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|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] First Look at SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional
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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [hangout] First Look at SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional
Date: Wed, 6 Apr 2005 12:52:41 +0100
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List: New Yorker GNU Linux Scene
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First Look at SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional
SUSE has been one of the major players on the desktop for as long as I can
remember, and for good reason. They have built a solid, sleek desktop ready
for anyone who wanted to give Linux a shot but either had no luck with other
distributions, or simply was curious but didn't have the time to fight their
way through a long install or tedious configurations. SUSE was it. Does the
distro that has kept so many people happy for so long still have what it
takes to stay on top? We're about to find out...
Linux kernel 220.127.116.11
GCC 3.3.5/glibc 2.3.4
OpenOffice.org 2.0 PR
Xen 1.0 virtualization software
Beagle desktop search
F-Spot 0.0.12 image manager
NetApplet network connection manager
Adobe Acrobat 7
This release has generated a lot of buzz in the Linux world due to the new
features it's sporting. Software such as Xen and Beagle are probably the
main reason for the excitement, and for good reason. Both packages have thus
far been in development and not available in any other mainstream
distribution. SUSE is the first commercial distribution to market with both
For those who might not have heard yet, Xen is system virtualization
software which will allow you to run multiple guest operating systems on
your computer. Think VMWare (I know... I know it's a bad reference, but the
only thing I can think of to bring about a decent mental picture) here but
quite a bit more complicated, a great deal faster, and completely open
sourced. Beagle is the latest system search/indexing companion for GNOME and
after I was able to get it working (I go into detail later in the article) I
really liked what I saw. It's probably not something you'd use every day,
but worth it's weight in gold when you need it.
SUSE LINUX 9.3 is also sporting some other great little goodies such as the
F-Spot image management tool, the NetApplet tray-based network connection
management tool, and the latest Adobe Acrobat 7 package, which has more
features and is more responsive than any other release thus far.
OpenOffice.org is present as usual, but this time in a 2.0 pre-release
format (see screenshot). This release is also much faster than the last, and
has much improved Microsoft Office compatibility baked in. Even though it's
a pre-release, I found that it worked just as well as any final code I've
used from them. Feature-wise, this release should look very tempting to
first time Linux users and veterans alike. SUSE's efforts have always been
tailored specifically for the desktop, and for the most part, nothing has
Installation is probably the hardest thing to cover in a Linux review. I
mean, what can you really say about it? It either did the trick or it
didn't. There's not much in between. Every installer has the same purpose to
a degree: Install Linux and a bunch of other applications onto the system.
That's what SUSE's YaST installer does... and it does it very well. Anyone
who's used SUSE in the past several years knows that the YaST installer
hasn't change much, and this release is really no different. They've only
made subtle changes each time a new release is out, and that's fine, because
it's actually a decent installer. The only thing I dislike about it is that
it seems to ask too many questions of the end user. In this day and age
you'd think some of the things it requires input for would be somewhat
automated... such as hardware detection and configuration.
There are other distros that do this, and YaST might move up a notch if it
were to utilize today's improved Linux hardware detection a little more and
take away some of the detailed knowledge required of the end user.
Considering half of this distro's target market is home users, it would
benefit them greatly. The other half is technical and/or power users so
their need for better/more automatic hardware detection and setup may not be
as great. Other than that, the YaST installer is second to none. Red Hat,
Mandrake, and SUSE have all refined their installers to the point that they
really don't need any drastic improvements at this point. They've already
got the formula, now they're all spending time rounding them out.
In the end, I had no issues with the installer, save for it not recognizing
my monitor or its capabilities properly. I needed to manually adjust the
settings myself, but that's not a big deal. I've been doing this so long I
know my hardware settings better than I know my own social security number.
I also noted that the default password encryption is now set to blowfish,
which will allow for longer passwords. For the first time in recent memory I
was not asked to truncate it. Smart move on their part.
