SuSE Linux 7.1

URL: http://www.suse.com/

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Rating: Excellent!

Review:

Are you a normal human being? Do you recognize that computers are fascinating machines, and that there always seems to be something new and better coming along to keep you from getting bored? When something new does come along, like Windows 2000 or some amazing new hardware or software, do you at least wish you could get it? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “Linux”. Are you interested? Read on …

Increasingly around the Internet, Microsoft Windows users are showing interest in Linux. Even the PC Q&A forum has seen its fair share of these posts. While PC911 content caters exclusively to Windows users, several posts in recent months reflect broadening interest in Linux.

All this interest should not come as a surprise to those of you that are even mildly aware of the changes that Linux has been undergoing for several years. Beginning with Red Hat 6.0, several companies have released distributions specifically aimed at attracting users of Microsoft products. Ease of installation and use has been the focus of thousands of hours of work in Linux workplaces around the world. Corel released their extremely user friendly version about eighteen months ago. Debian have had a robust and very new-user oriented build out for some time. Mandrake, based on Red Hat, has had remarkable success attracting Windows users.

Clearly, Linux distributors have had a great deal of success in changing the face of the operating system from a command line type interface to a slick and attractive graphical interface. This change has made the operating system a viable alternative to Windows, and Linux distributors have had some success attracting Windows users as a result.

Recently, I had the opportunity to try out SuSE 7.1, a German distribution available in English and 31 (!) other languages as well. SuSE have earned a reputation for producing a reliable and thoroughly executed Linux operating system accompanied by excellent documentation. They are the first major distributor to release a build based on the new Linux 2.4.x kernel. Additionally, this distro incorporates the most recent versions of KDE and Gnome (very popular desktop environments for Linux, like Windows Explorer for Windows operating systems) and X, the graphical engine for Linux.

To say I’m impressed would be a gross understatement. SuSE 7.1 is, to be succinct, the best Linux distro I’ve ever used. With SuSE 7.1, Linux is approaching what it should be – a powerful, robust operating system designed to adhere to Linux standards, capable of satisfying the demands and needs of private users, from rank novices to experienced veterans, as well as professionals in a production oriented environment.

The quality of this product comes through right from the first moments of installation. Though all the major distributions have developed installation routines that are well within the capabilities of novice computer users, SuSE’s scheme is easier to use not because it requires less input (it requires more), but because it is more intuitive. I’m not afraid to answer a few questions and click a few buttons during an operating system installation, so I’m puzzled as to why other distros strive to reduce the users input to near zero during installation. I much prefer SuSE’s YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool), which clearly describes what’s going on during installation and offers the user clear and succinct options to choose from.

I installed SuSE 7.1 on my venerable workhorse, The New Turd (may The Ol’ Turd rest in peace). SuSE certainly took to the modest hardware: IBM UDMA-2 7,200 RPM 13GB HDD, AMD K62 333MHz with 288MB PC100 RAM, an 8MB ATI Rage IIc AGP video card and SoundBlaster AWE32 all plugged into a lowly VP1543 motherboard. I use a Logitech Trackman Marble three button mouse and all in all, I’m very happy with this box. It’s been reliable, fast enough, and runs Windows 2000 and any other operating system I throw at it in a satisfactory manner.

All my hardware was painlessly and correctly identified and configured by YaST. It offered me the option to choose a screen resolution, refresh rate and color depth which best suited my needs, and surprisingly, was able to allow me to set a larger screen resolution with a faster refresh rate and deeper color than Windows 2000 will allow on this same equipment. Amazingly, Linux provides better hardware drivers for my (modest) video equipment than mighty Windows does. Imagine that.

Once installed, operating system configuration is made Windows-easy again by the YaST Control Center which is every bit as easy to use as Windows’ Control Panel and just as powerful if not more so. Security is one area where configuration by the administrator (root) is easier than in Windows.

The Personal Edition which I sampled, comes with three CDs chock full of useful content (actually, the third CD is the source code for the operating system, so you can modify whatever you want, limited only by your knowledge level of such things). The Professional version comes with seven CDs which includes an astounding 2000 different programs and development tools The documentation, as impressive as it is for the Personal Edition, is even more complete for the Professional Edition. At $70, the Pro version is an amazing bargain.

Included the 700 applications in the Personal Edition is StarOffice 5.2, a complete office suite every bit as capable as any offering from Microsoft and fully compatible with the now default DOC and XLS file formats. It sports a full-featured word processor, a spreadsheet program, an e-mail program with complete personal information management capabilities, a presentation program, its own web browser and lots more. The default browser is Netscape 4.76, which, in Linux is more stable and faster than in Windows. Heck, it even comes with a light version of VMware’s Virtual PC Emulator for Linux and Wine so you can run Windows from within Linux!

This distro supports my Hewlett Packard LaserJet 1100 printer. I can print as effortlessly and seamlessly as I do in Windows, something I can’t say for Mandrake 7.2 unfortunately. Printer installation and configuration was done as part of the operating system installation, though you can install a new printer very easily. Sound configuration, something that Linux is not normally as good at as Windows is, was another pleasant surprise. It recognized and configured my soundcard correctly and transparently. All I had to do was tell KDE to start to use it for events like start up and shut down. Unlike Windows, the default setting is silence (which I usually prefer).

As mentioned above, SuSE 7.1 comes with the latest Linux kernel, 2.4.0. However, it also comes with the 2.2.18 kernel, presumably for those rare cases where your machine has some incompatibility with the new kernel. Graphics are improved in this distro as it utilizes Xfree86 4.0.2. This likely explains why Linux was able to better utilize my video card/monitor combination than Windows.

SuSE Linux is the first Linux distribution, which supports installation and applications in Braille, and therefore is suitable for partially sighted and blind people.

The $30 price also includes installation support, though I never even came close to needing it. There was even a cute little chameleon stickpin in the box.

For its ease of installation and use, its non-proprietary build and the richness of programs and documentation provided, SuSE Linux is not only the best bargain available, it’s the best distro for the novice user and for most power users alike. SuSE has rejuvenated my interest in Linux, and I think this is just the beginning of a long and productive friendship. If you were ever interested in Linux, do yourself a favor: Buy SuSE Linux 7.1. You won’t regret it.

;~* … Scotterpops

Submitted by: Scotterpops

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