"A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila." - Mitch Radcliffe

openSUSE 10.2

openSUSE 10.2

Tuesday 16th January 2007

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Changing settings

As ever, changing settings for the system requires a visit to Yet another Setup Tool, otherwise know as YaST. Down the left hand side are broad categories such as Hardware, Software and System, while the individual utilities are on the right. YaST allows easy changes to the system, such as modifying the resolution, changing partitions and their mount points, modifying the bootloader, and so forth. This myriad of options is more than enough for many users, and allows openSUSE to gain an advantage over Fedora and Ubuntu in this respect.

Quality is better than quantity, but YaST appears to have both - there are numerous utilities for a vast range of settings, but making those tweaks is still easy, with each section being straightforward to use.

However, network browsing doesn't work by default due to the presence of the firewall, so a dive into the firewall configuration should sort it out... right? Well, actually, I couldn't get it to work. I tried adding any service that said Samba in it (which was... one), but that still didn't change anything. I could dig deeper, but accessing the network should be made easy for the user. I believe that the firewall should be configured to allow network browsing out of the box, or at least have an easy option in the firewall for enabling it. openSUSE provides neither.

On the other hand, setting up Samba is relatively straightforward through the Samba entry in YaST - of course, you have to know in the first instance that Samba is what will let you share your files, which not all users may not. Still, enabling the server is as easy as it probably could be, and by default enables the sharing of the home directories, which should be enough for most users.

YaST remains one of SUSE's strengths, and the fact that I don't have that much to say about it is actually a good thing - you just find the relevant entry, and it works!

Package Management

If you choose the 'Install Software' option in the menu, then the application that is brought up is, to be perfectly honest, not fantastic. There's a bar at the top where you search for specific packages. Below that is the long list of packages available. You can, if you wish, show products instead - this means the choice of 'openSUSE-FTP' or 'openSUSE-FTP-NonOSS'. You could show patterns - this gives us the option to install things such as 'console', 'default' and 'devel_gnome'. Finally, we can choose just to show the packages, rather than everything. This will probably be somewhat intimidating to some users - after all, the name 844-ksc-pcf or a2ps-perl-ja isn't exactly user-friendly. Although there are some descriptions, these can be cryptic if you're not entirely sure what to do.

The package manager within YaST is a far more pleasant affair. Although the package names are the same, there is a left hand pane which lets you sort through the packages in quite a few ways. You can search through the packages, look at the packages in a particular repository, see what packages are going to be installed, updated, etc., and, most helpfully, you can search via category. This means you can click on 'Amusement', and you'll see all of the packages that are there for your amusement. If you want to be more specific, you can click on games, which will show all of the packages for your amusement that are games... and so. This system of category and subcategory make it much easier to find what you're looking for. Although not as friendly as what Ubuntu includes, it is powerful, including information such as dependencies, versions and size.

One bad thing about the package management is that openSUSE 10.2 only used the discs as a source for packages after installation, which is odd considering I ticked the online sources during the installation. Having looked around, I can't see anybody else reporting the problem, so it appears that the problem is, for whatever reason, isolated to me. This meant that it could not get any updates, which is always important to keep secure. This applies to both the package management in YaST and the applet in the tray that informs you of updates. Despite not being able to find updates, I was able to access the non-OSS repository and grab packages from there, making it simple to install Sun Java, Macromedia Flash and Realplayer.

openSUSE wouldn't let me refresh the update applet in the tray as I didn't have the required privileges. Instead of asking me for the root password, it told me I had to added to zmd as a privileged user. I don't know what this meant, and it sounded like trouble that really wasn't worth it - something that might discourage some users. Still, I tried it, and successfully added my user to the list of privileged users. Of course, it didn't make any difference to the number of updates available i.e. none. So, instead, I just used YaST. And this found... zero updates. Somehow, I find this difficult to believe given that it has now being a month since openSUSE's release. Of course, in the unlikely eventuality that there really haven't been updates since, then I retract my statement.

The problem with the package management in openSUSE is what appears to be confusion - what exactly am I supposed to be using? The 'Install Software' button in the menu might seem the most obvious, but there again the configuration utility i.e. YaST is an equally obvious place, yet they lead to very different programs. While there is sometimes a distinction between packages for 'novices' and 'experts', there really does not seem to be any such discernible difference present in openSUSE.

Conclusion

I have mixed feelings about openSUSE. On the one hand, it feels like a polished system, and that is reflected from the installation to YaST. Yet, if we take away YaST for a moment, then openSUSE looks a little weak. It feels sluggish, and has a user interface that isn't necessarily better for the user compared to a standard GNOME interface. It has the cost of deviating from the norm, while gaining very little from it. Compare it to, say, Ubuntu or perhaps even Debian, and openSUSE really doesn't stand very well.

Put YaST back in, however, and openSUSE has a fighting chance. I would go so far as to say that YaST is the best configuration utility I've used. Unfortunately, I don't think that's enough - Ubuntu manages to keep GNOME looking normal, and seems to work better out of the box, from little things such as ejecting USB sticks to big things like package management. If you're not going to miss YaST, then you probably want Ubuntu. If you still want the big box of options, then PCLinuxOS might have the answer. openSUSE 10.2 is a good distribution, but I can think of at least two others I could recommend instead.

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