sony vaio laptop. When trying to fix up my partitions it gave me the option to resize my primary that currently has windows xp on it but fails every time. So i deleted the partition thinking a fresh start is all it needs but still no go, keeps forgetting that my dvd is still in the drive while copying files. I have been fighting with this for a few weeks on and off and finally gave up. Its probably for the best, laptop has 1200mhz and 256 ram, 10.0 was real sluggish and kinda aggravated me anyway. But after months of using ubuntu i can say the only thing i miss is apt-get. For my desktop 10.2 is staying for a while.

  21. Hi is it possible for me to load four or five different linux operating systems on my pc. And multi boot i dual boot at the moment.With XP and suse just wondering if i could also add dapper drake and debian just so customers could take a look at the different linux systems working.i have a 250gb hd
    Regards Mark

  22. Jan Stedehouder on said:

    Hi Mark, and the answer is yes. I used to have a box with Windows ME, Fedora Core, Mandrake, Suse, FreeBSD, Xandros en BeOS. I used Bootmagic as bootloader, which gave me some more leeway in altering one of the distributions.

    But, if it is only for demonstration purposes you might also want to consider VMware Server. It is for free and you can install distributions on virtual machines. Of course it won’t have the same hardware performance, but it is easy to switch from one distribution to the other.

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