...making Linux just a little more fun!
By Edgar Howell
Early in October SuSE's latest was released but it was the very last weekend of October when I finally had the time to check it out. In a word: nice.
Not wanting to endanger a functional system, the first install was to a second drive that I let SuSE partition. After that worked, I updated 9.0 on the big drive. Other than the problems you expect when a boot loader on the other drive gets in the way of an installation procedure that wants to reboot in the middle of the installation process, things went extremely smoothly.
It didn't take even an hour to install to the drive turned over to SuSE - about 10 minutes of answering questions with the mouse and then the usual inserting and removing of CDs. By pretty much just taking the defaults and only getting picky when it really made a difference (like the hostname), SuSE's installation procedure produced a very usable system.
The swap file was 500+ MB, about the size of RAM. Less than 2 GB of the rest was used for the installed software, leaving over 1.5 GB available. This was basically what I have come to know as SuSE's standard office system: KDE with Open Office and, of course, Konqueror.
SuSE 9.2 has 5 CDs and 2 DVDs, one of which contains the source RPMs.
Firefox is something I had wanted to look at. And there it was! Hmmm, so now how am I going to check it out?
Although my wife uses a PC at work, she is about as interested in computers as I am in cars; they're both just tools, really. She puts up with the former as I do with the latter. So she wanted to spend some time on the Internet. Did she ever! Kept asking questions, but they had nothing to do with Firefox: What was that URL? What do you think of this hotel?
If the word "intuitive" still has any meaning left at all, it can be applied to Firefox. I played with it a bit and it could well become my surfing platform of choice. But where's the e-mail plug-in? Oh, did SuSE jump the gun on release 1?
Some of what SuSE automatically installs I found unnecessary and so removed - e.g., things like the dictionaries (I prefer to accept responsibility for my spelling mistakes) - but I added Mozilla, the e-mail plugin and, of course, Firefox. Still, the standard installation should be great for most situations, like a small office or home computer. And SuSE's YaST makes adding or removing individual pieces of software extremely convenient.
I've been very happy with Open Office since the Star Office days (even paid Sun real money for the 5.1 CD to be able to install it under Win 95, OS/2 and GNU/Linux). Compatibility of data remains something to consider if it is necessary to exchange diskettes, USB sticks, or the like with friends or customers. But for many years I have relied on Open Office for all correspondence and a number of spreadsheets.
Migration away from some other environment is a completely different topic, but the software included in SuSE 9.2 should fill the bill for anyone needing a machine to deal with typical small office tasks.
The 4 GB install performed so well right off the starting blocks that I decided to go ahead and update the 80 GB drive. This was something I had never done before. Somehow a clean install had always seemed best. But so many settings have been tweaked that I decided to try it out.
Updating was a very pleasant surprise, not a lot of questions and pretty straight-forward (however, see "Batch" Install, below). Worked like a charm. I'm a believer. Of course, the step from 9.0 to 9.2 isn't too great. Would it have worked as well starting at, say, 8.1?
I did encounter problems with a conflict between the UIDs on the partition updated when I did a soft link from there to the Mozilla mailbox on the clean install - from one hard drive to another. Procmail had trouble delivering and and put a few items in the default mailbox. Under 9.2 SuSE starts user IDs at 1000, used to be 500. Not a problem if you either don't update or do assign user IDs. Or just avoid linking to data outside of the partition!
On the other hand, NFS is (or was) supposed to be sensitive to UID problems. There was no trouble accessing either version from another machine via NFS. Although it does let you override IDs, it was so easy to set up that I honestly don't recall whether I even bothered to do that.
Installing an operating system on a brand-new machine without any data on it is nothing to get excited about. But nobody wants to start learning about partitioning and differences in drive names between operating system and boot-loader right in the middle of installation! Are you really sure you know where that MBR was put?
I will no longer have any hesitation about recommending GNU/Linux as an alternative to anything else on the desktop. But the process of how it gets there remains significant. In my opinion it would be very bad advice to suggest that anyone without considerable experience should install this on a machine that already has an operating system and data on it. During installation and without access to partition contents it is just too easy to do something with the wrong partition!
