SUSE 10.0 OSS - Not For Me
2005 October 14 19:45 CET

SUSE Linux is one of the 'big' distributions. A name to be reckoned with one might say. They are currently third in the distrowatch hits per day ranking for the last six months, and second for the last month. Version 10.0, developed for the first time by the openSUSE project came out recently. When I heard about it I fired up bittorrent and grabbed the 5 CDs for the installation. My last experience with SUSE was with version 9.1 and it wasn't positive. But that was back when SUSE differentiated between a limited home edition (one CD) which could be downloaded and a bigger professional addition, only available if paid for. As a student on a budget I wasn't about to pay for it then, certainly not if I didn't like the home edition.

A short note before I begin a slightly more detailed review. I'm not very positive about SUSE 10.0, but that's all based just on my experiences running it on my system. The reviews currently linked from distrowatch's SUSE page are all reasonably positive. Clearly there are people who find that SUSE is right for them. Unfortunately I wasn't one of those people.


Are you still with me? Good, on with the review then. SUSE's installer isn't too difficult, so I won't waste a lot of words on it. I had to select advanced at just about every step, but after over a year of using Linux at home, nearly full-time, I guess I am an advanced user. I'm also somewhat difficult in that I want to have 3 Linux distributions running at the same time. So I have to use advanced for partitioning, bootloader setup etc., I can live with that. Even for advanced setup the configuration options are quite clear enough.

So on to the actual install itself. SUSE surprised me here, though I'd selected packages from all five CDs it wanted to reboot after CD1 was done. Well I couldn't do anything to change that so I went with the flow and after a slight delay (caused by a bootloader configuration error on my part) I was booting into SUSE which then continued with packages from the other 4 CDs. I did discover and quite like two things about the install. First, though SUSE doesn't publicize the fact the way Slackware's installer does, there is at least on normal getty open as a text console (crtl+alt+F2 will get you there). I used that on my second install, more about that later, to get my internet connection set-up before SUSE was done installing packages. I also discovered that SUSE tries both of my CD drives for the next CD. That meant I could put in two CDs at once and stay away twice as long before having to do anything again. I've never tried this with another installer so I'm afraid I have no idea how unique this is to SUSE.

Hardware support was quite good, SUSE found everything on my system, which isn't all that spectacular but still good. For one thing it correctly identified my monitor, graphicscard, and soundcard. The monitor especially has been somewhat problematic in the past, requiring me to hack xorg.conf by hand because it's acceptable frequencies are somewhat non-standard. Having said that I know enough to hack xorg.conf (at least in this respect), so it's not that big a problem when I have to. SUSE didn't find my Alcatel Speedtouch USB ADSL modem, but since no distro has ever done that and I know how to set it up by hand I can hardly hold this against SUSE. It did have the required kernel module available, and that's all I really need.

Post Install

Well the install completed and I setup a root password and a normal user. The usual stuff really. One complaint here, SUSE wants to give the normal user auto-login by default, something I overlooked in the installer. It's quite easy to correct, but I really don't think it should be a default option. That's just a personal preference I suppose. For people migrating from Windows it might be a bonus.

Anyway I completed my boot (with the auto-login I'd overlooked) and was sent into KDE, my selected default desktop. I won't beat around the bush. I don't like SUSE's default desktop, icon-scheme, or window-decorations. I don't really mind though since I always install my own favourites for all of these, a default I don't like just adds extra motivation to get this done. So I looked through some websites, fired up YasT, SUSE's default all purpose setup and system management tool, added a number of repositories and found a Baghira package. A little later Baghira was installed and taking care of my KDE styling and Window decorations. My favourite KDE icon theme was still living on my hard-drive and easily installed. My own mouse-cursor-theme also came from hard-drive.

With looks taken care off I fired up YasT again. One notable absence in SUSE 10.0 OSS is Mozilla-Thunderbird. I'm not sure why it wasn't included on CD, but it wasn't. Here I ran into my first major annoyance. I'd added pretty much all repositories listed on openSUSE's site as additional repositories, or mirrors of them at any rate. But searching for Thunderbird yielded no results. I checked by hand, MozillaThunderbird was present in one of the repositories I'd added. I went back to YasT, searched, found nothing, waded through lists of packages, found nothing. Finally I grabbed the package from the repository by hand and did rpm -Uhv on it from the commandline. It installed perfectly. For some reason, unknown to me at present, this package does seem to work with YasT for people who installed from DVD, at least if I'm reading the online sources right.

So YasT was a near instant disappointment as a package manager. What's more for some reason Firefox started to crash on a dime. I'd upgraded it and tried to downgrade, which made the situation worse. Instead of crashing on a dime Firefox now refused to launch complaining about a "segmentation error". Another reinstall didn't help so I went drastic, I reinstalled SUSE 10.0 altogether.

I went through pretty much the same thing with the second installation as the first, including Firefox's ability to crash on a dime. I did some searching (using Konqueror to browse the web) and found out SUSE 10.0 has the gtk-qt-engine installed an running by default. Unfortunately it doesn't generate an entry in KDE's control center, the way it does on every other distro I've used it one and there's no obvious way to turn it of. A problem since gtk-qt + baghira was making Firefox crash on a dime. Finally I just did rpm -e gtk-qt-engine from the commandline, I could have used YasT for the same thing, but it seemed too small a task to fire up YasT for. That took care of that problem at least, but there were still others.

My problems with SUSE 10.0

I'll make this brief since this thing is already plenty long:

  • kedit is, for some mysterious reason absent. It's my default text editor and a regular part of KDE. Using Kate instead isn't that bad, but it annoys the hell out of me.
  • SUSE 10.0 uses a ~/Documents folder as the default a lot of the time instead of the normal ~ (home) folder. If I want an operating system that thinks it knows better than me where my files ought to go I'll use Windows. I couldn't find an easy setting to reset this system-wide. Though I'll admit I didn't exactly spend hours looking for one.
  • For some reason the icon's in KDE's menu are larger than they are in any other distribution I use. I suppose I could get used to it, but presently find it annoying, again no way was found to adjust this.
  • XMMS doesn't have decent arts output plugin, nor can one be found in the standard YasT repositories. The one in used latches on to Kmix's entire PCM volume control, which is unacceptable for me. I explicitly want XMMS softer than other PCM sounds (like alerts). For a somewhat KDE centric distro not having this prepped for arts strikes me as odd, to say the least.
  • Speaking of arts, the entire arts sound system appears broken. It refuses to do something as simple as artsplay wavefile.wav until I go into the control center and click test-sound. This generates a message that the sound system is being started and only then do I get sound working.
  • Even though there are five CD's a number of packages just aren't available. This is stuff that I consider reasonably basic, like aMSN or Bluefish. This may improve with time though since 10.0 was only just released external repositories are presumably still playing catchup. Or it might simply be YasT acting up again.
  • YasT. I don't like it and doubt I ever will. YasT seems to promise a lot and is probably quite alright as a configuration tool. Where it completely disappoints me is package management. Like I said packages I can manually find in repositories aren't found by YasT for some reason (with the repository set to refresh its index). YasT promises a lot, but doesn't seem as capable as Fedora's Yum or the more general apt4rpm.

To summarize then. SUSE 10.0 OSS doesn't work for me at present. It might improve when repositories catch up, but even then some annoyance I can't pinpoint enough to alter them remain. If it works for other people that's great, but it's not the distro for me.

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