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The StartX Files: A Little Housekeeping

SuSE 7.1, We Hardly Knew Ye...

June 25, 2001

It is a glorious Sunday afternoon as I write this. The kids are out playing the the yard, birds are tweeting, the sun is shining--and I am stuck inside in front of a computer.

Such is life.

There is a lot to discuss this week, though, and I want to get right to it.

First, I wanted to give a brief review of the latest Linux installation I have put on my computer: SuSE Linux 7.2. I realize that I could do a full review for Distribution Watch on LinuxPlanet, but I have a very good reason why this is not the case this go-around: I am genuinely unsure of why this version exists.

I am not trying to bash SuSE here, nor am I trying to give fuel to the fire for the committed SuSE-bashers. [Disclaimer: SuSE has used a quote from a previous review I did for them on the packaging for SuSE Linux 7.2. I was not compensated in any way for this blurb, but they did do it with my full permission.] But no one was more surprised than I when the box for SuSE came in the mail last week except my fellow editor Michael Hall, with whom I was speaking on the phone when the delivery came. I believe his first comment was "really?"

SuSE Linux 7.1 made some significant strides in tightening up the installation routine and packaging the KDE desktop environment into a slick little GUI that they are now calling the SuSE Desktop. It got the 2.4 kernel out and other goodies. But it did all of this in March. Why a new boxed set release a mere three months later, especially from a company that publicly admits they lose money on shipping software to the United States? It sure puzzled my noodle.

For the record, there is nothing wrong with SuSE Linux 7.2. The installer works fine, the desktop is solid, network support is topnotch. The only hiccup I have had with this install is a faulty sound card module that I am 99% sure I could fix in less than an hour if I would get off my lazy butt and go find the right driver. (Motivation, my editors have long lamented, is a real problem for me in the summertime.)

The kernel release in SuSE 7.2 is 2.4.4. XFree86 4.0.3 is the default X release. Samba 2.2 is the version included and the whole kit and caboodle is based on glibc 2.2.2, with support for libc5 programs.

Superficially, the one upgrade I think users are going to notice the most is the Samba upgrade. Samba and I have never been the coziest of companions because, admittedly, I have done a poor job in trying to understand how it works. To me, I just want something that says "there's my Windows machine, go get me that file" and vice versa, and be done with it. This has never really been the case on any Samba installation I have worked with. Samba 2.2 is finally approaching that level, though, and I was pleased to see it.

If I could point to one improvement that most needs to be made is speeding up the ungodly slow YaST2 configuration interface. It was slow two versions ago, when it was neat and pretty to look at. Now it's just too darn slow, which is why I will either use YaST1 or a straight command-line entry to configure anything in SuSE these days. We've established the aesthetics here, SuSE, now let's crank up the speed.

If you have never run a SuSE install before, I am positive that you will find this one a nice introduction to all things SuSE. But if you just bought or downloaded 7.1 (or even 7.0, for that matter), I really think you should wait. A lot of this stuff that's new in SuSE 7.2 can easily have been downloaded piecemeal over the past few months. I don't think there was a need for this release, nice as it was.

My theory for this short release cycle is that SuSE was trying to sync its release versions with the new Itanium flavor that was scheduled to be released last week. In other words, they opted to use the SuSE Linux 7.2 number for the Itanium release, and wanted to avoid confusion with the Intel version numbers. If this is the case, then this makes more sense. But if we see SuSE 7.3 in a September/October timeframe, then we'll know its something else.

The open source credo is release early, release often. But don't run your costs up so high while doing so and don't try to make the customers shell out a lot of money (or massive download times) to try to keep up.

Just a piece of advice from the guy on the box.

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