A quick look at Suse Linux Professional 9.3

By Niall C. Brady, April 2005, xmms and kernel updates added August 2005.

Feel free to discuss this review on the linux-noob.com forums.

Installation ease
Wireless woes
Configuration Joy
Window Manager Choice
Power Management bumps
Seeing Clearly
To Yast or not to Yast


I had the pleasure of spending a few days trying out Suse Linux Professional 9.3 (available from Novell's website). Suse Linux Professional 9.3 is definetly a growing contender for Linux on the desktop for businesses. I downloaded the 5 iso's (I assume there will also be a DVD version) and set about installing the new version from Novell. The last time I tried Suse Linux Professional it was version 9.1, and that was on a DVD set that Novell had shipped for free to me to anyone who filled out a simple form on their website last year. I must admit that at the time, I was very pleasantly surprised with the distro, I liked the way that you could use Java, Shockwave and MP3's out of the box with no need to locate/configure/compile plugins and howto's to get the fun parts of the distro to work. However, I didn't get the chance to spend too much time with it due to lack of time and the distro was already replaced by 9.2 at that stage so I quickly went back to my everyday Linux distro which currently is Fedora Core Release 3.

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Installation ease

Installing Suse Linux Professional 9.3 was simple, straightforward and intuitive if you went with the defaults, it was just next, next and so on until finally after a bit of cd swapping and some user input the system auto-logged in to the brand new KDE 3.4 desktop. For the purpose of grabbing screenshots and generally getting a feel for this release, I installed it three times, once using a virtual pc to get all the installation screenshots once again to do a 'standard' default install to see what was/was not included and one 'full' install which asked for each of the 5 cds and installed all the goodies.

The Target hardware I used was a brand new Intel 915GM chipset notebook, with Intel onboard video and an Intel wireless 2200bg card, broadcom gigabit NIC and some other standard components. I was pleasantly surprised that Suse Linux Professional 9.3 successfully booted correctly on this notebook with video working more or less perfectly (two other current distros I tried failed to provide video unless an external monitor was attached). I don't know if this is a kernel related issue on the other distros (Fedora Core Release 3 and Knoppix 3.7) or if it was down to xorg but either way, Suse passed that test admirably. The Linux kernel shipping with Suse Linux Professional 9.3 is version and the version of xorg is X Window System Version 6.8.2 released in February 2005.

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Wireless woes

Once installed, what do you do ? browse the internet of course. That worked fine with the onboard NIC, but trying to get the wireless NIC to work was a painful experience. I was happy that Suse 9.3 had included support for the Intel 2200bg minipci card, however I was not happy with the way that yast is used to configure wireless. I ended up going round in circles for a few hours trying this and that setting with no success until finally I looked at /var/log/messages and in there was an error

'Kill Switch must be turned off for wireless networking to work'.

Ok, at least now I had a hint, why could yast not give me this info when I was trying to configure wireless ? To cut a long story short using cat /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ipw2200/0000\:03\:03.0/rf_kill to display the 'wireless mode' allowed me to select the correct mode by pressing the Function keys on the notebook and get wireless up and running.

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Configuration joy

After finally getting connected wirelessly, I clicked on the FireFox icon and browsed to the bash radio project and clicked on 'Listen Now'. RealPlayer 10 of all things popped up as the chosen player and I just clicked ok and it launched itself, a few clicks later and Realplayer was configured to play MP3's without the need for me to configure or download any plugins. Marvellous and simple.

To further test this 'pre-configured' distro I surfed over to the bbc news website and clicked on a video link. After choosing 'realplayer' as my media player (from the choices displayed) the video started to play. That is the first distro I have tried that plays video out of the box from the bbc news website. Next I hopped over to dslreports.com and logged in and selected 'speed tests' from the tools available. The speed tests use Java so if you don't have Java installed, then its configure time again. Sure enough, Suse didn't disappoint and I was presented with the familiar Java speed test. Browsing to shockwave.com yielded the same ease of use. No need to configure anything at all for my browser, someone (thankfully) has already taken that pain away. If only my internet download speeds measured up to the preconfiguration work that Suse have done with loading plugins in Firefox.

I know this has been covered a million times by loads of people (so let's not go over it again, legal stuff and all that) but if only all 'mainstream' distros could be pre-configured like this, that would surely make Linux easier to start with for many. For those of you using Nvidia graphics cards, you'll be happy to know that YOU (yast online update) will allow you to quickly install the nvidia binary drivers, all with a few clicks. Not only that, but it provides you with the Microsoft TrueType fonts as well.

My multimedia experience wasn't all plain sailing though, I inserted 'The Patriot' DVD, and expected something to happen. Nothing happened, so I manually started xine and was informed that 'This version of xine may lack certain features Due to patent issues'. A bit of googling throws up the usual info, either patch xine with some rpms or go get mplayer.

