By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-05-30 Print this article Print

Novells OpenSUSE 10.1 is a solid, multipurpose Linux-based operating system that—in addition to being a very good distribution in its own right —offers an early peek at the SUSE Enterprise Linux Desktop product that Novell is set to ship this summer.

OpenSUSE 10.1, like all Linux distributions, bundles a broad assortment of open-source applications into an integrated package.
What has always (and still does) set SUSE apart is the measure of management homogeneity that the distribution brings to this diverse set of components—mostly through its Yast system configuration framework.
Overall, eWEEK Labs appreciated the ambitious scope of OpenSUSE 10.1s configuration tools, but we also ran into some areas in which Yasts reach frustratingly exceeded its grasp. More than once during our tests, we were pleased by new management functionality we found—such as in the systems Xen virtualization and software configuration modules—only to be disappointed by the features uneven execution. We hope to see Novell tighten up these gaps before it hits the road with its enterprise-targeted client. On the whole, however, we were very impressed with OpenSUSE 10.1, which we can recommend for the full range of roles in which Linux operating systems typically serve. OpenSUSE 10.1 boasts very good GNOME and KDE desktop environment options, a full slate of developer tools and a complete set of server software. OpenSUSE 10.1 is free software, available for download on the six CD images at http://en.opensuse.org. However, unlike similarly no-cost distributions—such as Fedora Core Linux and Ubuntu Linux—OpenSUSE is also available in a retail version. For about $60, this version includes physical media, a user manual and an assortment of applications not available in the free version. The retail version also comes with 90 days of installation support. Additional, paid support is available from Novell for both the free and retail versions. There are more details here. OpenSUSE 10.1 is available in x86, x86-64 and Power PC versions. We tested the x86 version of the distribution on an Intel Pentium M-based notebook, a Pentium 4-based desktop and in a couple of VMware virtual machines. Click here to read more about OpenSUSE 10.1. The only hardware support trouble we encountered was with the Broadcom 802.11g network adapter in our test notebook. We were able to get online, however, using ndiswrapper along with the adapters Windows driver. We understand that a reverse-engineered Broadcom 43xx driver has been added to the Linux kernel as of version 2.6.17-rc2. OpenSUSE 10.1 ships with a 2.6.16-based kernel. Software installation In the past, weve found that SUSE distributions have lagged behind Red Hat and Debian-based distributions in the all-important area of software installation and management. OpenSUSE 10.1 has made some strides in this area, but the systems software management story remains murkier than wed like. On the positive side, we had good success—for the first time with SUSE—in setting up Internet-based software repositories and installing OpenSUSE and OpenSUSE applications without first downloading all the distributions ISO images. We did also download, over bittorrent, all six of OpenSUSEs ISO images, and we were initially pleased when the same Yast module in which we configured our Internet-based repositories also offered us the option of designating those ISOs as installation sources. In previous SUSE versions, and in other distributions weve tested, weve first had to take the step of mounting the ISOs or of copying the contents of the images to a folder on our machine. Directly assigning the images as installation sources would have been a time-saver, but it didnt work. We ended up copying the contents of the disks to a folder, which did work as an installation source, but each time we accessed it, Yast would warn us that the source was untrusted. The Yast dialog offered us the option of bypassing the warning in the future, which we agreed to, but Yast ended up warning us each time anyway. We handled most of our software management tasks in Yast, but OpenSUSE 10.1 ships with a separate, unrelated software update mechanism—based on Ximians old Red Carpet software—enabled by default for handling automatic updates. In our past experiences with Red Carpet, we found the service to be a real resource hog, and after finding our test machine puzzlingly pegged a few times early in our evaluation, we shut the service off. We were also interested to see that OpenSUSE 10.1 ships with the Smart Package Manager, which works with a bunch of different sorts of repositories—including regular SUSE repositories. Smart Package Manager is pretty clean, and works well both from the command line and from its graphical interface. Smart Package Manager isnt installed by default, but if we were running an OpenSUSE 10.1 machine long-term, wed consider leaving Yasts install tools alone in favor of the Smart system. This, in fact, is the recommendation we received from a couple of OpenSUSE IRC-dwellers when we were testing the software in its prerelease builds. Next Page: Xen, AppArmor and desktop use.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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