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SuSE 9.0 Personal: One hour to a slick Linux desktop

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SuSE's 9.0 Linux distribution comes with a 400 page manual and 3 CD-ROM's -- all for a retail price of $40 (US). This is the third release of SuSE Linux that I've purchased and each version is smaller and better than the last. SuSE 6.3, purchased in early 1999, failed to fit on a dedicated 6.4 GB disk. SuSE 9.0 Personal Edition took a grand total of 2 GB of disk space. In spite of the reduction in disk requirements (and CD-ROM's), it includes everything I expect a modern distribution to have.

However, 'everything I expect' was not to come quite so easily -- I was in for a small surprise in the first install. For my first installation I let SuSE drive, selecting only the default options and let YaST, SuSE's excellent setup tool, autodetect and configure all of my hardware.

With the package installation underway, I took the opportunity to browse the manual that came in the box. On page 21 it told me that a 'minimal system' would require 180 MB of disk space. Add a graphical interface to the minimal system brings the requirement up to 500 MB. For a Graphical system with modern applications, it was going to take between 1 and 2 GB. However, there was no mention of what their purely default installation was going to take. Well, I can now say that the default installation takes almost exactly 1.5 GB.

Meanwhile, the installation progressed rapidly and without incident on my 667 MHz Pentium III with 512 MB of memory. 36 minutes after booting from the first installation CD-ROM I was logging into my newly SuSEd system. I brought up a Konsole and typed 'mozilla'.

bash: mozilla: command not found

Next, just to make sure there was no menu-linking glitch, I issued a find command to search the entire filesystem for 'mozilla'. No luck. It looked I was going to have to make do with Konqueror. Now, Konqueror is a fine browser, but I strongly prefer Mozilla.

Moving right along, I next tried to compile a C program.

bash: gcc: command not found

Now I was starting to get annoyed. Another find command and another negative result later, and my patience was exhausted. What kind of default software selection gives you no gcc and no Mozilla?

Quickly assessing my options, I decided that salvaging this installation would be more trouble that installing again. I popped disk 1 back in the CD-ROM drive and started over.

During booting SuSE Linux shows a clean screen with a progress bar -- and a 'Press F2 for details' message in the upper left corner. Pressing F2 shows all the boot messages that traditionally has kept us entertained while Linux probes hardware, loads modules, and starts up daemons. It turns out that my machine doesn't boot fast enough for the status bar to be sufficient entertainment -- and I can't read fast enough to follow the messages. I pressed F2. I guess I just need the reassuring text scrolling by.

Prior to starting the second installation, I clicked the 'Software selection' button and took a look at just what the default system included. No Gnome, no development tools, and no games. I searched several categories for Mozilla and finally found it hiding out under the unselected Gnome, of all places. I guess the reasoning goes something like this: KDE includes Konqueror so let's stick Mozilla in Gnome for a sense of balance.

So, to summarize the default software selection, you get no games for local fun, no Mozilla for Internet fun, and no compiler for fixing the problem with source based packages. I guess that makes sense for an office installation. Not being an office worker bent on eliminating time-wasting diversions, the default was definitely not for me. It's probably not for you either.

The manual says on page 31...
If you install the default system, there is usually no need to add or remove individual packages.
Of course, one of the side effects of such an installation is to remove your ability to install some packages. I think the default software selection should come with a big red warning rather than the 'usually no need...' reassurances.

For the second installation I selected all of the categories in 'Software selection' lest I be tripped up by another useful app hidden away in a category where I would never expect it to be.

Selecting everything brought the installation time up to 56 minutes and filled up 2 GB of disk.

Neither installation gave me an option to select a screen resolution or color depth. As long as YaST picks sane defaults, I suppose most users will have no trouble finding and changing the display settings.

I encountered only one anomaly in my installation experience: on the second (everything...) installation, the caching nameserver did not start automatically. I had to manually bring up the nameserver after the system was installed. That's particularly odd since the nameserver came up and worked fine in the 'default software' installation. The difference between the two installations was the selection of the 'games', 'gnome', and 'development tools' software categories. I don't know whether others will encounter the same problem.

A big advantage of SuSE Linux is the manual. In addition to the installation section, it includes an introduction to several major packages including the OpenOffice.org Office Suite, The GIMP, Galeon and Mozilla. There is also a chapter on the KDE desktop, a chapter on Gnome and an introduction to bash for Linux newbie.

Getting your hardware working is made easier by chapters on TV, video, radio and webcams; digital cameras; scanning; and a guide to burning CD-ROM's.

Overall, I'm impressed with the progress SuSE has made since 1999. A modern Linux distribution is an exercise in refined installation and the careful selection and integration of applications. With the minor exception of the lack of gcc and Mozilla in the default software selection, SuSE has done a superb job on both fronts.
mail this link | score:7878 | -Ray, November 29, 2003 (Updated: April 18, 2007)
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