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SUSE 10.0

Sunday 18th December 2005


SUSE. To be quite honest, there isn't very much worth saying to you, wonderful reader, about SUSE in this little spiel before we begin the article properly. It had the 10.0 release a couple of months ago, and remains rather popular. You can either pay for it, or choose the open source version (which I did because I'm tight). And now I'm going to review it.

Naturally enough, the first step is to download it. It certainly isn't a small distribution, weighing at five CDs. It would be nice if the extra CDs weren't really required for the installation, since it would be quicker to download the packages for about the last three CDs, since I required no packages from them. Although you could get away with not having all the CDs, it is difficult to tell which CDs have which packages on them. Having said that, having lots of CDs does mean a wide range of packages that you'll never have to download again. Anyway, I got them in the end, and the next step was, oddly enough, installation.


I'm going to skip ahead a bit and say that SUSE 10.0 probably has the best installation I've used.

You start off with a media check, which is handy for checking to make sure that your CDs have burnt correctly. It does this using the MD5 sums, and, fortunately, my CDs were fine.

After this, there are actually quite a few configuration screens, such as software, partitioning and network. However, the nice thing about the installation is that, while it accommodates the person that just wants to get the install over and done with, it also presents a great deal of options, if you want them. Generally, a screen will show you the settings that have been chosen for you. You can then go on and change the settings yourself by selecting the 'Expert' tab. Easy enough for the average user, and with enough options to keep me happy.

In the Expert options, you can set up your own partitioning - even here, SUSE offers a choice - essentially between guided partitioning and doing it yourself. When it gets to software selection, you can select whichever applications you want. You can choose an entire group, such as GNOME, or each individual package.

It is quite interesting that SUSE offers the choice between both KDE and GNOME, without giving preference to either of them (except that KDE is on top).

During the installation, you are asked for the root password, and to set up a separate user - I was glad to know that SUSE maintains the concept of not logging in as root, unlike Linspire.

Overall, the installation is very polished, and should satisfy most users. The only minor gripe is that it did take a fair amount of time to complete, but it also installs a large number of packages onto the system. Besides, the time taken wasn't really that long.

General Use

Before you log in, you have the choice of GNOME, KDE and a few, more lightweight choices. Although GNOME isn't neglected, KDE feels as though it has gotten more attention, and is better integrated into SUSE.

Coming on five CDs, SUSE contains a large range of packages, with all the usual suspects -, the GIMP, Kopete, Apache, and so on. SUSE 10.0 was released a couple of months ago, so the packages are generally up to date.

Once you're logged in, both KDE and GNOME act much as would you expect, except for one part: configuration. Here SUSE adds something of their own: YaST. From here, you can change just about all the different options for SUSE, from adding users to installing extra software. Overall, it works perfectly fine, although it isn't a huge improvement over the utilities that come with a normal GNOME or KDE installation. Having said that, YaST does save you looking through the various menus for one particular tool, and presents you with all the options in a user friendly manner.

Speaking of installing extra software, YaST does this in much the same fashion as during the installation - it resolves the dependencies without complaint and asks you to feed it the CDs. YaST also lets you update the packages from the internet. One thing I would have liked is a notification whenever there are updates available. Although this can be turned on, many people would probably leave it off by default, making them vulnerable to the latest security threats. This may not be particularly important to some people, but, what with new viruses and exploits being found every day, keeping up to date is more important than ever.

Last minute edit: there is a little utility that appears on the panel that is supposed to automatically check for updates, but it never once checked for updates for me - I had to turn it on myself. Therefore, I will keep in my comments about the online updates not being turned on by default. While it may work for some people, I can only talk from my own personal experience.

Other tasks are similarly easy. For example, to add a new user, simply select Security and Users from the left hand side, and the User Management button in the main window. From there, you can add, edit or delete the existing users, along with a drop down list of 'expert options', such as password encryption and defaults for new users. Using LVM in the System section allows you to add and change mount points for other partitions, as well as adding logical volumes.

Around the desktop, whether in GNOME or KDE, SUSE definitely doesn't feel as nippy as Ubuntu or Debian, but it isn't particularly sluggish either. On anything bought in the last couple of years, SUSE should run fine. Installation of my printer was as easy as any other distribution - all you need to know is what port the printer is connected to, and the model, and you should be fine.

The internet worked perfectly out of the box. However, the firewall did not. While having a firewall installed by default is a good idea, I had to disable it to be able to see any other machines on the network, which detracts from its usefulness. Once the firewall was off, accessing files from other computers, whether a Windows or Debian machine, was faultless. With networked printers, SUSE seemed to suffer from the same problem as other Linux distributions - that is, you need a working driver to be able to use the networked printer. No driver, no printing.


Overall, SUSE is definitely a decent distribution. YaST is what is commonly associated with SUSE, and it serves its purpose extremely well. However, YaST alone is not enough to make an entire distribution good. As said, SUSE doesn't feel as nippy as other distributions, such as Ubuntu or Fedora Core. Unlike those two distributions, the auto update is not turned on by default, which could leave some users unaware and vulnerable.

On the other hand, SUSE 10.0 does have an excellent installation and YaST in its favour. It is very polished, and should be easy for any person, almost regardless of computer competency, to use and maintain. Apart from one nasty incident in GNOME, where just about everything crashed, it is also stable and reliable. The five CDs contain a huge range of packages, which should have something to please everyone.

Perhaps a more important question might be: how does SUSE fare against other distributions? Against Fedora Core 4, SUSE benefits from the more recent applications and easier installation. User friendliness is quite similar, with SUSE perhaps just edging out in front thanks to YaST. They both have a wide range of applications that are easily installed from the CDs, with Fedora weighing in at four CDs. I think SUSE is the better of the two - they are much the same, and both very polished, but SUSE is just that bit more user friendly.

It is much harder to say whether it is any better than Ubuntu 5.10. Ubuntu has the advantage of apt, which makes package installation and updates a breeze. SUSE does seem a bit more polished, but they are both stable and reliable. Again, Ubuntu has the advantage of updates, while SUSE has YaST. While Ubuntu is still easy to use, SUSE is more so thanks to YaST. If I had to choose one distribution, I would go for Ubuntu, but that's probably because of my bias towards Debian and apt. If user friendliness and ease of use are paramount, then I can think of no better distribution than SUSE 10.0.

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