A note on installing with existing crypto partitions
SUSE 9.3 includes a newer encryption module than that used in earlier
versions of the product, so if you are upgrading to SUSE 9.3 from an older
version such as 9.1 or 9.2 you'll need to take appropriate action to guard
against data loss where access to an existing encrypted file system is
1. Do NOT include your encrypted partition(s) during the installation
2. Run YaST Online Update after the installation has completed and you're
logged into the system
3. Add your encrypted file systems using the YaST partitioning module
Running SUSE LINUX
SUSE has always been one of the top distributions for desktop use, but it's
never been on top in terms of performance. Most commercial desktop
distributions suffer from the same problem, but I'd have to say SUSE has
always been at the bottom of the list in terms of raw speed and desktop
performance. Even Mandrake and Fedora seem faster. The reason I'm mention
this isn't to knock them on performance yet again, but to say that the feel
of this desktop is much more responsive than any of their past efforts.
Whether this is all in my head or completely justified remains to be seen,
but I'm sure other reviewers will be commenting on this very same topic. I
originally thought this might be due to the enhancements made in the the
recent KDE 3.4 release, but was forced to reevaluate once I saw the Gnome
desktop in action. The performance of SUSE 9.3 is actually pretty good. Not
as fast as the likes of Slackware or Gentoo but beggars can't be choosers as
they say. To have this many apps at my fingertips plus speed... that's just
The desktop itself is organized very well, as has become the norm for SUSE
LINUX releases. Actually, both KDE and GNOME have received a fair amount of
attention. I wouldn't say equal, but they've placed more amount of attention
on GNOME than in previous releases. KDE is still their default so it gets
the gold, but in any event they are both organized well. Applications are
easily found, and almost everything I used worked as advertised, with some
exceptions i will get into shortly. See this screenshot for a visual.
SUSE LINUX has predominantly been a KDE-based distribution, and nothing has
changed on that front, as it's default desktop is still KDE... but... since
the Novell acquisition (who also acquired the Gnome gurus known collectively
as Ximian if you recall) it seems that more emphasis has been placed on the
Gnome desktop environment as well. It makes sense after all, to provide two
of the most popular desktops available for Linux, and to put an equal amount
of effort into both. Gnome has recently been just another piece of software
on the SUSE CDs, but it appears that it is now being treated with the
respect it deserves. Well done. I suspect part of this is due to the
development efforts on Novell Linux Desktop, which is their Gnome-centric
enterprise desktop release.
Mozilla Firefox 1.0.1 is the default browser for this release and with good
reason. It's fast becoming the most popular browser on the planet and SUSE
knows it. As far as I'm concerned they've made a solid choice. For your
reference, the Mozilla Thunderbird email client is missing from the lineup,
though it's easily downloaded from the web. The default email clients for
SUSE 9.3 are Novell Evolution and KMail for Gnome and KDE respectively. Even
though I use Thunderbird, I've got no complaints here, as both of these have
become excellent apps over the years and can easily handle heavy duty
email/calendaring/contact management tasks.
Firefox is a very capable browser but like anything else it's not for
everyone... so for those who prefer to use it, Mozilla 1.7.5 is also
available on install discs, which you can easily grab using YaST. It should
also be noted that Epiphany and Opera 7.5 are available on the installation
discs if you care to use them. One issue I found while running Firefox on
both installations was with bookmarks. For some reason, each time you launch
the browser and click on the Bookmarks toolbar option, the only thing that
is visible are the "Bookmark this page" and "Manage bookmarks" menu items.
Even if you have 100 bookmarks, you won't see them until you create a new
bookmark... then they're visible... at least until you close the browser
(see screenshot). The next time you open it, the same thing happens. Minor
detail but frustrating all the same.
Beagle makes it's commercial debut
SUSE is the first commercial distribution to include the Beagle search tool
(flash demos | wiki) for Linux and I think it should be well received. For
those who have used Google's new desktop search tool, think of Beagle in
much the same way but with more cool points. As you can see by the flash
demo, Beagle allows you to search your entire system for any and all
keywords you enter. It provides full document search, which allows you to
find text inside files. While this is not a new concept (it has been
available from the command line and via Konqueror's search tool for years),
it's done very well. It also searches for documents, photos, music, or any
other file on your system, and can do full email and instant messaging
When I first tried to load Beagle, it complained that the Beagle daemon
wasn't started and gave me the option to start it (see screenshot). This
option did nothing at all. The beagle daemon wouldn't start when attempted
under a regular user account, but when tried it logged in as root and it
worked fine. I'm mentioning this problem to save a few people some headaches
if they run into the same problem, as it might be a common one if you have
your file system set up like I do...
