SuSE 7.3 rocks Red Hat and flips XP the bird

The Joy of Computing

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Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

The first thing a PC user notices about SuSE is that it comes with the kind of documentation that Microsoft has almost - but not quite - eradicated from the far reaches of your long-term memory.

A good 800 pages worth in four manuals, such as you used to curl up with in an easy chair, in some lost era of elegance and style before the Global Economy obliterated any lingering, mocking hint of leisure time adequate for such strangely attractive pursuits as getting to know your operating system.

And not only is it extensive, it's well organized. And that's important, because if there's any hope of Linux one day competing with Windows on the home desktop, our friend Harry Homeowner is going to have to get it running while channel surfing through ESPN and microwaving dinner, having already shimmed those dangerously ill-fitted cellar stairs with one of the manuals.

The Harry test

Those who recall my "Installation Tragicomedy" (as LinuxToday's Mike Hall called it) with Red Hat 7.2 know that I did everything I could to install on an OEM box with its factory configuration intact, and failed miserably. This, I felt, was a necessary element of the Harry test.

Indeed, "Red Hat Linux 7.2 should be compatible with most hardware in systems that were factory built within the last two years," the installation guide optimistically chirps. That describes my Dell Dimension B733R perfectly, having been 'factory built' less than two years ago but not so recently that it might contain a new curve.

The problem was that my two CDROM drives were hooked up to an IDE channel by Dell monkeys via 'cable select', which meant that I either had to disable DMA during the installation, or set the drives as master and slave manually with the jumpers to avoid read errors.

Not quite good enough for Harry. All right, my machines are all bare and skeletal with their guts hanging out like the entrails of a George Romero corpse, but I seriously doubt Harry has ever had the cover off his. Forget jumpers.

And the Red Hat installation guide is illogically laid out, with heaps of theoretical stuff interlarded with the practical nuggets, a troubleshooting section that barely mentions DMA (which Harry doesn't know from DNS anyway), and practical steps that only occasionally recapitulate the 'live' steps of the installation.

The SuSE install guide, on the other hand, recaps the 'live' steps perfectly, and starts with two ingenious features. First, the 'welcome' screen immediately offers you the option to do a 'safe' install (CDROM DMA disabled); and two, the install guide urges this mode upon you on the first page as a fix if you're having trouble with the installation.

Thus Harry with his monkeyed-up Dell box will probably blow it the first time around, but get it right on the second go. And if he's really conservative, he may well opt for 'safe' on the first go.

And with the SuSE Pro distro, the whole shebang comes on a single DVD, which Harry has got to love.

I say SuSE passes the Harry test.

Default culture

Whereas Red Hat defaults to ext3, SuSE defaults to the tried and true ext2. I'm ambivalent here; Harry really wants a journaled file system and will be quite appalled when his brats kick the power cord while he's working and he then finds that his computer appears 'broken'.

On the other hand, ext3 can still be a bit sketch on some machines; and considering Harry's nervous nature, I suppose it's a good call.

SuSE also defaults to KDE (rather than Gnome like Red Hat), which I think looks better (though you've got to love Nautilus) and will no doubt reassure Harry that he's bought a quality product just like the 'real' stuff from Microsoft. It also defaults to LILO instead of GRUB, which is probably another solid bit of Germanic conservatism working in Harry's favor.

XP killer?
Nearly all Linux distros are packed with applications, and SuSE is no exception. So why would you spend $300.00 on a stand-alone version of Win-XP pro when you can get SuSE pro for $80.00?

And why would you spend another $300.00 for Office XP when Star Office 5.2 comes free with SuSE? (OK, because it sucks...but it's free, and not quite intolerable.) And why spend another $300.00 for Photoshop when you've got Gimp and XSane for free? And why shell out $100 - $200 for periodic upgrades from Redmond like some addict when virtually everything you'll ever need to keep your Linux box trim can be downloaded free off the Web?

You've got your multimedia toys -- your jukebox and CD burner and MIDI synthesizer, just in case you tend to welcome your guests with a hearty "Hey everyone -- let's gather 'round the computer and BOOGIE!"

And you get about thirty games, some of them actually entertaining, and your IRC and ICQ clones, and your Apache and Squid and SSH and telnet and firewall and network tools, along with development tools up the butt.

Do you have any idea how much of this stuff you have to buy for a Windows machine? You'll be lucky to find a free hex editor, for Christ's sake.

Think of it this way: if you should break your sad dependency on Redmond's digital heroin and install something like SuSE 7.3, you'll be able to run your machine pretty much like a Windows box without a struggle from the git go; but on top of that, you might one day find yourself curled up in an easy chair with the documentation, as in some bygone age of elegance and style, and then it might just hit you what a convenient patsy you've been. ®

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