OpenSuSE 10.2 Review

April 02, 2007
When you ask someone to name a couple of GNU/Linux distributions, in most cases, you will hear the names Debian, Red Hat, Ubuntu and then, SuSE Linux which is now a days known as OpenSuSE.

The reason is that apart from it being one of the oldest Linux distributions around, it has made a name as a distribution which is robust, secure and user friendly. Originally SuSE Linux was owned by a German company by the same name. But in January 2004, it was acquired by Novell which continued to further develop and fine tune it and include more SuSE specific features to it. The end result is a distribution which has grown to have its own unique identity. OpenSuSE is a community program sponsored by Novell and is developed in an open model.

One of the foremost reason to consider OpenSuSE Linux as a very popular Linux distribution is the mere fact that in the past couple of months, it has risen from the bottom of the heap to enjoy second place, just below Ubuntu Linux, in the Distrowatch most popular Linux distributions list.

This rise in popularity is not incidental. Rather it highlights the quality of this very fine distribution.

A couple of months back, I chanced upon a DVD of OpenSuSE 10.2. While in the past, I have installed a plethora of GNU/Linux distributions, this was the first time I happened to lay my hands on SuSE Linux distribution. And to tell you the short story, I was virtually blown away with its ease of installation and use. While the partition manager embedded in the SuSE installer is not as graphical as that found in Fedora installer, in all other respects it is very functional and intuitive. One thing worth noting is that OpenSuSE comes with flash player (albeit ver 7.0) and Sun Microsystems Java 1.5 runtime environment bundled with it by default and at the time of installation you have to agree to the license requirements of the respective software.

redesigned Gnome MenuFig: Redesigned Gnome Menu

The minimum specification for installing OpenSuSE Linux is a Pentium class processor, at least 256 MB RAM and plenty of disk space. The OpenSuSE installer detected all the devices attached to my machine without any problem. While it is pretty bleak to see a Linux distribution not detect any particular device barring wireless devices or internal modems, you can make sure that your laptop/desktop is supported by OpenSuSE by checking their hardware compatibility list (HCL). Once I finished installing the distribution and booted into it, I came face to face with a clean Gnome desktop. What is unique about the OpenSuSE Gnome desktop is that it includes a redesigned menu different from what you will find in the default Gnome setup. More over, the search is integrated in the menu with Beagle search playing a very important role in providing real time search. This is not surprising as projects such as Beagle search and Tomboy are developed by Novell engineers and is based on Mono language; which is also the initiative of Novell.

There is a central place called the "Control center" which can be accessed by clicking on the start bar (named "Computer" in OpenSuSE Gnome Desktop) and then clicking the "Control center" in the menu. Here all the applications are categorized by type or functionality which in my opinion makes it easy to navigate. Though the menu in the Panel of KDE is also redesigned, I found the Gnome menu much more pleasant to use than that found in KDE. But in KDE, there is an option to switch to the classic view which can be done by right clicking on the menu button and choosing "classic view". I couldn't find a similar method to switch in Gnome though.

OpenSuSE control centerFig: Control center

By default OpenSuSE provides KDE and Gnome and you have to choose one over the other at the time of installation. But if you select a custom setup , then you can easily install packages specific to other window managers and desktops.

Over a period of time, Novell has also built a massive collection of documentation, tips, faqs and howtos related to accomplishing tasks in OpenSuSE which can be viewed here.

OpenSuSE Linux uses the RPM format to distribute its packages. And there are more than one ways of installing packages. But the most popular form of installing software in OpenSuSE is using YaST which does a good job of automatically checking for any dependencies.

A brief introduction to YaST

YaST is a unique tool found in OpenSuSE which allows one to do all the system administration tasks from within its GUI interface which includes package management, managing users, configuring firewall, configuring devices and almost all the other system maintenance and network administration tasks you could think of. It can also be used from the command line. YaST2 comes with three front-ends. GTK, QT and ncurses. And you can start the "YaST control center" using the command yast2. The correct front-end is automatically selected based on the available components and the current environment.

