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Putting openSUSE 10.2 through its paces
by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Dec. 8, 2006)

Sooner than anyone expected it, Novell Inc.'s openSUSE community Linux distribution project has delivered a new version: openSUSE 10.2. As a dyed-in-the-wool SUSE user since S.u.S.E Linux 4.2 first appeared in 1996, I decided to immediately give this version a try.

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I'm far from the only one. According to Distrowatch's page hit ranking of Linux distributions, openSUSE has overtaken long time number one distribution Ubuntu over the past seven days.

First, I downloaded the latest openSUSE version from the openSUSE download site. This time around, I decided to download the DVD ISO image using HTTP. Chances are I would have downloaded it faster with BitTorrent and the new, potentially even faster Metalink download method. Even so, it took me only a few hours over my 3Mbps (Megabit per second) DSL line to receive the entire multiple gigabyte distribution.

As always, SUSE developers have made a point of including a giant-sized helping of available open-source programs with the distribution. While usually thought of as a desktop Linux, openSUSE has always included a large selection of server programs, and this latest version is no exception.

OpenSUSE 10.2 runs on the Linux kernel. Instead of the ReiserFS file system, this edition uses the ext3 file system by default. Desktop users can choose between the KDE 3.5.5 or GNOME 2.16.1 desktop environments, both of which run on top of the X.Org 7.2rc2 windowing system. They also have the option of using the Enlightenment or WindowMaker desktops.

For this go-around, I tested the new openSUSE distribution on an HP Pavilion a250n. This PC has a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor with 800MHz frontside bus, and 512MB of PC2700 DDR RAM. For graphics, it uses a low-end NVIDIA GeForce 4 MX.

After burning the ISO image to a DVD, installation was a straightforward procedure of popping in the disk and occasionally hitting the enter button. I did, however, take a closer look at openSUSE's new "pattern" system for installing software.


Patterns give you a large selection of different default setups for your system. The idea is to make it easy to install just what you want when you want it without needing to do any fine-tuning.

It's a good idea, but the new "pattern" system still needs some tuning of its own. For example, when installing the system, I took the option of looking closely at exactly what applications I was installing. So, for example, when I chose, as I almost always do, to go with the KDE desktop environment, I found that none of my favorite default applications, like Evolution for calendaring and email, and GAIM for IM, were going to be installed.

That's not really all that surprising, since those are GNOME applications. For those, I needed to manually add the GNOME foundation package to the pattern's default choice. May I suggest that users be given -- instead of just a choice of either GNOME or KDE -- the option of also picking out their favorite email, IM, office suite, and so on?

More seriously, though, I looked through the server selections and I found that if I chose to install the DNS (Domain Name Server) and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) pattern, I wouldn't actually get the DNS server, BIND 9.3.2. I'd only get the DHCP server, DHCP 3.0.5. I also wouldn't get the YaST utilities that would make managing either one much easier -- or so the detail page of the installation routine told me, anyway.

You can, of course, select the exact packages you want manually, and openSUSE will automatically take care of all the messy dependency details. Still, the fact remains that the new pattern package management approach still needs more work before it will be trustworthy.

After installing openSUSE, you'll see this plain blue interface
(Click to enlarge)

New improved KDE

OpenSUSE's new and improved KDE environment however worked flawlessly for me. It does take a bit of getting used to, though. Now, when you expand a menu, instead of unfolding out farther and farther into the screen, the new menu replaces the old one. It is handy, and it certainly saves on screen real-estate.

The new openSUSE KDE menu system may take some getting used to, but it's worth the savings in screen real-estate. Yes, the computer is named tonka-truck.
(Click to enlarge)

Another plus is that the KDE master menu now includes an integrated history window. This window contains both recently used applications and recently used documents. This is one feature I took to like a duck to water.

The improved history menu item, though, is a feature that anyone will love.

I was also pleased, once I'd navigated the GNOME application matter, to find all my favorite applications -- such as the Beagle 0.2.12 desktop search program, the Evolution 2.8.2 groupware program, Firefox 2.0, and OpenOffice 2.0.4 -- ready to go.

I'm sure I'm not the only user who's happy to see Firefox 2 -- no IceWeasel for us, please -- pre-installed on a Linux distribution.
(Click to enlarge)

This OpenOffice 2.0.4, by the way, doesn't include any Open XML support. For that, we'll need to wait a bit longer.

I also found that the SUSE programmers have made it easier to use online software catalogs and to add and patch programs. Unfortunately, there's still trouble with the long troubled software update system. After refreshing my software sources, I ran straight into a ZENworks-related software error. It wasn't fatal, and it didn't even mess up my newly set-up software catalogs, but still it was annoying.

The good news is that openSUSE makes it easier to add new software sources to the distribution.
(Click to enlarge)

The bad news, is that the software management system still has problems.

Other than that, though, the new openSUSE ran like a fine Swiss watch. In fact, I have a bit of a problem, now. The PC that openSUSE 10.2 is running on is one of my test boxes. Those systems are always getting new operating systems installed on them... but I don't want to let openSUSE go!

OpenSUSE continues to make it easy to work and play with Windows network resources. In this case, a backup drive resides on a Server 2003 system.
(Click to enlarge)

It looks like I'll need to make a hard decision about one of my production systems soon, and replace either SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10, RHEL WS (Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation) 4, MEPIS 6.01, or Windows XP with openSUSE.

Hmmm... Actually, it's not that hard a decision: good-bye XP, hello openSUSE 10.2!

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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