With version 7.0, SuSE heads down the path blazed by Caldera and Red Hat by splitting their distribution into both an end-user oriented and a “professional” system. While it might seem like a cheap ploy to raise the price of the retail box, there is some method to the madness. There’s really no need to include some of the developer and server-oriented software in a distribution that is going to be used as a desktop system. We decided to focus on the Professional version of SuSE 7.0 for this review.
SuSE Professional is essentially the same package that standard SuSE used to be, except that it costs about $20 more. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it; SuSE has always come with more software than you can shake a stick at. In fact, the last several versions have contained six CD-ROMs.
Good ‘N’ Plenty
SuSE’s Personal edition comes with three CD-ROMs (still a hefty amount of software), omitting some of the development tools and server applications that Professional includes. SuSE 7.0 Professional contains more than 1,900 packages, while Personal contains just over 600. Unless you’re really tight for cash or only need the basic Linux install, it’s probably worth the extra few dollars for the Professional version.
You also can’t accuse SuSE of not providing adequate documentation. In addition to all the available online documentation (which consumes a lot of disk space if you choose to install it all), SuSE comes with four real manuals! You get a short installation guide (replete with cutesy cartoon characters), a configuration guide, and an application handbook that covers some of the more popular Linux apps. However, the best manual is a monster-sized tome called the SuSE Linux 7.0 Handbook. It’s not John Irving, but it provides lots of solid information especially helpful to new Linux users.
YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) has improved since version 6.4, morphing into YaST2. YaST2 makes package selection easier, detects more hardware, and includes graphical installation. YaST2 not only detected the video card, sound card, and network card on the test machine, it also detected an Epson printer hooked up to a parallel port. Beware however — just because it detects a device doesn’t mean that it will configure that device. It was a surprise to learn that, after pleasantly noting that YaST2 detected the printer properly, it hadn’t configured it. We needed to re-run YaST2 to configure the printer after installation. However, the configuration was simple enough, and the printer has worked flawlessly since.
If you’re not a big fan of the graphical install, or if YaST2 has issues with your video card or other components, you can still fall back on good old console-based YaST. Diehard SuSE enthusiasts may want to stick with YaST just for familiarity’s sake, but it does not offer the advanced hardware detection and easy package selection of YaST2. Having installed SuSE 7.0 on the same machine using both YaST and YaST2, the install does seem to go faster when using YaST, but not enough to outweigh the advantages of YaST2′s hardware detection and configuration.
Not Just for Amateurs: SuSE 7.0 Professional contains more than 1,900 packages, all easily installable.
One of the nicest features of SuSE is its support for the typically faster and more efficient Reiser filesystem. Although reiserfs is still not “officially” supported, SuSE exercises its prerogative as an open source company and throws it in as an added value. SuSE does not force reiserfs on the user but makes it an option while partitioning drives during installation. However, it would be a good idea to include a warning or indication that reiserfs is not as widely accepted as ext2. Newbies should note that if they want to mount reiserfs partitions, switching to Red Hat or Slackware may create issues if they are using reiserfs as a /home partition.
SuSE also includes a number of other unofficial kernel patches, one of which enabled the use of an unsupported ATA66 PCI controller that other distributions we have tested did not detect. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes SuSE a very solid distro.
However, no matter how solid a distribution is out of the box, there will eventually be bugs and updates. Unfortunately, SuSE hasn’t followed the lead set by Debian, Linux-Mandrake, and Red Hat by including a network update feature. Considering the advantages that easy network updates offer, it’s strange that SuSE does not include a similar feature. While this oversight is technically not a flaw, this is one of the few things missing from SuSE that can be found in other distributions.
However, SuSE gets serious kudos for its inclusion of the Blinux screen reader daemon, which allows blind or partially sighted computer users to use Linux. SuSE is the first commercial distribution to include Blinux. We hope they won’t be the last.
The Bottom Line
Overall, SuSE 7.0 Professional is a solid distribution that is well put together and easy to configure. SuSE is RPM-based, so installing new software is easy enough. It loses a few points, however, for lacking a network upgrade tool. If you’re on the lookout for a Linux distro, SuSE Linux 7.0 Professional deserves a serious look.
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