SuSE Linux 7.1 -- 2.4.0 Kernel And More
Seven CD-ROMS Chockful Of Goodies
By Trevor Marshall
March 12, 2001
SuSE Linux 7.1 is the first commercial Linux distribution to be released with a 2.4.0 kernel, the Reiser journaling filesystem, and a comprehensive set of applications.
SuSE came to prominence late last year when IBM announced plans to bundle SuSE Linux with Netfinity servers, and Oracle forged a partnership with SuSE to drive the adoption of Oracle software for Linux. Coming on seven CDs (one DVD), the $69.95SuSE 7.1 Professional is a comprehensive compilation of the best that Linux has to offer, including full Beowulf scientific-cluster support.
As you would expect from the partnerships with IBM and Oracle, SuSE Linux 7.1 is an extremely comprehensive and professional Linux distribution. With its heritage based firmly in Europe, SuSE contains many esoteric "must-have" utilities that will probably come in useful some time, and are therefore essential components of any self-respecting Linux developer's toolkit.
I was particularly impressed by the huge breadth of applications, source, and HOWTO documentation that came on the 7 installation CDs. By the time I was done selecting the "hey, that will come in useful someday" installation options, 5 gigabytes of my hard disk were taken up with this SuSE distribution, a full 2,866 "software packages."
I set the installer to boot into an ASCII prompt (of course), and logged in as "root." I was surprised to find how responsive and "clean" the system felt. Console I/O was lightning fast, and the file system was responsive and without any obvious vices. Keyboard breaks (control-C) were executed particularly promptly, giving me a warm feeling of control. This speed was even more impressive because my test system was only running an old 300-MHz Mendocino Celeron.
SuSE 7.1 is an i386 distribution. Nevertheless, some optimizations are run at startup to detect and use higher performance CPUs.
SuSE comes with both the GNOME and KDE graphic interfaces. In the past, I have preferred KDE as it feels more like the Windows environment in which I have to spend so much of my time. But your personal preferences may vary, and SuSE offers you the choice.
Coming from a background of both SlackWare and Red Hat Linux distributions, I found it easy to navigate the directory structure.
Initialization files were neatly placed into /etc/, /etc/rc.d, and /etc/init.d/ and quick to locate. SuSE is very regular in its organization. For example, I was pleased to find that the Apache default installation was configured from /etc/httpd/, and not from something like /usr/include/apache/etc/
But it was when I instinctively invoked the joe editor, and it dutifully popped up from somewhere in those 5 gigabytes of files, that I realized SuSE Linux was likely to stay installed on my computer for some time to come. SuSE Linux has a USB module that supports modems, printers, keyboards, and mice, along with ISDN, floppy, and Iomega Zip 250 drives.
When I plugged in my USB mouse, it worked fine, but plugging in my digital camera elicited no response from the system. I guess the SuSE USB is not fully plug-and-play just yet :)
MacroMedia's Flash For Linux
Multimedia support is still sadly lacking in Linux. For example, Mozilla (under KDE) is easy to use and fast, but there is no RealPlayer available for it, nor is there a Shockwave plug-in.
Macromedia has just released a Flash for Mozilla on Linux, so I decided to test it out.
When Netscape downloaded the plug-in it was saved to a .tar.gz file in the /home directory. Now, Windows installs plug-ins automatically, and it is a bit of a reach expecting novice users to know what to do with the .tar.gz download. The installation was made even more difficult because Macromedia's README file only gave instructions on how to integrate the plug-in with Red Hat Linux.
After chasing around for five minutes trying to figure out where the plug-ins directory for Mozilla was located, (it ended up to be /opt/mozilla/plugins), I surfed to my favorite flash site, Napster Bad.
Luckily, SuSE was compatible with the Red Hat Flash, and everything worked fine. Browsing through the cartoons was great relaxation, and a suitable payoff for all the hard work of integration.
SuSE/KDE had correctly found my Yamaha OPL3 audio card during installation, and although I had gotten one ominous warning from KDE, the audio seemed to play OK. Similarly, my ATI RAGE video adapter worked without a glitch.
Linux is an enterprise computing system, not a system for neophytes.
There are many features that a Windows user takes for granted that just are not implemented, even in this massive SuSE distribution.
Any Linux aficionado knows how to install a .tar.gz application, but can we really expect users migrating from Windows or Mac to be so sanguine when faced with this low level of application integration?
After all, Internet Explorer under Windows will automatically download the Flash plug-in, install, and run it without asking the user anything other than whether she "trusts content from Macromedia." Anybody can handle that simple procedure, but not everybody can be expected to correctly invoke tar -xzvf flash_linux.tar.gz, and then hunt down the directory to manually place the plug-ins?
SuSE does support .RPM packages, which are a big step forward in usability, but I found very few RPMs in this distribution.
MP3 And CD-ROM
KDE has a media player capable of playing .m3u playlists. It seemed to run OK, but I didn't test it to destruction. There is a CD-ROM burner (that I didn't test at all), a CD Player, a Midi sequencer, and a Midi/Karaoke player.
KWord, KSpread, And KPresenter
KDE has a PowerPoint-97 compatible presenter program and KWord, compatible with (non-macro) Word-97 .doc files. Both applications imported some simple files from my windows system and seemed to work OK. In a mission-critical office environment, however, I suspect it is safer to stay with KDE's own, proprietary, database formats. I also expect that an MIS department will want to put KSpread more fully through its paces before recommending it as a total replacement for Excel.
The Internet utilities in SuSE's KDE are extremely comprehensive. I was particularly impressed with the GUI program supplied to set up the FTPD server. FTP servers can be cantankerous at the best of times, and this little program made my job very easy. On the other hand, I would have liked a similar utility capable of setting up the Samba server. Only the Samba client is configurable from the GUI.
Other KDE Internet applications include Mozilla, mail, IRC, and ssh. There is direct support for graphically setting up PPP connectivity to an ISP, with modules for the common ISDN and DSL modems.
Konqueror is at the heart of KDE-2. Konqueror can be used to surf the Web or to surf your local file system, much like Windows Explorer. I found it very easy to use, and a big improvement on the Kfm that was shipped with KDE-1. There are some file-system development functions that are much easier to do in a GUI environment than at the command line, and Konqueror is a very capable file-system manipulator.
The installer GUI (YasT) worked well enough. But I quit out of it before installing my X11 system, and then found I could not get back to that point of the installation again. So I had to use "sax." The authors of YasT need to work on its upgrade capabilities, but on the whole I found that it did its job well and, all things considered, presented no more problems than I usually get from a Windows Setup.
The Automated Linux Installation and Configuration Environment lets an MIS administrator assemble exact clones of parts of the installed distribution and deploy them to any number of machines. The distribution can be burned onto a CD, or placed onto an NFS server for later download.
ALICE effectively lets a system administrator control the software on each of the computers under his control. It allows easy distribution of bug fixes, and speeds deployment of a new system configuration over the network.
ALICE can also be used in a server farm to deploy updates and security patches. A very neat utility, extremely valuable in enterprise computing.
I decided to install this SuSE distribution to ensure that my Internet server had access to all the latest security fixes, especially a bug-free version of Bind.
I wanted a 2.4 kernel, with the journaling and without the previous 2-gigabyte file-size limit.
What I ended up with was a development environment par excellence.
I sure was glad that I started out with a 13-gig hard drive because I just know that Garmin GPS receiver module will come in useful some day, or maybe one of those legacy Fortran compilers or the Cobol or ...