openSUSE Linux Review

very good
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  • Make SUSE Linux the easiest Linux distribution for anyone to obtain, and the most widely used open source platform.
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One guy's laptop got broken and he took it back to the shop for service. While he was waiting there to be given a temporary replacement laptop, he saw an MP3 player and thought he could listen to music during long flights, therefore he bought it. He remembered about his son's birthday and he also bought a miniDV video camera, in order to record this event on tape. He thought that there's no problem if these two devices can only be connected to firewire ports, since his laptop had a firewire port, he could easily transfer songs to the mp3 player and easily transfer the video data to the computer.

When he got his laptop back from service, it was a different model because the old model was discontinued. This one didn't have a firewire port and that meant two hardware components had become incompatible with his computer: the MP3 player and the miniDV video camera.

This is an example of hardware incompatibility; there is another kind of incompatibility. An incompatibility between an operating system and a certain computer device, a device like a printer, a scanner or a modem is not an uncommon thing. Why does it occur? Well, there are lots of hardware manufacturers and some of them provide software only for the most used operating systems. The reason why this happens is that they don't believe this investment would increase their sales significantly.

What about SUSE? How much hardware does this Linux distribution support? Is it the right thing for multimedia? Do you have to be a computer expert in order to install SUSE 10 OSS on your computer? Does SUSE 10 OSS help you setup your hardware easily? Well, some of your questions will get an answer in the following review.

A safe landing on the hard drive


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You can install SUSE from a kit that is made up of 5 CDs or from a DVD disc. Writing a single a DVD and avoiding the disc switching operation during the install process makes sense, that’s why those that have a DVD unit should go for the DVD install kit. Those who don’t have such an optical unit can write 5 CDs or perform a network install. In case you want to download only the packages that you are going to install on your computer, you can download the boot.iso, which is only 65MB and fits even to a MiniCD, and perform the network install. The image is called “Internet Installation Image” on the official OpenSuSE website.

I chose to install SUSE 10.0 OSS from a DVD; I’ve put together the .iso file together by using jigdo. Jigdo is a tool that downloads very large files by getting smaller parts and putting them together. But how does this apply to Linux distros and .iso images? Well, Linux distros consist of lots of software packages, which can be considered smaller pieces, and the .iso file contains those packages. Simply put, the ISO image is assembled like a puzzle on your hard drive.

After obtaining the installation disc by burning the DVD image to a blank media, SUSE displayed a nice “Welcome” message in many languages and, after that, the boot menu appeared. The boot menu displays several options, regular “installation” which is a normal install, install with ACPI disabled and a safe settings install; the last two install options are useful if you encounter any errors or if your hardware is old or buggy. You can also choose to perform rescue operations on “dead” systems or test the RAM memory.

I chose a normal installation and SUSE’s installer started; a few moments later it asked me to choose the language, then I agreed with the license agreement; the time zone selection followed and right after that, I had to make a choice, KDE desktop or Gnome desktop? Personally, I chose KDE, some may prefer Gnome or an alternative window manager such as Window maker or Enlightenment (E16), or even to install a minimal graphical system or just the required stuff for a text mode install (no graphical mode whatsoever). Depending on this initial choice, the required packages are installed, but the list of packages that are going to be installed can be modified in the next section.

Install settings section - this is the section where you choose what to add or what to remove from the list of software packages that are going to be installed, change partitioning options, choose where the boot loader should be installed and other settings and tweaks. This section of the installer is very important and it has two display modes “Overview” and “Expert”, Overview shows info about Partitioning, Software and Language options. The expert mode displays and allows changes to the same areas that the Preview mode allows, plus a few more details about the machine: Keyboard layout, Booting and Primary runlevel.

SUSE’s installer comes up with a partitioning scheme; if you have existing Linux partitions, it chooses to use those partitions for itself and leave alone other non-Linux partitions. However, one doesn’t have to stick to that partitioning scheme; the one proposed by the installer can be customized. How do you get to that partitioning dialog? Well, you just have to click on the “Partitioning” label of that section and you’re in and you can choose use the proposed partitioning scheme as a base or create a custom one. The two choices have different purposes; the first one, “Base partition setup on this proposal” allows you to make adjustments to the proposed partitioning scheme ( e.g. you can choose to change your root partition type to a different filesystem (SUSE defaults to reiserfs for the root filesystem; XFS is recommended if you would like to use a filesystem that doesn’t fragment a lot) or tweak certain settings such as the priority of the swap partition, which is useful when you have many swap partitions on many hard drives, some faster than others. The other customized partitioning scheme choice, “create custom partition setup”, allows the creation of a custom scheme starting from the current state of the partitions.