YaST supports the following modules to load the requisite GUI front-end. They are as follows :

answering_machine,  bootloader,  ca_mgm,  dhcp-server, dns, dns-server,fax, firewall,
groups, host, http-server, idedma, inetd, irda, kerberos-client, keyboard, lan,
language, ldap, mail, mouse, nfs, nfs_server, nis, nis_server, ntp-client, power-management,
powertweak, printer, profile-manager, proxy, remote, routing, runlevel, samba-client,
samba-server, security, sound, sysconfig, tftp-server, timezone, tv, users.
Here is how yast2 can be used from the command line.

To load the interface of a specific module you use the following syntax :
# yast2 <module name>
For example, if I want to add more users to the system, I can use the following command :
# yast2  users
... which will load the GUI front-end for adding users. For starting the power management utility, run the yast2 command as follows:
# yast2 power-management
.., and so on. You can also start YaST in interactive mode by passing it the phrase 'interactive'. For example, when you use the command :
# yast2 users interactive
YaST2 users> help

OpenSuSE will place you in the 'YaST users' interactive shell where you can run commands to add, remove or modify user data. After you are done, you can press 'exit' or 'abort' to come out of the shell.

AppArmor - OpenSuSE's unique security feature

While other main stream Linux distributions such as Red Hat and Debian have beefed up their defenses by incorporating SELinux into their structure, OpenSuSE has traveled a different path. Instead of SELinux, it comes bundled with its own security framework tool called AppArmor.

Novell claims AppArmor is equally robust and provides similar application level access controls with the exception that it is much more easier to configure and maintain than SELinux. The apparmor profile used by default makes OpenSuSE very secure. You can read more about Apparmor here.

Pros of OpenSuSE 10.2
  • Robust and secure GNU/Linux distribution
  • A good collection of software including easy availability of proprietary ones packaged in the SuSE RPM format. For instance, you can easily install proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers using YaST.
  • Excellent GUI front-ends for almost all system and network administration tasks.
  • Has incorporated some cutting edge features in Gnome and KDE desktop such as the redesigned Panel Menu.
  • Good all round integration of Beagle search.
  • Bundles with it Flash player and Sun's JDK 1.5 by default.
  • Has an easy graphical method to enable/disable XGL if you like special effects on your desktop.
Cons of OpenSuSE 10.2
  • To put it lightly, I found OpenSuSE 10.2 to be a memory hog. On my machine with 640 MB RAM, it was sufficiently slow. I attribute it to the number of services running on OpenSuSE by default.
  • With the recent cloud formed over Novell striking a deal with Microsoft, many in the open source and Free software community are concerned about the direction in which Novell is going to steer SuSE in the future. There are also aspersions cast on whether this fine GNU/Linux distribution will remain Free at all.

20 comments:

  • Still my #Uno distro, even with all that MS-Novell deal, after all openSUSE is a community driven project and hope to see this distro become more robust and user friendly.

    So Ravi, u gonna keep using openSUSE or ......

  • Hi Ravi,

    Can you guide me for configuring firefox on Opensuse 10.2 for listening online music from www.raaga.com & www.musicindiaonline.com. I have installed Firefox plugins for Realmedia 10, w32.xx.rpm but still it shows initializing player & nothing is happen.

  • Brendan

    Thanks for noting the "memory hog" problem. I've been looking for other distros to try, since I have several old PCs with 256 MB of RAM lying around. Ubuntu, especially Xbuntu, seem to run fine on these, but I am always looking for options. Hearing that 640 MB was insufficient told me all I needed to know.

    Did you ever try stopping some of the services to see how easy it would be to get the machine to a responsive state? Or did you just give up?

  • devnet

    I would never ask someone to name a few GNU/Linux distributions.

    However, Linux distributions I'd ask about. Saying GNU/Linux distributions gets you looks from people who don't even know what Linux is...why? Because it sounds silly of course.

    I know it's been said before and I'm rehashing the whole GNU and GNU/Linux thing...but the bottom line is that it's not called Red Hat GNU/Linux. It's not called Xandros GNU/Linux. It's not called OpenSuse GNU/Linux. It's called Linux by these companies and it's these companies that give Linux its profile to the masses...therefore, these masses will adopt calling Linux Linux and not GNU/Linux.

