- Excellent set-up tool
- extensive software bundle
- Printed manuals miss some areas of interest
Although this latest version of SuSE Linux only warrants a point upgrade, there’s actually more going on under the surface than the numbers would have you believe. Both user interface and underlying services have received upgrades in version 9.1, which also includes more bundled software.There are two client versions of SuSE Linux available, Personal and Professional. The former, which costs 29.95 euros (~£20), is aimed at simple desktop productivity and includes OpenOffice.org plus various Internet tools. The 89.95-euro (~£61) Professional version has all these elements plus server components such as Samba, Apache, DHCP and DNS servers. It also has some high-end content creation tools. If you want a server-oriented distribution of Linux, SuSE provides two: Standard and Enterprise Server. We’ll cover these at a later date. This review concentrates on the Professional version, since it includes everything that’s in the Personal version, barring an installation guide. If you’re only interested in providing a desktop for non-technical users, then SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal will probably deliver most of what you need.
Installation & setup
SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional is supplied with an increasingly rare sight these days -- bulky printed manuals in the shape of an Administrator Guide and a User Guide. There’s a little overlap between the two documents, with YaST is covered in both: however, the Administrator Guide deals with installation and configuration, while the User Guide concentrates on the various bundled applications and shows you how to configure networking and various desktop options. It’s a shame that this book, which is only supplied with the Professional version, doesn’t cover the applications that are exclusive to the Professional version, such as Kdevelop (the IDE), and MrProject (project management). The software is supplied as five CD-ROMs and two DVD-ROMs. The CDs contain the standard, 32-bit x86 distribution of SuSE Linux 9.1, while the double-sided DVD-ROMs contain both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the operating system -- one for binaries, the other for source code. The 64-bit version supports AMD64 architecture processors, and the forthcoming Intel 64-bit extensions architecture (not the IA-64 architecture of the Itanium family). If you have an Athlon 64 processor, you can still produce 32-bit code by including a switch when you compile the code, and of course this code will run on AMD64 machines. The major architectural change with SuSE Linux 9.1 is the kernel update to version 2.6. The precise version installed on our test machine was 2.6.4; there have been some problems reported with USB peripherals and this kernel version, which are fixed in 2.6.5, but you’ll have to judge whether the update is necessary according to your own circumstances. Other updated system components include KDE 3.2, GNOME 2.4 and Samba 3.0 (the latter component isn’t included in the Personal version). SuSE Linux 9.1 has its own configuration tool, YaST2 (Yet another Setup Tool), which can work either as a text-mode application or under X-Windows as a GUI tool. This is used to install SuSE Linux, as well as perform many configuration tasks after installation. One addition to YaST2 with this release is an ACPI-compliant power management module. This means you can configure power saving options on PCs from the GUI, rather than having to edit text files or use a separate configuration utility -- the experience will be closer to what Windows users are used to with a single control panel. We did find that both the Control Centre and YaST under X-Windows needed a reasonable amount of screen space available to be usable -- you can’t run at lower resolutions and use these tools very well. Although this probably won’t be an issue for most desktop PCs, it could become a problem on notebooks -- particularly older ones with smaller screens -- or where the PC is driving a TV. The default filesystem for SuSE Linux 9.1 is ReiserFS, a journalled filesystem that's reportedly faster than the previous Ext3 filesystem used for most Linux distributions. If you already have existing Windows partitions on your hard disk, you can resize these to make space for your Linux installation -- YaST will offer to do this for you automatically if you choose a Windows partition as your installation target. It’ll also offer to delete it for you, so be careful about your choices if you want to keep any existing data.
The OpenOffice.org 1.1 suite is included and installed by default. We reviewed this office productivity suite last October and found it to be just as good as Microsoft Office. Read that review to find out more. There’s more productivity software included. The Mozilla browser suite is installed by default, but you can choose Konqueror or Galeon as alternatives. Kontact is billed as a groupware client, but in fact pulls together several existing tools into a single interface. KDE’s Mail, organiser, address book, notes and news applications all plug into the Kontact framework, giving the effect of a single integrated client. Kopete is a multi-network instant messaging client that connects to most existing IM systems. As far as content creation software is concerned, you get the new GIMP 2.0 for image processing, Kooka for scanning, and Scribus 1.1.6 for desktop publishing. Video editing is covered by MainActor (although it's currently supplied as a beta version), while qaRecord and the new Sweep handle sound editing. Elsewhere in the extensive software bundle there's SuSE Firewall for security, GNUcash for online banking and a good range of games.
SuSE has produced a Linux distribution that performs well as a desktop operating system under the default installation. The documentation won't help a complete newcomer get to grips with Linux on its own, but you don’t need to read it to get a working system up and running. If you’re planning on doing a large deployment of desktop Linux, this is a good candidate. However, you may choose to download the distribution for a network installation if you won’t need the installation support that comes with a paid-for package.