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There are two interesting options available in this partitioning module, the creation of software RAID partitions and encryption. The advantages of software RAID depend on the type of RAID you choose, if you go with a RAID 0 setup, two or more partitions will be used as a single, larger partition. The purpose of RAID 0 is increasing performance, which can be significant (depending on the number of hard drives and their read/write performance) . RAID 1 offers redundancy - you don’t loose any data if one hard drive fails, you still have the data on the other hard drive. Now, for the encryption part. This is a security feature, which allows the encryption of entire partitions. Even if encrypted, the existence of that partition is obvious, one cannot deny its existence. This means that the partition doesn’t become “invisible”, it is just encrypted.

By default, SUSE uses GRUB as a boot loader, but LILO is available too (please note that it is necessary to run the “lilo” command in a terminal or terminal emulator such as Konsole after you upgrade the kernel, this is not required if you use GRUB). In the same section - boot loader settings - one can set the default choice that gets booted if no other is chosen in a definable period of time. It is possible to add other boot options (e.g. external hard drive, etc) and you don’t necessarily have to install the boot loader in its default location (the MBR - Master Boot Record), you can install it to a floppy disk or to a different device. This ability can be useful in certain cases, for example, if you want to leave the MBR untouched.

Next, you can modify the list of packages that are going to be installed. If you need an office suite, you might want to check what software from the “Office software” category is on the list, after you add or remove a package and you accept the changes, the package manager will check if the dependencies are satisfied. Spending too much time during the install for the package choosing phase isn’t absolutely necessary, install the proposed packages and you will be able to add or remove packages after you finish the install process from YAST, inside one of your chosen window managers or from the terminal.

After you finish choosing packages, the install process begins. When this is over, a root password has to be defined and at least one additional user should be created, because it’s not recommended to use the system logged on as root (not a good security practice, you can easily damage your system by mistake).

What’s next? Network Configuration is where you configure the firewall, network interfaces, DSL connections, modems, VNC remote administration and the proxy. Some may ask how they can use SUSE a NAT gateway, which allows sharing an Internet connection in a LAN. Well, it can be found inside the Firewall configuration; at least two network interfaces are required, an external and an internal one. When the network has been configured, the process continues, a proposal for internet connection test is made, and the user authentication method follows. If you don’t know what method you should choose, you probably need the “Local (/etc/passwd/)” method.

Hardware configuration, the last phase of the install process, is where one can configure various hardware components.

A positive thing about this installer is that you don’t have to configure everything; it proposes a default configuration which can be modified if desired.

The installation is over once the hardware detection and configuration is done; you don’t have to configure everything now, you can adjust settings later, by using YAST.

It’s….green and it’s the desktop!

SUSE comes with a variety of software; however, you might want to add some packages as you notice they are required. They can be installed from the same install media that was used to install the OS.

A desktop computer user can do many things with the PC, brows the internet, watch a film, play games, listen to music, use an office suite and so on. But, what happens when one can’t watch a DVD film or listen to an MP3 file because the multimedia libraries are crippled? That’s right; you cannot watch a DVD film, listen to MP3 songs or watch a video file that uses some non-free codec. In order to bring back this functionality, some packages must be removed and replaced.

Even if it doesn’t play WMA files and doesn’t let you listen to MP3s and watch DVDs by default, SUSE’s desktop gives an impression of a whole. You don’t have just a Linux kernel, a boot loader, a boot splash screen, a login screen and a window manager; you have something that is called SUSE and it feels like it is something that comes in one piece, a whole, not just a package collection.


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Everything is customized: the boot loader, the boot splash, the login prompt and the desktop environment. There are many distros that come with many different window managers but don’t have a customized desktop for any of them.