Setting up the HP Printer under YaST was much like former experience with installing drivers for other operating systems: answer a couple of questions about model etc. and maybe print a test page. Pretty straight-forward. However, see Printing with CUPS, below. I wonder if the USB Lexmark will be as successful when I do a clean install on the AMD notebook.
Even in small offices, it is more and more the case that there are several computers connected to each other. It is no particular problem to set this up but it of course increases the time required for installation accordingly. However, networking is a topic in its own right. And clearly, no default installation can automatically be made part of an existing network. To install SuSE 9.2 on a machine that needs to be networked requires a bit more effort. But then, if you already have a network, you know your topology, IP addresses, host names, etc. And given this knowledge, it is not particularly difficult to integrate the machine into the current network. Just takes a little bit more time.
In point of fact, it took very little time to set up networking. YaST asks the right questions but the answers won't necessarily be obvious to anyone unfamiliar with networking. I assume Samba works as in the past but haven't investigated it yet because I rarely have an operating system running that requires it. Note, however, that this network is so small that I just edit /etc/hosts et al.
With every new release of any software there are improvements, some only of cosmetic nature. But there were several things that struck me as worth pointing out.
Tired of having to mount removable devices? That's past tense. It didn't take long to get used to not trying to mount something. That command seems only to be needed for hard-drives or partitions that aren't automatically mounted via /etc/fstab. But there are differences between floppy, CD-ROM and USB.
Insert a floppy and not much happens. Without mounting anything the command "ls /media/floppy" shows its contents. However, if you do try to mount it, you get a message that mtab shows it to be mounted.
CD-ROM is similar but different. Insert one and the drive reacts (in fact KDE announces it as well). An attempt to mount it produces the same reaction as with the floppy. Same with ls. Interesting is that if the drawer is still open, ls closes it for you.
USB is something completely different. My impression is that it is treated as a removable hard-drive. Plug in a USB stick and KDE tells you it's there and offers to show you the contents of the directory.
The command "ls /media" will show you the name of the newly-available directory. But given the directory name, e.g. "/media/usb-07480C81059A:0:0:0p1", you may want cut-and-paste with the left and middle keys on the mouse.
On the other hand you might just want to try the following, which I fetched via cut-and-paste. Believe me, as bizarre as the cd command may appear, it works!
[ The "cd" command in Unix has always been fine with wildcards, at least in the years that I've been using it. Using the completion feature in the modern shells - i.e., typing "cd /media/u" and pressing the Tab key - would work just as well. -- Ben ]
web@LohgoPC2:~> ls /media cdrecorder dvd sda1 sdc1 sde1 sdg1 cdrom floppy sdb1 sdd1 sdf1 usb-07480C81059A:0:0:0p1 web@LohgoPC2:~> cd /media/usb* web@LohgoPC2:/media/usb-07480C81059A:0:0:0p1>
Midnight Commander also shows the directory name in full and permits easy copying of something but of course no cut-and-paste.
And Open Office just uses it as one would expect. For what it's worth, I wrote this article using Open Office (which handles HTML well) with the file on a USB stick, no problem.
As best I can tell, the output to USB is not deferred, no need for sync. When told to write, both Open Office and vi (my all-time favorite word processor) cause the LED on the USB stick to flicker.
Another really big item for me is the ability within YaST to write to a file (user.sel) information on what was just selected for installation. For several years I have wanted something like this to make sure that, for example, PC and notebook have the same software. This works so well that in fact the update even had the same two error messages as the install because I had deleted something needed later (not dependencies, xinit and some kernel module). Nonetheless, potentially a real time-saver.
Actually that has been there for quite a while but I just hadn't found it. Under 8.0 in YaST when you install software, if you click on the right-most box (Extras) in the next-to-the-bottom line, the first line of the pop-up is an option to save or load settings. Well hidden. Under 9.2 this function is under 'File' on the top line of the window.
SuSE's YOU - YaST Online Update - was impressive. In 5 minutes with a 56k modem several pieces of software were updated online. And this release hadn't even been available for anywhere near 3 weeks at the time I did this! There was a patch for tiff, so I assume that problem has been taken care of. I think I'm going to be checking in there regularly in the future.