Getting xmms to play mp3's required loading up yast2 online update, and selecting the 'Multimedia Option Pack 1'. After applying that update you can successfully play mp3's in xmms with no issues. :)

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Window Manager choice

Suse 9.3 is a KDE based distro, that's where it's aimed at currently. Gnome is included as an option as well as blackbox and quiet a few others, but when you start a gnome session you feel as if all the energy/love and effort that went into this distro, wasn't aimed at Gnome followers. C'est la vie, I can live with that, they've done such a nice job on KDE 3.4 that you'll forgive them. If like me, you do a 'complete' install, then believe it or not, at the login screen in Suse, you'll get a list of window managers (click on session). It includes the following extensive list:-


Along with the above, there are also some 'failsafe' options.

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Power Management bumps

Power management appears to be very much improved, and I guess that is down to the kernel and hard work by the Suse developers. For once, I have a brand new notebook with the latest chipset and a linux distro actually reports my CPU speed and battery time remaing correctly. Brilliant ! You can even select a power scheme by right clicking on your battery in the system tray. I was so impressed that I tried to 'suspend to disk' the notebook (seeing as it was advertised during the installation process) see this screenshot however I was presented with a nice 'oops' screen instead of a successfully suspended notebook.

No big deal, I can live with it, I just won't suspend until the cause of this issue is revealed,/var/log/messages seems to point towards tainted kernel errors. After three failed suspends I got a xconsole on my KDE 3.4 desktop which informs me that 'linux kernel: ntrr: 0xc00000000,0x10000000 overlaps existing 0xc0000000,0x400000'. Great, I don't understand it, do you ?

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Seeing clearly

While on the subject of video, I do have one gripe with Suse, and that was I couldn't get xorg to run @ 1400x1050 (the native resolution of the LCD). It point blank refused to go above 1280x1024 no matter what I did with SaX2. Even manually editing /etc/X11/xorg.conf didn't help. That was a minor disappointment for me, because even though (as I mentioned above) Fedora wanted an external monitor connected in order to get video working on the LCD (you could then disconnect the monitor and everything functioned fine, weird bug) at least Fedora allowed me to use the correct LCD resolution. I'll keep trying to find out why this isnt working correctly in Suse 9.3 and I'm confident that someone will point me in the right direction.

Update:- A reader called Steve emailed me with the following info:

In your review of Suse 9.3, you said you had some problems with getting higher graphics resolutions to work in X. You should be able to resolve this problem with the program 915resolution. You can find it at:
this site.

Thanks Steve !

Update #2:- As of August 2005, by running Yast2 online update you'll get updated versions of the kernel amongst other things (currently at Current Operating System: Linux linux #1 Tue Jul 19 12:42:37 UTC 2005 i686 Build Date: 22 March 2005 which seems to have allowed me to use the 1400x1050 resolution !

This is all cool as long as your system doesnt take a nose-dive like mine did (remember I got a kernel OOPS when I tried to suspend). After my second OOPS my Window Manager login screen had been replaced by what looked like a TWM login screen with no option to select a session, it finally decided that it didn't want me using KDE and so forced me to use TWM as the default WM. I didn't like that at all so ended up having to manually edit /etc/sysconfig/displaymanager and changed the DISPLAYMANAGER="xdm" variable (please NOTE: I did NOT set it to this) to DISPLAYMANAGER="kdm". After doing that as root and saving the file and rebooting, I was once again logging in to KDE. I assume that the above behaviour was as a side consequence of my crashes, only a reinstall will tell.

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To yast or not to yast

Using Yast to configure the wireless card (mentioned above) was a pain. configuring the card to use WEP was not intuitive at all, and i'd really recommend the Suse developers take a look at how Red Hat manages it using 'neat'. I've one other gripe and that is setting the time in Suse 9.3, I right click on the clock in the systray, choose 'adjust date and time' then login as root and yast2 pops up. I reconfigure the timezone (and time) and click accept and then the annoying part... you have to wait and wait and wait to configure something as trivial as time/date while yast2 updates it's database's. This seems almost ridiculous to me, but I guess there is a reason.

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This is the first KDE based distro that I'd consider using day to day and that's saying something (I use Gnome by choice). If Suse can iron out the suspend issues and make configuring wireless easier and more intutive then I'd have no problem giving this distro a 8/10. The DVD playback issue is no big deal and easily fixed. The kernel oops when suspending is rather more worrying. I'd suggest you grab yourself a copy and try it for yourself, your mileage may vary. For those of you with brand new notebooks, this distro could be the one you have been waiting for. Keep up the good work Suse, and well done to Novell for continuing the push with the Linux desktop.

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Installation of Suse Linux Professional 9.3 from start to finish

or... have a look at the screenshots below (post install).

Click to see big picture (1280x1024 pixels; 323 KB))
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Click to see big picture (1024x768 pixels; 340 KB))
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(c) http://www.linux-noob.com 2005.
Created by anyweb on April 06, 2005