Add some GCC 4.02

For those that haven’t found out yet, GCC is the Gnu Compiler Collection. The previous meaning was Gnu C Compiler, which was changed because support for other programming languages, such as Fortran, Java, C++ and Ada was added..

The compiler that is used in the compilation process of an entire operating system should generate very good code. By the word “good”, I mean fast, stable and small. The quality of the compiler will influence the stability, performance and the size of the resulting code.

Simply put, you don’t want to test the latest GCC version in mission critical areas, you would use an older version, some still use 2.95, others like 3.3x series and some chose the 3.4x series for production.

The instability, the slowness or the size of the generated code don’t represent the only possible problems of a new version, non mature version of GCC, there are also the compatibility issues, some packages that could be compiled with GCC 2.95 now require a compatibility mode for GCC 3.4.x.

GCC 4 follows the trend and it has many problems when it comes to compiling certain packages.

You can find a lot of posts on various forums, with people complaining that various packages don’t compile on SUSE 10 OSS because it only has GCC 4.


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One example is Qemu. GCC 4 refuses to compile this package on certain platforms, while on others it can be compiled after some small adjustments to the source code.

Y.A.S.T...perhaps Yet Another Serious Tool?

You find a software package that is very useful, then you want to install it on your Linux distro, afterwards you learn that some settings inside your OS have to be changed in order to make it work. Wait, your distro doesn’t have a graphical tool to accomplish that quickly and perhaps you don’t know how to do it from a console. If you’re a beginner in the Linux world or if you’re a very busy person, then you need to get things done easily and quickly, without much hassle. YAST is the tool that gets many things done for you. From within YAST you can update the system, remove packages, modify boot entries and perform other operations; a more complex description follows.

YAST is divided in categories: Software, Hardware, System, Network Devices, Network Services, Security and Users and Miscellaneous.

In the Software section you can update your system online, add or remove an installation source (CDs, DVD or network), perform software management, which allows the addition or removal of packages. Some options that might be considered very interesting are “Installation into a Directory” and the “Virtual Machine Installation (XEN)”. The first one allows one to install an entire system to a directory, this can come in handy, for example, you can create custom installs, install on a remote file system that is mounted on a local directory, install into a loopback device that is formatted with a compressed file system or another special purpose customized installation.

What about XEN? What is this virtual machine installation thing that you can find here? Well, think about this situation: you've got some new software packages that you would like to test but you don't want to install them on your computer, you want to have an environment where you can test it without any worries like “I might actually destroy my OS”. Basically, it is like having another computer without the required hardware. Not all operating systems are supported, but, it is compatible with Linux and some BSD flavors.

It can be used for many things (e.g. develop your client-server application while using a single computer, take a live CD for a test drive without actually rebooting your computer and so on), it is a powerful feature that should be remembered when one will need to run another operating system just like any other piece of software.

In the same section of YAST, one can check the integrity of the installation media, patch the installed system by using an update CD or update the entire system with System Update.

The hardware section is the place where you can set-up your devices. If one adds new hardware to the computer, it doesn't matter if it's a phone connected through infrared or Bluetooth (or any other Bluetooth device), a joystick, mouse, scanner , printer, keyboard, sound or TV card (also known as TV tuner cards), it can be connected and used together with SUSE, as long as it is supported.

The other things that can be found in this category are: Disk Controller, IDE DMA Mode, Hardware Information and Graphics Card and Monitor. Disk Controller is a little utility that allows one to choose a different kernel module for the disk controllers that are currently installed in the computer. There's one thing about Disk Controller that can be considered at least odd, it proposed a SATA module for an IDE (Parallel ATA) controller as an alternative to the one that it was already using. I don't know what some may think, but using a SATA module for an IDE controller isn't very likely to work and it cannot be considered to be a sane “proposition”. I knew what I shouldn't choose, but would a beginner user, that might want to optimize his system for a little extra performance, know that he shouldn't choose that module?

