The last time I did try to make a serious attempt at using SuSe Linux was around 1999 when I tried my hand at SuSe Linux 7.0. Unfortunately the experience wasn’t something I relished and thats where we parted ways…till date. I have always been a self confessed fan of Mandrake and Slackware, and definitely I still would say, (IMHO mind you!!) Slackware is the best distro I have ever used. But this isn’t about Slackware, nor is this about Mandrake. This is about SuSe and this time around, I must say the chameleon is making my neighbors go green with envy !!

There is something about Europeans that lets them create absolutely novel Linux distros. Mandrake and SuSe itself are cases in point. Over the last 4 years or so SuSe has upped the ante in end user XPrience (pun intended) and made users both on the desktop as well as the server, sit up and take serious notice. ? Have a lot of fun !!? is the catchphrase that SuSe uses to sell its product and fun definitely is what SuSe 9 is all about.

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The YaST Installer

Well SuSe 9.0 did promise a lot ? NTFS support, XDG Menu structures, enhanced multimedia support, a beefed up setup tool…and so the cookie crumbles. It did have a lot to live up to !! Did it match up to those? Well, read on!!

At the core of every SuSe release lies YaST, the centralized setup tool. The SuSe installation is handled by YaST and is as pretty as ever. I would say, SuSe would rate as having the most powerful installation procedure, from amongst all existing mainstream distros. It is intuitive enough to guess and suggest a standard setup and allows for the most detailed and intricate configurations.

As far as applications are concerned, name it and you would find it bundled with SuSe, though one app that I sorely did miss was Mplayer. The SuSe installer now allows you to resize and play around with NTFS partitions as well and though I didn’t have any NTFS partitions to work with myself, I know how handy that can be. Though of course, I must say there isn’t anything as the partition management tool that comes with Mandrake-diskdrake. But all said and done, the installation was a breeze except for the part where I had to click and select each of the packages that I wanted from SuSe’s massive package listing which spans 5 discs. YaST first completes a base installation from the 1st CD, reboots and then completes the remaining package installation. The best part of the SuSe installation though, was the breezy network configuration and once the installation was done I had the option of starting the YaST control center and configuring almost every other network service. I must put in a word about YaST here. I have never, ever come across a setup tool that is as feature rich, powerful and easy to use, as YaST. I was able to setup Masquerading and IP forwarding with a single click and was able to configure the Samba, Postfix and Squid servers with minimal fuss and my system was up and running. I need to add that in the new YaST modules for configuring DHCP, TFTP, Samba, HTTP, DNS, NTP have been newly added.

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My SuSe 9.0 KDE desktop

Once I was done with the configuration I rebooted and SuSe started to take my breath away. Right from the cool blue LILO screen and smooth chameleon bootsplash to the default KDE, desktop everything looked cool and worked cool. I had a minor complaint though. I happen to be a user with no specific loyalties towards a particular desktop environment. And as it turns out I keep switching desktops like I switch shoes. But SuSe traditionally has been extremely KDE centric and tends to neglect other desktops. I would have enjoyed having GNOME 2.4 installed but SuSe ships with GNOME 2.2.

Having said that, lets come back to the better part of the story. I had to install the NVIDIA drivers separately for my graphics card and once that was done I was all set to play Quake3 at a hellish pace !! I had a great choice of games offered by SuSe, starting from racing games like Tuxracer and Racer to sports games like Cannon Smash and arcade favorites like Chromium. I played for quite some time, before I did get down to some serious work.

For office users, SuSe ships with the Open Office 1.1 productivity suite and many other applications, notable amongst which are Scribus, GNUCash, Evolution, Dia etc. Open Office 1.1 is a welcome improvement over its predecessor and loads in a flash on my PIII 933 MHz, 256 MB RAM box. It gives you the ability to export to various file formats, including PDF and SWF

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My SuSe 9.0 GNOME desktop

I decided to play a little music and shot up XMMS and started rocking my apartment till finally my neighbour had to turn up and ask me to reduce the volume. I promptly obliged and as a matter of fact decided to watch the Animatrix, of which I had a DIVX borrowed from one of my friends. SuSe ships with a lot of video players, Totem, Xine and kaffeine are a few worth mentioning, but none of them play DIVX out of the box. I decided to install Mplayer 1.0 pre3 and I was soon watching my favorite movies on my box. However due to some conflicts, I wasn’t able get the mplayer-gui working and had to perforce run all movies from a command line.

Artists would be especially pleased with SuSe 9. It ships with some great applications, including GIMP 1.3, Blender, Povray Modeler, Sodipodi, MainActor5 amongst many others. Quanta Plus, Kommander Editor and Bluefish should keep the web designers busy too.

SuSe did not disappoint me on the Internet applications front as well. It came with every IM client you could think of and supported every protocol out of the box. A lot of great connectivity apps put together with FTP clients and file sharing apps made the Internet experience complete. I have been using Opera though, which does ship with SuSe, but which I decided to upgrade to the latest release.

SuSe 9 ships with a plethora of development applications, including GCC 3.3, QT 3.2, JDK 1.4, Eclipse, Anjuta, Gambas, Kdevelop QTDesigner and what have you. The only glitch that I could recognize was certain conflicts between GTK and Glib that caused a few programs to compile incorrectly.

Overall SuSe 9.0 Professional has given me a lot more smiles than frowns and I must confess I have had a lot of fun. If there would be a serious complaint I would have against SuSe, that would just be because of the fact that SuSe, unlike other distro’s doesn’t allow distribution under the GPL. This is because YaST ships under a licence that prevents redistribution for a fee and distributing SuSe without YaST is like shipping a car without an engine. All said and done, SuSe Linux 9.0 is a superb piece of work and no one can take that away from the guys at Nuremberg Germany. Install it, and have a lot of fun !!

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