SuSE Linux 8.0 Professional Review
I was prepared for this review of SuSE 8.0 Professional to be a no-brainer. I had last used SuSE at version 6.4 before switching to Mandrake. I was basically happy with it then, and figured it had only improved since then. What I've seen after using SuSE's latest and greatest for the past two weeks has surprised me, and not all in a good way. This review will look at SuSE as a desktop system.
Installation was fairly smooth, with SuSE doing a nice job of detecting all the hardware in my system successfully. It smartly chose a disk partition scheme, preserving my existing Mandrake installation. I'd left 8 GB of my 20 GB disk in an unmounted partition during my last Mandrake install, just so I could use it for installing something new like SuSE. I did not try out the "3 Click Install" that you start from MS Windows. Package selection, both quantity and ease of selection, has always been a strong point of SuSE. This release is no different, with 7 CDs of software in the package (and one matching DVD that contains the same material). Unfortunately I was unable to read or boot from the DVD, so I was stuck with swapping CDs as needed. I believe the DVD or my reader is bad. Deciding which software to install can be done with a single click, if you choose something like "SuSE default" or "SuSE default with StarOffice". Unfortunately it's StarOffice 5.2. "Commercial Software" is another category that can be chosen, presenting you with goodies such as Kylix, Vmware, and various Java virtual machines (Sun and IBM). When you select one of the commercial tools, a dialog window will popup with some info. Take note of that text, because you may not be able to find it again when you need it! For instance, both Kylix and Vmware point you to a website for to get registration info. Unfortunately I didn't write down the Kylix info, so I haven't been able to get past the registration screen when I try to run it. You've been warned. OpenOffice641 is available on the Commercial area as well. I'd recommend getting the 1.0 version that's out now as soon as you can. I also chose to "Select Individual Packages", just to see the choices offered. That leads to a nice screen where you can view the available software by "group" such as "Amusements/Games/3D/Other" or by "package set" like "fun - Games and More". It would be easy to spend days going through all the choices here. Fortunately the YaST2 installer has a nice search tool and good conflict resolution. Unfortunately the only DVD player I found was xmovie, which is a far cry from something like xine or ogle. At that point, the software on the first CD was installed. Then I was surprised by it telling me to remove the CD and reboot. Maybe I'm just too used to RedHat and Mandrake installs, but I was surprised to need to reboot at this stage. But I did what it needed, and it continued the software install when it came back up. It gave estimated times needed for each CD, unfortunately it wouldn't switch to the DVD. As I wrote above, I think my DVD may be bad, but I saw no indication that switching media was even an option. Too bad, that meant I had to keep swapping CDs. After all the software was installed, SuSE gave a webpage-like screen to choose what else to do for the install - timezone, network card setup, etc. One thing missing was network firewall configuration. "Stamped" on the front of the box is "Security from the SuSE Labs: Personal Firewall". I would have felt better if that was part of the install, rather than having to dig around for it later. They also offer "SuseFirewall2" as part of the YaST Control Center. I now get messages from both firewalls at startup - maybe I'm twice as protected? My comcast.net connection was setup using dhcp without a hitch. A couple other installation gripes - it allowed me to create a root and regular user as expected, but the regular user's password was limited to 8 characters. That can be changed under the YaST Control Center's "Security Settings" after installation, but why should it need to be? Finally, my video card was detected correctly, but my monitor wasn't in the X setup. The monitor is only a year old model, it's present in both RedHat and Mandrake installs, so why not in SuSE? It did give me the chance to install the vendor's drivers - but only from a floppy. My monitor shipped with a CD. Ugh. And choosing a similar monitor and a bad resolution made my mouse cursor disappear.