Prior to this update /var/lib/YaST2/you/ was empty. Afterwards, this is what it looked like:
LohgoPC2b:~ # ll /var/lib/YaST2/you/ insgesamt 36 drwxr-xr-x 4 root root 4096 2004-11-04 09:17 . drwxr-xr-x 5 root root 4096 2004-11-04 09:12 .. -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 140 2004-11-04 09:17 config -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 206 2004-11-04 09:16 cookies drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 2004-11-04 09:17 installed drwxr-xr-x 4 root root 4096 2004-11-04 09:11 mnt -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 8 2004-11-04 09:12 settings -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 2344 2004-11-04 09:17 youlog -rw-r--r-- 1 root root 749 2004-11-04 09:11 youservers
Here's an excerpt of youlog:
2004-11-04 09:12:43 (8074): aaa_base: "SuSE Linux Basispaket" wird abgerufen ... 2004-11-04 09:14:14 (8074): Ok 2004-11-04 09:14:14 (8074): libtiff: "Die Tiff Bibliothek (mit JPEG und Kompressionsunterstützung)" wird abgerufen... 2004-11-04 09:14:26 (8074): Ok . . . 2004-11-04 09:16:55 (8074): Ok 2004-11-04 09:16:55 (8074): Delta wird angewendet ... . . . 2004-11-04 09:16:56 (8074): Ok 2004-11-04 09:16:56 (8074): aaa_base: "SuSE Linux Basispaket" wird installiert 2004-11-04 09:17:03 (8074): Ok 2004-11-04 09:17:03 (8074): libtiff: "Die Tiff Bibliothek (mit JPEG und Kompressionsunterstützung)" wird installiert . . . 2004-11-04 09:17:38 (8074): Ok 2004-11-04 09:17:38 (8074): Installation abgeschlossen. 2004-11-04 09:17:38 (8074): 7 Patches wurden installiert.
The reference to "Delta" means that SuSE doesn't download the entire RPM, only what is needed to provide changes since the previous version.
Something that really blew me away is that CUPS does magic with the old HP Office Jet 500. That thing is so old and has been printing such GDI poor quality for several years that I only use it as a fax and to make copies where the print quality isn't particularly important. The last color cartridge was just to keep it functional, never even try to print in color on it anymore.
Suddenly there is printed output from Linux! Not the quality wanted for correspondence or anything leaving the office, but that isn't there anyhow. And it does lose a line of data with page eject. But with this printer that is still very impressive progress on the proprietary printer front.
I really like the fact that Open Office is - albeit slowly - outgrowing its origins. Suddenly there are two, count'em, scroll arrows for up and down right next to each other, one above the other, just like on the Zaurus and most of what I use regularly. The other up arrow is way up there, if you happen to need it.
I wish SuSE had included 'mailfilter' like back in the good, old 8.0 days. The version that I use wants a different libc. And compilation fails because a header is missing. Did I omit something from the development package? Most of it, actually... Problem resolved, but on my wish-list.
Although I kind of like the way removable devices are handled, there remains a gap: mount (or cat /etc/mtab) now shows what is available, not whether anything is there; df shows USB but not e.g. floppy. So we don't really have any way of knowing what media currently are present. Yeah, I hear you, just look at the drive!
So SuSE 9.2 is a system that is extremely easy to install, at least to an empty machine. It updates a prior version very well. Adding and removing software packages is essentially a no-brainer. It now deals with removable media as many people expect, including USB. Printer support has improved dramatically, although proprietary anything does remain problematic. And it has the stability only available from GNU/Linux.
SuSE 9.2 is ready for the desktop.
Edgar is a consultant in the Cologne/Bonn area in Germany.
His day job involves helping a customer with payroll, maintaining
ancient IBM Assembler programs, some occasional COBOL, and
otherwise using QMF, PL/1 and DB/2 under MVS.
(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be
(Note: mail that does not contain "linuxgazette" in the subject will be rejected.)