  • Steve

    I would not wish openSUSE on my worst enemy. Though this distro has a very polished appearance, it is very slow and borders unusable. Try added a repository to YAST and you'll be treated to the slowness. Try to reconfigure any little thing and it takes forever for it to finish writing everything down.

    The novelty of the Panel Menu wears off quite quickly after you discover that you have to open another window to get to your other applications.

    And the installation may go off without a hitch, but it takes *forever* to get the OS installed. On my system with 1GB of RAM, I can have RHEL5, CentOS4, or Ubuntu installed in less than 30 minutes. The same installation (with approximately the same packages) takes over an hour to get installed onto the same system.

    Lastly, you mentioned the Novell/Microsoft deal. That is a terrible thing.

  • Danesh.Manoharan

    I have been using openSUSE for some time now. Starting from version 10.1 and now 10.2.

    I have to agree with you that the memory requirement is high and I'm on 1GB of RAM.

    The GUI, now this is somthing i like most about openSUSE. It's slick, stable and new to the eyes.

    Yast is good, just make sue you turn off the zenworks tool for the YAST update. Read about it at http://thedaneshproject.com/linux/tweaking-opensuse/

  • Ravi

    @e@Zyvg
    I like to try out diverse linux distributions OpenSuse being just one of them. :-)

    @anonymous
    You will find a good guide at the novell OpenSuse wiki related to playing media files from within the web browser. I have provided a link to the wiki in my review.

    @brendan
    I guess if I stop most of the services it might be a lot more faster. But by stopping many services such as those related to apparmor, you will also be losing many of the security advantages that opensuse offer. I haven't tried stopping the services though.

  • The E V A N G E L I S T

    Hi,

    I am using openSuSE personally though I try other distros regularly on my virtual machine.

    My laptop is 2G ram and I gotta tell ya, it's really annoying how suse consumes memory just like that.

    Aside that one part, I guess it's one of the best distribution I've seen. As long as Novell's gives me a best GNU/Linux distribution that goes with open source standards, I am fine with whatever business deal they make, even with a devil.

    Another reason I choose openSuSE is that I am not a fan of Gnome, so however great ubuntu is, i just cant get to use it because of Gnome. Also, SuSE's KDE is much better and prettier than anyone else. For example, Kickstart applet. It's amazing.

    Adios.

  • Mun Kii

    the suse gnome menu can be replaced by the old one, from the "Add To Panel" application menu. you could also use both at the same time!

  • It is Suse's polish and completeness that initially won me over a few years back. The YAST tool is one reason why I've stayed with Suse. I've tried K/ubuntu and others a few times, and will again when Feisty is released, but for now I keep coming back to Suse.

    As other have said, using the ZENworks based package manager is almost impossible. While the OpenSUSE updater is slightly better, your best choice is to install the Smart package management tool. It supports multiple repository types, so you have access to everything thats available for Suse.

    Having said that, I am still looking forward to Feisty. The main reason being the large repository of software thats available.

  • Using openSuse for a few months. It's a good distro cause it's polished and looks pretty. But it takes a lot of time to install, and, the worst, the longer I'm using it the longer it takes to boot. And, someone above mentioned, yast2 is buggy by default, and adding/removing update sources makes you a whole lot of wasted time. I tried the beta version of KUbuntu Feisty Fawn, and found it a lot faster, polished and applications rich. That's the reason why Ubuntu/KUbuntu keep gaining share I guess. Waiting for the final version :)

  • Suse and Microsoft are now on par because of their agreement and the bloat of their software. It's ridiculuous requirements for Linux distro. I can get by 256 MB with eye candy on my custom CentOS 4.4 box.

  • Renan

    I like OpenSuSE, it has the "enterprise" feel.

    The smart package manager makes SuSE damn near perfect. Never had problems with broken packages, unlike Ubuntu (i.e. in Ubuntu 6.10, a few packages like kxdocker and wings3d are broken).

    Too bad that I don't like the Novell-MS agreement.

