SuSE Linux 9.1 Review

By Pete | @kingpetey | 24 Jun 2004

I've had SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional (here) running for about a month now, it's a good step forward from version 9. As usual it's fixed lots of annoyances but created more.

SuSE Linux 9.1 comes in two flavours, the Personal edition (RRP ?24:95) and the Professional edition (RRP ?64:99). The Professional edition also comes as an update (RRP ?42:95) and a student version (RRP ?42:95).

The Personal edition comes on one CD and is aimed at the first time user for Linux. It has a limited number of packages compared to the Professional and normally contains one program for a certain task, for instance Konqueror (here) is the only web browser included. The Professional edition on the other hand comes with a much wider range of packages including server and development tools.



As of last week the Personal edition can be downloaded for free as an ISO image directly from SuSE (here) this is an unexpected first for SuSE but a welcomed one. SuSE 9.1 Professional can be downloaded for free as usual through an FTP install. There is also a live CD version of the Personal edition which can be downloaded for free from FTP.

Installation

As soon as the SuSE 9.1 DVD boots you get the nice graphical installer of YaST (Yet Another Set-up Tool). The first screen you get once it has loaded is to select you're language, after that SuSE automatically detects settings for you but allows you to change them if you wish. It's a good idea to keep an eye on what YaST is doing especially for partitioning and package selection.

YaST handily allows you to resize Fat32 and NTFS partitions, while it's been reported that there has been a bug with this and the 2.6 Kernel I risked it anyway, luckily there were no problems. Once you have confirmed all you're settings the installer goes on to copy all the packages to your hard drive, this for me took about 30 minutes.

Once done the installer reboots and leads you on to a number of steps including user accounts, network configuration, on-line updating and device configuration. Most were pretty self explanatory or could be left and changed at a later date.

Once finished you automatically login to your account and the KDE (here) desktop is loaded. I prefer not having to login to a machine especially when it's a home machine and you're the only person using it.


here

In my view the installation process it about as easy as you can make it compared with any other OS including Windows. It's not the quickest or shortest installer compared to some Linux distributions but it does cover the most options in the simplest way.

I have read in quite a few reviews of SuSE 9.1 that they think the post-installation is too complex especially with the network and devices but SuSE does attempt to configure everything itself and only if the user knows what they are doing do they need to edit these settings.

Look and feel

As usual SuSE have done well in making the desktop as nice as possible especially in KDE. It doesn't look as slick or smart as Fedora (here) but is friendly and makes the desktop feel welcoming which I prefer. A nice mountain picture is put as default on the desktop with some interesting squares giving the picture more of a design.


here

The menu has been categorised into different sections just as most distributions do, the menu looked better on higher resolutions as it tended to spread itself across the screen too much on the lower ones.

SuSE also has a nice theme for OpenOffice (here) which makes it fit in nicely with KDE. It doesn't look so good in Gnome (here) however SuSE isn't normally the first choice for Gnome users. I will point out that significant changes have been made with Gnomes look and feel but some things still look misplaced such as the YaST icons.

I also noticed that when you double click on the title bar of a window it maximises or minimises it rather than hiding or showing the window below similar to what you get in Windows. I personally prefer this as I quite often change between OS's depending on what I'm doing.

The desktop has an icon called my computer, inside are shortcuts to CD drives, floppy drives and Windows partitions, yet there are no links to the home directory or root directory. Unfortunately you can not write to this folder so any configuring cant be made. SuSE could go as far to put links to YaST and KDE control panel in here.


here

Configuration

YaST does the majority of the day to day configuration that you're going to be needing. Settings from RPM installations to tweaking devices are covered here. It does a fairly good job of most things but it's not as fast as Mandrakes (here) control centre.

Most of my hardware worked straight away but not all. I was hoping that my Netgear USB wireless adapter would have been set-up for me, unfortunately not. It was however nice how when you plugged in a USB hard drive or memory stick it would automatically mount it and add it to My Computer.

My BT848 TV card was detected as usual but YaST fails to configure it properly, for one it doesn't include support for Pal-I, used in the UK and second I couldn't get any sound from the card. It's not surprising how old the card is but it's not much good watching a black and white picture with no sound.

SuSE's on-line update provides the latest patches and certain other downloads which aren't available for licensing issues on the CD however they tend to be security related rather then program updates.

Applications

The Professional edition comes with a full range of programs and a few nice new ones. Two must have programs ? Firefox (here) and Thunderbird (here) have now been included which I personally found good.

The audio manager Juk has also been included with this release of SuSE, it's quite nice but it would be good if it supported video and mp3 streams.


here

SuSE 9.1 also includes the database application Rekall and the text processor and spreadsheet applications Textmaker and Planmaker.

The media players Xine (here) and Kaffeine are also included but don't come with any codecs so are practically useless. Not to include DVD support is fair enough because of licensing issues but the majority of other codecs (Xvid etc) are available often for free distribution. Even if they could not be distributed for legal reasons they could be offered though YaST's on-line update similar to the way the Nvidia drivers or Microsoft's fonts are distributed.



I had considerable problems installing Xine for reasons I couldn't work out, in the end I settled for Mplayer thanks to some RPMs found on here. This is by far the best site for SuSE RPMs on a range of programs.

There are a couple of programs I would want to see added to future releases of SuSE Linux, one would be AMSN (here) simply because it is the best MSN messenger clone available and the other would be Mplayer as a Xine alternative.

XMMS is included as the default audio player but it seems to have issues when minimising as the components do not minimise with it. Whether this is a XMMS or SuSE bug I couldn't be sure.

Conclusion

SuSE 9.1 is an improvement but as I said in my opening line it's a step forward on one front yet a step back on another.

The biggest improvements are definitely in the GUI and the surrounding images that support the overall look of SuSE 9.1. It's package selection is also becoming better and more refined, new packages are being added and the range of commercial programs available is much better then the majority of distributions.

Overall I liked SuSE 9.1, I personally prefer it over Mandrake and Fedora for ease of use and features however hardware support is still lacking in some areas and stability isn't perfect.

Reviewers System

Pentium 4 ? 2gig
768mb DDR
120gig Hard drive
ATI Radeon 9600

Last Edited 27/06/04

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Comments

Hi! I'm just starting to learn about Linux. I'm researching the compatibilty of my hardware right now. I heard Red Hat was good for beginners so I'm looking on their website. Just a couple questions..

1. I'm not finding anything about HD's. Are they all supported then?

2. I did see some compatible motherboards.. Does that mean that certain motherboards aren't going to work?

3. What ways (short of writing my own drivers) are available to work around incompatibilites with a particular Linux distribution? In other words, can you download drivers etc or is it not that simple?

4. I want to put it on its own excusive HD, and sometime after Christmas build a whole new computer for it from scratch. Am I going to have a lot of trouble with newer motherboards?(533MHz/Rambus/ATA 133)

Thanx

1. You should be able to install most distributions on any hard drive though you may have problems if it is in raid.

2. If you pick a big distribution such as SuSE, Ubuntu or Mandriva you wont have any problems with motherboard support.

3. Very little hardware is not supported by Linux now

4. You shouldn't have problems with that configuration.

My Suse 9.1 will NOT get any updates any longer and I have tried EVERY update site in my list.
The error I'm getting is "Unable to check for updates".

Does anyone have any idea how to fix this?
Connectivity is fine, it's just not able to get updates.....

Thanks,
Jake

My Siiiuse 9.1 is not get any updates.

'Unable to check for updates'

THanks,
Andrew