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SUSE Linux 9.2: Let the Branding Begin! - page 2

Differentiating Novell and SUSE

  • December 16, 2004
  • By Bill von Hagen

There's a law that Linux distribution reviews must begin with a discussion of the installer, which is probably reasonable since that's what most people see first. Long-term, the installer isn't really the key to a buying decision for most people since it's a one-shot deal. Companies and academic institutions thinking of adopting Linux on a wider scale pay sysadmins the big bucks to deal with installation and configuration hassles (or so I've heard). Luckily, with SUSE, most sysadmins can continue playing Doom or resolving problems for Windows users, since I had few problems installing SUSE on a variety of machines.

Since SUSE's 8.x releases, SUSE has shipped a truly impressive, modern distribution media kit containing both DVDs and CDs. With SUSE 9.2, a double-layer DVD supports complete 32-bit and 64-bit installs, accompanied by another DVD that contains the source code. For classicists or people without DVD readers in their systems, SUSE 9.2 also provides 5 installation CDs.

To push the envelope, I installed SUSE 9.2 on a white box 32-bit desktop system, a modern laptop, and a creaking antique boat anchor of a laptop, an IBM ThinkPad 380XD (the last mostly to see what would happen). I also upgraded my existing SUSE 9.1 distribution to 9.2 on an AMD Athlon 64-bit system. The 32-bit box uses 10/100 Ethernet, the 64-bit box features 10/100/1000, and both laptops are wireless (802.11b). In each case, a clean install of SUSE's YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) installer did an impressive job of detecting my hardware and configuring it correctly.

The upgrade from SUSE 9.1 on my 64-bit box went smoothly, except for one interesting glitch because my 64-bit box boots from a Serial ATA (SATA) drive. Apparently, between SUSE 9.1 and SUSE 9.2, SATA drives no longer show up as IDE drives (/dev/hd??), but now use SCSI-style device names (/dev/sd??). The upgrade failed when YaST tried to mount the partitions listed in the /etc/fstab file on my existing installation. This means that it found the file correctly, which is interesting, but couldn't address the other partitions by their old names. YaST's error dialog pointed me to a web page that discussed the possible causes of this problem. Armed with this info, things were easy enough to fix. I simply booted the old system in single-user mode, manually edited /etc/fstab to replace hda with sda everywhere, and then rebooted from the DVD. Voila! No problems from that point on.

I won't bore you by walking through installs that "just worked," which all good installers should facilitate. As a torture test, I installed Microsoft Windows on both laptops before trying the SUSE install (Windows XP on one and Windows 2000 Professional on the boat anchor). In both cases, YaST detected the Windows partitions correctly (NTFS on one, FAT32 on the other), offered good suggestions for resizing them, and did so flawlessly. The GRUB configuration file (called menu.lst on SUSE systems) was set up correctly for dual-booting on each system, and if I'd actually wanted Windows on those systems, I'd have been ready to rock. The only tweaking I had to do to get wireless (802.11b) working on both laptops was to manually enter my SSID and WEP key. Sacrificing a chicken is no longer required, as I had always had to do on Red Hat systems through Red Hat 9, after which I lost interest.

Actually, the YaST installation on the boat anchor was the most interesting and impressive. Trying to boot from CD 1 (since this system predates DVDs) displayed the message that I probably needed a BIOS update and to try CD 2. CD 2 booted immediately, explained that I needed a modules floppy to load the drivers for my aging PCMCIA yenta chipset, and told me where and how to create it. The installation proceeded smoothly from that point, aside from one omission in the default package set, which I'll discuss in the next section.

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