  • I have used SuSE since 9.2

    I install most every distro that comes out on distrowatch, and do a routine set up on each one on a variety of machines. I converted to Linux about 2 years ago. I have not been disappointed (in Linux that is) since.

    Compared to Windows, SuSE still installs faster =) ... I do understand your point there though ;)

    Yes, the software management is a pain. Turn off synchronization with Zen right from the start, and it speeds up dramatically, certainly to an acceptable level. Even adding and removing repositories gets better

    As for the length of time it takes to write configuration changes in YaST, I am perfectly content to wait considering the stability this process provides not to mention the intuitive GUI interface.

    Some hardware support is lacking as far as wireless goes and other distros like Ubuntu and PCLinuxOS (this distro could very well replace SuSE for me once they polish it) work better right from the off. I have not had much problems with anything else.

    As a software engineer I also use SuSE as my host machine for work as well. I virtualize for M$ needs, and this works fine. As a matter of FACT: Running Windoze virtualized in a Linux host provides a much more stable environment... believe it or not, it's the truth. VMs are alittle slower and have no hardware acceleration, but development machines (professionally, that is) are generally pretty fast anyway.

    Ubuntu is the only established distro that can give SuSE a real challenge as the rest of them are simply not good enough. Still even Ubuntu lacks a little bit compared to SuSE for a professional desktop (for me. Also, there are quirks in K/Ubuntu that do not exist in SuSE). It is a good distro, dont get me wrong. I used it for a couple months but finally had to go back to SuSE. It just wasnt robust enough and lacked capabilities that I have in SuSE. SuSE seems to have the best KDE desktop around. As for Gnome, I would recommend Ubuntu. I am anxious for the Feisty release :)

  • I run openSUSE 10.2 on 512MB RAM and a 1.6 MHZ Sempron chip. Not exactly state of the art, but it runs fine. A resource hog...did you try removing the new main-menu and relying on just the traditional gnome menu? Also, try deep sixing the ZEN updater. The ZEN Updater is known to be a resource hog occupying larger amounts of the CPU at times.

  • I've been a SuSE fan for a long time (yes, since they were SuSE and not SUSE). What Novell did to them was however too much for me. So the last SUSE I've used was 10.0. I've tried 10.1 but it was driving me nuts:

    a) YaST - a beautiful engineering masterpiece became an ugly, slow and buggy monster. Why? But of course, to integrate it with Zen Works and to replace its engine with Mono.

    b) Mono itself. Slow, big and buggy. Try to remove it. I dare you: try to remove it completely from SUSE. It will then uninstall every package that defines SUSE as a distro.

    c) Boot time and overall responsiveness. If they tried to make a distro slower and buggier than MS Windows, then congratulations! They certainly succeeded.

    I'm running Fedora Core 6 from the moment it appeared (used FC 5 before) and I couldn't be happier. Will try however CentOS 5 on my laptop this weekend - provided I'll have some time to do so.

  • Nice article and comments,

    yes Yast and its reposities are now slow and buggy but from a user who can build from source but not used to creating rpms etc yast is a lifesaver and im reinded every time when i install a large program and watch it download libs from several different sources.

    PS i agree that ZMD is an absolute burden but i assume you all know its been removed from 10.3, i cant find the news post on opensuse.org but i beielve it was getting to near to SLED 10

  • manmath sahu

    Textar and Ripper gang are bringing out PCLinuxOS Gnome version. It will soon conqueror the OpenSuse base for more stability, better multimedia support, easier configurability and faster responsiveness. Visit http://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com to believe it.

  • Mark

    I'm new to Linux, and was frustrated with the inability to get Fedora 7 to install and boot. I have my old IDE HD and a new SATA HD in my box, and an AMD 64 dual core processor. For some reason, the set-up wanted to see it as RAID, which it's not. But openSUSE 10.2 installed and loaded like a charm. I have only gone and looked at the memory usage a couple of times, but it didn't seem to eat up much of my 2GB. I appreciate all the insight of more experienced users, and will definitely look out for MS incumberances (sp?) on this distribution. But we'll see.

  • guys...i want to start using linux o.s(its a little late but better late than never) and would like suggestions on where to start..i was thinking open suse any suggestions