SuSE 8.1 Professional Review
SuSE software has always impressed me by the attention to detail they employ in generating their best-in-class Linux OS. The installation routine is simple and straightforward, the progress bar (lie meter) is generally accurate, and the finished install is relatively painless to configure. This release is no different in those aspects and more improvements have made their way into the finished product as well.
Eye Candy and Other Features
One noticeable feature that has crept into SuSE's install that wasn't in my last review (SuSE 7.3), or it missed my notice because I did a default install, is the addition of an auto-dependency. When the user selects a software package they want in the final install, the auto-dependency feature selects the required libraries and support packages automatically. This is something that has always annoyed me about earlier Linux installs. I was either kept in the dark about the dependency until it was too late (at the point of launching a binary), or I had to toggle back and forth between screens to select, or deselect, packages to satisfy a dependency. With this feature, I can watch which packages are being added as I select various applications. The graphical administration tool, YaST2, is the best one I've found to date. It has all of the relevant functions of the computer in easily understood sections with fairly obvious icons. After my initial installation, I opened YaST2 to configure my network connection and audio playback settings. Want to make adjustments to video settings, network services, security, software updates and installations? All of these functions are accessible through YaST2. As for the esthetic considerations, SuSE's implementation of KDE has an incredibly clean look. The layout has impressed several of my colleagues and has convinced a few to start a migration path away from Microsoft's products. In fact, SuSE is riding high and reliably on my friend's IBM laptop. The look and feel of every application has the same sharp imagery and simple layout. The number of small desktop applications has blossomed as well, encompassing everything from digital logic layout tools, to calendaring and scheduling.
Even with all of great functionality of SuSE 8.1, there are some troubling aspects that could easily keep a new user from making a switch. First of all, I have been using Gnome for more than a year and have grown used to its idiosyncrasies. I have also grown fond of some of the spin-off applications, most notably Ximian's Evolution. Regardless of whether it is the best of its class is irrelevant to me. I have a significant investment in time and saved mail to just pitch it for something else. After installing SuSE 8.1, I took most of the applications for a test drive. No problems what so ever - so long as they were KDE/Qt apps. Evolution loaded fine, the setup went well, and the main menus worked fine. Transferring mail to folders lead to crashes. This is not a problem with Evolution, I assure you. I have been running the same version of this application at work for months without an error. The only thing I can attribute it to, given the short time I could dedicate to this problem, is library handling. It seems that Gnome applications do not play well in the KDE desktop. The second problem occurred much earlier in the install. The equipment auto-detect feature correctly found most of my hardware, but for some reason could not pick up my monitor. I found this particularly odd, considering that the Linux OS I used most of the time had no problem identifying it as a Dell P991. This monitor is not 'cutting-edge' new either; I have had this P991 for nearly 2 years. I found it strange that the list of supported monitors did not include this one when I scrolled though the setup. The P990 is supported, as are many other Dell monitors. I selected the P990 and then changed horizontal and vertical refresh rates to the P991 and off I went. Although not necessarily a showstopper, it was annoying none the less. These slip-ups are not the deal killers that would keep me from installing SuSE on any of my machines. I have been using Linux since 1994 and have enough experience to move past these problems. In fact, I will eventually download the latest Ximian Gnome and install Evolution from a CD. And I had the vendor disk for my monitor and was able to get the refresh rates to manually enter them. The errors might be more challenging, however, to users who are either new to computers, or new to Linux. I'm sure SuSE will make every effort to eliminate these minor problems.
Would I Buy It?
Sure, I would make a purchase. Keep in mind that it isn't necessarily the cost of the software that should be the primary deciding factor in making a purchase; it is the value of the software. If the software is $10 or $300, the cost matters little if the stuff doesn't work - the value of the product is nil. If the product is incredibly useful, then cost will only determine when you buy it. The organization I work for has bought software ranging in price from $100 to $50,000 and value has been the deciding factor in every case. So is SuSE 8.1 valuable? I would answer "absolutely" if I were deploying it on machines that were to be used by the widest possible audience. There is something for both experienced and novice users in this release. The installation will not drive administrators nuts trying to get a useful install, and new users will find a friendly, attractive interface that allows them to get the most out of their workday. SuSE 8.1 has all of the features that make a great desktop OS. I know that even amongst Linux advocates, the idea of Linux on the desktop is not something they feel will occur soon. I would argue that the Linux Desktop has been here for some time. It just needs a little more work.
- Great look
- Easy install
- Some lack of hardware support
- Gnome interaction difficulty
This editor's choice for broad Linux deployment.