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SUSE Linux 9.2: Let the Branding Begin! - page 4

Differentiating Novell and SUSE

  • December 16, 2004
  • By Bill von Hagen

I've been a Red Hat user since the early days, but their recent antics have left me unimpressed and Fedora just seems like Gentoo with gravy to me. I'm looking for a change like many people. Though I've installed and used SUSE many times before, I think I've found a permanent new home for all of my machines. I still hear people griping about the overhead of KDE and/or GNOME, and I run fluxbox on my heavily modified laptop at work for that very reason. However, on a modern 32-bit or 64-bit home machine with a reasonable amount of memory, everything is fast, and the convenience of KDE is hard to beat. SUSE 9.2 provides an extremely complete KDE 3.3, with plenty of bells and whistles. Figure 2 shows the default KDE desktop after I've logged in, modulo a bit of desktop icon tuning, a new background, and my favorite resolution settings.

For GNOME fans (and Evolution mailer fans, such as myself), SUSE 9.2 provides GNOME 2.6, and both GNOME and KDE can be installed side-by-side by customizing package selection during or after installation. Since Novell also bought Ximian, the original developers of the Evolution mailer, it's no surprise that the latest version of Evolution, 2.0.1, is also included. As you can see in Figure 3, Evolution 2.x features a new look and feel, still rooted in Outlook, but much crisper than previous versions.

Now that Novell has released Evolution's Exchange Connector as open source, Evolution is even more compelling as a one-size-fits-all email solution. The Exchange Connector, formerly a low-cost proprietary add-on for Evolution, enables complete interaction with Microsoft Exchange mail and calendaring. I've used this at my day job for the past few years and find it phenomenally useful. At least I'm no longer late for meetings, though there were some advantages to being able to complain about the arcane meeting invitations sent out by Exchange when I was using Mozilla for mail.

With SUSE 9.2, SUSE has joined everybody else in moving to the X.org X11 distribution, from XFree86 which was used in SUSE 9.1 and earlier releases. SUSE 9.2 provides X.org's X11, release 6.8.1, which adds impressive support for various 3D and graphics acceleration modes, transparency, and many other graphical bells and whistles.

Though X.org is essentially a fork of XFree86, I was nervous about possible changes in configuration file names and settings--all for naught. The X.org X11 uses a new configuration file called xorg.conf, but it shares the same format as XFree86's XF86Config file and symlinks itself to the latter if it already exists. If I hadn't noticed that YaST was punting all of the XFree86 packages during its upgrade and replacing them with X.org equivalents, I wouldn't even have known that SUSE had made the switch.

For those who prefer to run a window manager rather than a full-blown desktop, SUSE 9.2 provide an impressive set. The venerable twm is provided by default, as is WindowMaker (a nice NeXT-inspired window manager), but you can also optionally add other window managers such as ctwm, fvwm, mwm, qvwm, blackbox, and one of my personal favorites, icewm. Icewm is a fast, lightweight window manager that's easy to configure and for which a large number of themes are available. For example, some especially nice Mac OS X Aqua-inspired themes are available that you can impress and confuse your OS X friends with.

The package list goes on. SUSE 9.2 provides up-to-date stable versions of favorite userland programs such as OpenOffice 1.1.3 and Gimp 2.0.4. OpenOffice Writer is show in the KDE desktop screen shot earlier in this review. The latest Gimp doesn't seem to support screen captures without window decorations, which is almost a necessity for writers such as myself, but I found that KDE's KSnapshot had this feature and did a great job. I'm probably just missing something in Gimp-land, but KSnapshot already provided a solution.

For classic coders, SUSE 9.2 provides a preliminary version of GCC 3.3.5. which is actually 3.3.4 with bug fixes and significant testing, as well as Perl 5.8.5 for all your scripting needs. On the server side, SUSE 9.2 provides Apache 2.0.50, MySQL 4.0.21, PHP 4.3.8, Samba 3.0.7, and various FTP server packages. The FTP servers include one of my favorites, pure-ftpd, which is a fast, light-weight, and secure FTP server that provides a lot of cool functionality via a central configuration file.

Kernel-wise, SUSE 9.2 provides kernel version 2.6.8-24-default out of the box, which is pretty cutting-edge for a product release even though 2.6.9 is out and 2.6.10 is due any day. Waiting for a specific kernel version and associated feature set always reminds me of some of my friends who always held off buying a new machine because they were waiting for the price to come down, a faster processor, or some other feature. I'd rather have a computer and accept that it will need to be updated at some point--and similarly, 2.6.8-24 is fine with me.

By the time 9.2 arrived in the mail and I did my initial installations, SUSE's online update service (think Up2Date or Red Carpet) already had a newer kernel waiting for me, 2.6.8-24.5. This shows the same commitment to staying current and pushing improvements out to their customers that SUSE has always exemplified. Figure 4 shows YOU (YaST Online Update) in the process of upgrading one of my laptops. This figure doesn't show the default look and feel, since I'd already changed to my favorite classic RISC OS theme. What can I say--I'm old, and KDE is flexible.

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