Post install & running the system
After a final reboot, I was got the graphical login. Nothing special there, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. I choose KDE as my login type, wait about 30 seconds (too slow, which is why I'm considering other desktop/window managers), and I'm in. First thing I do is use the KDE control center to customize things to my liking. Nothing unusual there, but a couple things happen that feel like bugs. One, when changing the background of each desktop, they don't change until I logout and login again. Mandrake used to have the same problem, but it got fixed. On the plus side, SuSE does have some way cool background images available. Two, some of the keys that are mapped by default are keys that I want to apply my own mapping to (Alt-F1 for example). So I delete the existing Alt-F1 mapping and try to reuse it for myself. No go. Error message that the keys are already being used. So I delete them, logout and back in, and then it works. Minor things, but I'm surprised to see them happen here. Finally I track down the Firewall config and get that setup. Next I try the SuSE Online Update from the YaST Control Center. Hey, now this works nice. Once I pick a site from the dropdown menu that lets me in, all the latest and greatest packages are installed. That includes the most recent NVidia drivers as well. Unfortunately, while the NVidia driver software gets installed, the required changes aren't made to my XF86Config file. This feature looks like a keeper. Good time to have a cable modem. Going through the neatly organized menus is also a time killer, just seeing all the goodies that are installed. Lots of fun and useful things to be found. No sign of a Gnutella/LimeWire type app. KDE3 is nice, but I don't consider it a huge upgrade over the 2.x versions. Mozilla is there, but I still haven't found a browser that will print a page in a non-Roman font "out of the box". Talk on the Mozilla lists claims it's there, but it's not working on SuSE's .98 build. Maybe it's just something in my setup, but I hope to see it happen. After I logout, checking the "save session" button, then login again, I'm bummed to see my Mozilla windows not restored. That works in Mandrake too. Konqueror comes back, but I'm pretty hooked on Mozilla for now. Most of the apps that I want are already installed. I have to grab xine and LimeWire and OpenOffice 1.0, but it's nice to see Java already installed. OpenOffice641 wouldn't successfully convert a large but simple PowerPoint presentation I had. Happy to say that OpenOffice1.0 did it just fine.
SuSE 8.0 Professional comes with three manuals - "Basics", "Reference", and "Applications". While there's a lot of well-written information there, it's organization could use some work. For example, "Installation" is a sub-title on the "Basics" manual, as you might expect. But it's only a couple pages long, and only covers the "three-click" install method, where you basically just select all the default choices. Maybe they think that "Basics" and "simple installation" go together, but think most people will end up needing to track down the more detailed info in one of the other manuals. The word "Firewall" is in the index of two of the books - once pointing to a glossary entry, once pointing to a one-line reference that points to the "readme file in package SuseFirewall2". Huh? How is a novice user going to find that?
I put two email requests in to SuSE on Sunday. This is Thursday night, and I still haven't received a response (except for the automated reply). The automated response does say "please be patient, it might take a few days". Well, I think four days is too long, even if it's still considered "a few". My questions should be fairly simple, though I'm not sure they qualify as installation support under SuSE's fairly strict guidelines. But imagine the feeling of the novice user, who's really lost, and isn't able to get quick response. I didn't try their phone support - not a free call and limited hours (9:00 - 6:00 EST) Monday through Friday. Sorry, I work during that time.
I'd like to be able to do a review after another couple weeks with this distribution. Maybe some bugs will get fixed, maybe I'll find something that I can't live without. I'll keep using it for a while to see if that happens. As it stands now, SuSE 8.0 Professional is several steps below what I expected. If you've used SuSE in the past or are upgrading from an earlier version, this is probably a good choice. But for the novice user I'd recommend something else (Mandrake or RedHat based on my experience). And if you're a happy user of the distribution you have now, there's no reason to switch.
- Latest and greatest versions
- Kernel 2.4.18
- Gobs of software to play with
- Good hardware support
- YaST2 for centralized services and upgrades
- Glitches in installation
- Spotty documentation
- Post-install gotchas that aren't present in competitors distros
Maybe upgrade if you're a SuSE fan, but I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone else.