Speaking of a little extra performance, some may want to manually tweak their hard drives; this can be done by using the “IDE DMA Mode” tool that can be found in the same section. This tool allows changing the DMA mode for DVD/CD units and for hard drives. That's it, that's all that this tool does, it isn't an elaborate graphical front end for hdparm, it just allows one to change the DMA mode in case it wasn't set to the maximum supported value or for compatibility with some hardware that is being detected incorrectly (e.g.: a hard drive should be capable to work in DMA 100, but the hardware is a bit buggy and has to be used in DMA 66 mode in order to work without errors).

Hardware Information, as the name it bears tells you, gathers information about the hardware which makes up the computer. If it only gathered information, it wouldn't have been very useful, but it also presents it in a tree structure which can be easily explored. This is a great tool which allows one to find out more about the computer and even save that information to a file, which can be useful in many different situations(e.g. checking if a hardware device was detected on a particular computer, compare two or many different computers and so on).

Bluetooth and Infrared Device offers connectivity with said devices; setting them up is quite easy, but a small package may be needed for infrared, if isn’t already installed.

Keyboard Layout allows the user to change the layout of the keyboard to a different language and specify additional languages. Mouse model, the main tasks that can be accomplished with it is setting up the mouse, you can specify the exact model of the mouse or choose a generic one and so on.

Going on with the same category, input, we talk about Joysticks. This category is a bit poor, the list of supported joystick models is quite short and, if you consider the fact that this category also sets up a game pad, it appears to be even smaller. I thought that OpenSUSE supported more models than that. Because the joystick category is the same section where you can set up your game pad, it should have been called Joystick & Game Pad.

Printer and Scanner helps you setup a printer or a scanner. While older printer models are supported, some recent printers aren’t, so you might want to double check before buying a printer if it can be used with Linux. The scanner module detected an old scanner that I used some time ago, the same scanner that many other operating systems failed to detect and use properly.

The TV card module comes in handy when you add a TV tuner in your PC. It immediately detects it and you can start using it right away with the programs developed for watching TV.
Sound section can be used for setting up the soundcard.

The following tool allows setting up the monitor and the display adapter, a very useful module which easily changes the resolution and the refresh rate to the desired values. It also asks for a little test before making the modifications. In the same section, VNC and a touchscreen can be set up.

The following YAST section is System. Here you can create a boot or rescue floppy or change many other settings related to the boot loader configuratio, LVM and RAID matrices.
In the same category you can also change the language of the operating system, configure power management, backup the system, manage profiles, restore the system from a back-up, edit the configuration, tweak the system or edit the run levels.

The next section, network devices, has network setup related tools. Here you can set up a fax, a DSL, ISDN or dialup modem internet connection. Regular Ethernet networks can be set up with Network Card. One interesting thing can be the Phone answering machine mode.

The Network Services section has tools that allow one to set up a web server, a NFS server, remote administration, a Samba server, routing, a DHCP server, a DNS server, a NIS server and a TFTP server. Things like the LDAP client, NFS client, NIS client, NTP client represent the clients for the respective services.

Before even setting up network clients or services, basic network configuration should be performed, that is setting up the network devices and then configuring the DNS and hostname in this category.

The network services available here can be used to serve a web page, have a NFS server share files that you want to be accessible from NFS capable machines or make a windows share with the Samba server. A mail server can also be set up and the same is applicable to routing by using the Routing tool.

The following section is security and users, which exposes the configuration options for the firewall, group management and user management. The firewall can be set up for Internet connection sharing.

The last category is Miscellaneous, this is where you can configure an automatic installation configuration, view the start-up log, the system log or post a support query.

Who’s OpenSUSE?

OpenSUSE is an easy to use operating system, an operating system that makes you think that it is a whole, not just a bunch of packages thrown together on some discs. You don’t have to manually modify configuration files in order to get something to work. This means it has easy to use graphical tools for the installation, configuration and general usage. Beginners without any prior Linux knowledge or experience should be able to install and use this operating system without problems, but it shouldn’t be used in mission critical points, where having the highest uptime is required.


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Distro target: Desktop computers, small home server
Supported platforms: x86, x86_64, PowerPC(PPC)
Recommended to: Home users, Linux beginners
Operating system features: Good
Performance: Very Good
Hardware support: Very Good
Operating System configuration: Very Good
Documentation: Good
user interface 4
features 3
ease of use 4
pricing / value 5


final rating 4
Editor's review
very good
 
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