Suse Linux 9.1 Personal review

July 3rd, 2004

Whoa my first review.. I've been meaning to do one of these for some time but never really had time for it. The new Suse 9.1 Personal edition has been out for a couple of weeks and it makes a good test subject. The distro is, of course, free of charge, you can get the iso here. I chose Suse because it always seemed like a distro with a lot of promise. I tried v8.2 a few months ago and I was a bit disappointed with some things even though I was generally pleased with it.

The installation is a no brainer, it's Yast all the way and it looks better than it used to. It will, of course, auto detect most of your hardware, it missed my Intel Centrino 2100 wlan card but that's known to be a tricky one. The software selection dialog was a bit poor, I couldn't find gnome in there anywhere for one thing. But all in all it was a successful process and Suse was installed while I watched an episode of "Scrubs" (what else? ).

Ok so Suse is pretty complete, you get an office suite, the Yast control panel and a full KDE installation. You also get a selection of productivity/multimedia apps like acrobat reader, xmms, real player, cd/dvd burning tools, a tv viewer and kaffeine (a xine wrapper). The problem is installing software not already included. In fact I haven't quite figured out how to do this. When I start the Add/Remove apps dialog from Yast, I only get to browse software on the install cd, does that mean they don't want you to have anything else? One of the first things I want on a new system is mplayer but it's not found in the Yast installer so you probably have to do it yourself. I consider it a big flaw to cramp the user's freedom like that and coming from a Gentoo mindset, I have every right to.

Suse has xmms with mp3 support. It also has xine with the kaffeine wrapper but without divx codecs which is a shame. I tried playing my new "Last Samurai" dvd in xine but alas it has no support for playing dvds either. On the upside, Konqueror does have flash installed but sadly it's also the only browser available by default. I also find it curious that given your software selection during install, YOU (Yast Online Update) still "recommends" you install a bunch of stuff you'll never need. For instance, it recommends ppp and isdn tools, which I have no use for at all.

One point of flattery is the software that *is* included. Real player is a pleasant surprise, I also like the way the nvidia drivers and truetype fonts are packaged. Suse can't include them by default because of licence restrictions, so instead they prompt you to accept the licence and install the software if you want those things.

Another positive thing is the auto detection of my monitor. The refresh rates were detected and I was prompted to select the resolution I wanted. Unlike many distros, Yast gives you the option to input a custom resoluton (given that mine is a bit uncommon being 1680x1050), which means you don't have to mess with /etc/X11/XFConfig. So far, in fact, I've only had to use the command line once, that being to mount another filesystem. Speaking of mounting, Suse comes with submount, which means cd/dvd media are supermounted (to use that expression) on input.

My printer was also detected, by all means it should be, it runs on cups with broadcast so it's easy enough for others to pick up the trail but nonetheless it works fine.

One thing that still bugs me about Suse (a throwback from earlier versions), is how bigass the fonts are even though you have a respectable resolution. I set mine to 7pt Verdana in kcontrol to battle that problem. I'm thinking it's the screen resolution set too low but I can't seem to find the location to set that myself.

Although Suse is decidedly KDE biased, you do get the gimp and gtkam, both of which are quite useful so that's a plus.

To wrap this up, the new Suse has seen some improvements since the previous version and it certainly looks nicer. But the main point of criticism still stands and say what you will about licencing, users will still point it out everytime. I want a bigger selection of software, most of all I want a way to install mplayer and video codecs, because that is what I need. The point is that if you don't find everything you want among the software provided, getting that software (which is still free) is a question mark. It shouldn't be.

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