The Lizard King

SUSE Linux 10.0 is the latest edition of a venerable Linux distribution that Novell took under its wing nearly two years ago. SUSE has always been known for including everything but the kitchen sink - like previous versions, SUSE 10.0 comes on five CDs, compared to Ubuntu Linux's one - and for its extremely comprehensive YAST setup and configuration tool set. (YAST stands for "Yet Another Setup Tool," because geeks just can't get enough silly acronyms.) In SUSE 10.0, not only has Novell included all the latest free software goodies, but it's changed its release strategy: SUSE Installation CDs are available as a free download for the first time. The news is good all around.

I've been playing around with the boxed edition of SUSE Linux 10.0, but Novell representatives assure me that the evaluation edition available for download through www.opensuse.org is the same product, complete with pro­prietary extensions (such as Java, Flash, and RealPlayer) that other distributions tend to leave off their freely downloadable editions.

Despite its name, the Evaluation edition is unrestricted - it won't time out on you or anything like that. Here's what you don't get if you decide not to shell out $US60 for the boxed set: a 275-page startup guide that's very nicely done; five CDs and one DVD emblazoned with the SUSE mascot, a lizard named Geeko; a beautiful green cardboard box, also sporting the image of Geeko; and installation support via e-mail, Web, or telephone. These bells and whistles are probably most useful to Linux newcomers, while the gearheads that SUSE seems to be targeting can most likely do without them.

The YAST-driven installation process is a natural evolution of previous SUSE installers - still detailed and rather geared toward folks who know a thing or two about their hardware. If you're going to leave Windows on your drive and set up a dual-booting system, you probably also need to know a thing or two about partitioning. Although online help is available at every stage during the installation, it's relatively technical stuff. Newbies are unlikely to feel comfortable.

Choose a desktop

Early in the installation, you'll be asked to choose between the Gnome and KDE desktop environments (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). At this point in the process, there's no option to select both; but at a later stage, you can let the installer know if you want both desktops installed. In my testing, pursuing that route met with very mixed results: there was a significant amount of bleed-through from one desktop to another. The most annoying example was that when I logged into KDE, non-functional, Gnome-specific icons appeared on the desktop, and similar KDE-centric icons were missing.

In fact, even if you only install the Gnome desktop, you still end up with a bit of a desktop melange: a few KDE apps are scattered throughout the Applications menu; and where Gnome users expect to see a Help entry in the Desktop menu, there's a "SUSE Help Center" command that calls up the KDE Help Centre, which has been stocked with both Gnome and KDE documentation. This is a little bizarre, and it suggests to me that the distribution remains pretty KDE-centric, despite parent company Novell's emphasis on the Gnome desktop.

The installation process might astonish you when it completes without a single reboot. (Why can't Microsoft learn that trick?) After you log into the desktop environment of your choice, you'll find a clean interface containing just a few icons - none of them for ads or special offers - and, of course, desktop wallpaper depicting Geeko. If you don't want to stare at the Lizard King all day (apologies to Jim Morrison fans), you'll be happy to find a set of beautiful nature photographs built-in as wallpaper alternatives. That's not exactly a crucial feature, but a very nice touch.

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