On my systems, I always create /home as a separate partition, so if I decide
to load a new distro, I can keep my most important files and reuse them on
the new install. I did the same thing when I installed SUSE 9.3... I told it
to format all partitions with the exception of /home. Now, the problem with
Beagle would seem unrelated to that partitioning choice until you look a
little closer. Running it with debug and foreground turned on (best --fg
--debug) told the whole story. It was complaining about a lack of extended
attributes on the /home file system and refused to run. Now, SUSE thought
ahead and enabled extended attributes on their file systems by default, but
remember I told the installer to leave that partition as-is, only to mount
it as /home. In this circumstance, it did exactly as I asked and didn't flag
it for extended attributes. That's not SUSE's fault, but something to watch
out for. To fix it, all I needed to do was add to my file system attributes
for /home, remount the file system, and it worked like a charm. See below
for an /etc/fstab example...
/dev/hda3 /home reiserfs noatime,acl,user_xattr 1 2
Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated features of SUSE LINUX 9.3 is Xen
virtualization software and with good reason. Xen allows for multiple guest
operating systems (or domains as they are referred to by Xen) to run
simultaneously on a single system. Xen requires a modified kernel which
allows it to access system hardware through Xen hypercalls, allowing it to
run at performance never before seen with the likes of VMWare or User Mode
Linux. It is also for this reason that Microsoft Windows is not a supported
operating system on Xen. Its purpose is very different anyway. It wasn't
meant to be a VMWare clone.
An interesting thing I'd like to note is that the first time I installed
SUSE 9.3, I chose Xen as an install option. It then copied the additional
kernel the the hard drive and populated the Grub boot menu with the
additional choice for the Xen-enabled kernel. The second time I loaded SUSE,
I took the defaults, bypassing the choice for Xen. I then installed it
after-the-fact and noted that while it did copy over the new kernel, it did
not add the appropriate Grub menu entries. For those who are still catching
up, the default SUSE kernel does not support Xen. A second kernel and
bootloader option is required. If you want to use Xen, I recommend
installing support for it when you initially install the system because it
will make it easier on you in the long run. You will need to customize your
software selection to accommodate it, since it's not included in a default
SUSE 9.3 features rudimentary support for connection to an Apple iPod using
kio_ipodslave in KDE. With it you can browse, copy songs to and from the
iPod, access and copy playlists, and more. It should be noted that I wasn't
able to create new directories for new artists when I tested this feature.
When you connect the iPod to the computer, it automatically creates an icon
for it in My Computer on the desktop. It creates a device, available in
Konqueror using the address ipod:/, that is consequently available for
applications such as Amarok to play media from... that is if Amarok was able
to play MP3 files... which it isn't.
Multimedia support... or lack of it
SUSE's disregard for proper multimedia playback has officially gotten out of
hand. While I am not a lawyer and I confess to not knowing all of the
specifics regarding the legalities of MP3 playback, the only other
distribution guilty of crippling it (that I am aware of) is Red Hat. So what
are the other distros (Linspire comes immediately to mind) doing to ensure
their users are able to listen to their music and watch their videos? SUSE
has really done a thorough job at crippling media playback in version 9.3
and it's a really sad thing to see. What's even worse is trying to fix it.
Lack of MP3 support upsets me not only because I have tons of CDs I've
ripped to MP3 over the years and can't even listen to them on this distro,
but knowing that I could install practically any other distro on the planet
and be back to normal again. The only way to play MP3 files on the newest
SUSE release is to use the included RealPlayer 10. Nothing against Real's
software, but it's not full-featured enough to be considered the default
player for MP3 files, especially with the likes of Amarok on the system.
Even the aging XMMS has more features.
>From what it looks like, GStreamer, Arts, and aKode (the latter two are both
included in the kdemultimedia packages) were all compiled without MP3
support. Unlike Red Hat, where all you need to do is install a single file
to resolve, SUSE has crippled their distro in such a way that it's extremely
difficult to fix. Considering the main components are part of a larger
package set, you'd need to recompile KDE's multimedia section in order to
properly right the situation. The problem with this would be that you're
throwing off the balance of package management at that point, so future
upgrades might have unpredictable results. It's also a nightmare to
recompile these packages on SUSE, as you'll end up installing many
development packages for the likes of KDE, Xorg, etc... not to mention the
need to grab source code for other key pieces such as lame, flac, and
taglib. The fastest way I was able to cure the problem was to grab the SUSE
9.2 kdemultimedia packages from a reliable KDE mirror. While this cured the
problem temporarily, the next time I installed something from YaST, it
reinstalled its multimedia packages. Frustrating.
This is especially concerning when you take a look at the way they are
advertising this release. According to their PR material, SUSE 9.3 has Apple
iPod support and that's a great thing because iPod is the hottest music
player on the market these days, but what file format is most commonly found
on iPods across the world? You guessed it: MP3. It also supports AAC, WAV,
and a few other less common formats but as you know AAC isn't as common as
MP3... not even close. If you're storing WAV files on your iPod, you're not
using space wisely, as WAV files are on average ten times larger than a
comparable MP3. To date, Apple has not built OGG support into their devices
and I don't foresee it happening any time soon. So there goes iPod support
on SUSE. It doesn't do a lot of good having support for a device that you
aren't willing to provide proper playback facilities for on the desktop.
I contacted reviewer support at SUSE, and after several days I received as
response confirming that it was indeed by design. They also went on to say
"Novell is improving the multimedia experience for audio enthusiasts with
the SUSE LINUX Professional 9.3 release.
Out of the box we have standardized on RealPlayer, based on the Helix Open
Source project this player provides a unique experience including a web
browser plugin and is capable of playing all major multimedia formats.
For the music enthusiast we are now providing several free add-on multimedia
option packs via YaST Online Update (YOU).
Those packages include players, mixers, equalizers and everything you need
to set up a home music studio.
This new approach will allow us to better address the rapidly changing
packages in the multimedia marketplace.
I could be wrong, but this sounds like they've realized a mistake and are
going to correct it after the fact... but that still doesn't explain nor
excuse the crippling of standard packages, or if they intend to right the
situation at hand."
SUSE 9.3 has the potential to be a serious contender on the desktop, but
sadly I cannot recommend this release to anyone looking for a well-balanced
desktop Linux system. While they score points for making use of the latest
and greatest desktop environments, new peripheral technology, and usability
enhancements, the way they've crippled the multimedia functionality of this
one-time world class distro is hard to ignore. Most of the people buying
this will realize that they can no longer listen to 99% of their music.
Updates from YOU or not, this still equals a broken distro. Sure, in a
perfect world, everyone would be using OGGs, but we don't live in a perfect
world. This is a flaw that might seem trivial, but in fact it's a huge
Other than that and the few issues I've noted in the review, SUSE 9.3 has
potential to be an excellent distribution. This release is responsive, full
of applications, has a polished interface (as all SUSE releases do), and
device support is actually very good. The only thing I was not able to get
working here was a Logitech QuickCam Pro 4000 webcam. SUSE had no idea what
to do with it, but other USB devices such as pen drives, cameras, and the
Apple iPod were all detected and working well during the review. Of course I
can't speak for everyone's hardware, but here it did well. This saves the
end user much time and headache trying to get everything set up the way they
Can you put a dollar amount on all of this? Yes you can. Everything has a
monetary value associated with it. Is SUSE worth the $89.95 USD price tag
they placed on it? Well, I guess that all depends on the consumer. I know
during the review I had my fair share of frustration with it and it's a
frustration I've never had with SUSE before so I see this as one of those
"oops" releases that many developers put out. They usually quickly realize
their mistake and follow quickly with either another dot release or some
patches... which it looks like SUSE might do in this case. Either way nobody
should be releasing a desktop without proper multimedia support in this day
and age. Linspire just released a distro that will do pretty much anything
save for DVD playback. What's going on with Novell/SUSE? This may seem
trivial, but on a desktop distro it isn't.
The thing is, I know SUSE will get better. They've had some seriously good
releases in the past and they will in the future. Let's afford them a few
mistakes and look forward to the next release because if I know SUSE it will
be a good one.
Product name: SUSE LINUX 9.3 Professional
Price: $89.95 USD
Availability: Mid-April, 2005 (Novell is taking preorders now)
About the author...
Reviewed by Adam Doxtater - Co-author of Snort 2.1 Intrusion Detection 2nd
Edition, Snort 2.0 Intrusion Detection and MCSE Designing Windows 2000
Directory Services by Syngress/Osbourne/McGraw-Hill. Adam is the founder and
Chief Technology Editor of Mad PenguinTM. To contact Adam for interviews
and/or consultation he is available on a first-come/first-serve basis, and
can be contacted here
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