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Review: The Surprising SUSE Linux

 SUSE Linux is a rock-solid, advanced Linux distribution with a little something for everyone. Here is a partial list:

  • Mainframe
  • Retail point of service
  • Cloud
  • Desktop
  • SUSE Studio (rapid deployment of custom stacks)
  • Virtualization
  • Enterprise server
  • Commercial and free versions

I had a conversation this week with two of the nice SUSE people, Meike Chabowski (product marketing manager) and Joe Werner (product management team). We were nearly on opposite sides of the globe; they were in Germany and I'm on the west coast of the US. Our conversation covered enough topics for a small book, but for today I'll restrain myself to discussing mainframe SUSE, retail SUSE, SUSE's fancy build tools, and career opportunities for Linux nerds.

suse-LXDE desktop

SUSE doesn't seem as well-known in the U.S. as Red Hat and Ubuntu, but it has a large worldwide market and is a rock-solid, well-engineered distribution. openSUSE, the free community version, is less conservative and contains newer technologies and software versions, and it is also very reliable. With respect to Red Hat and Ubuntu, who both have wonderful enterprise offerings, SUSE outperforms both of them. (Linux users are dreadfully spoiled by our vast wealth of great distros.)

SUSE has a lot of firsts in its history: It were the first to partner with IBM (in 2000) and develop a mainframe edition for IBM's System 390. Linux was still just a baby then, being barely 9 years old. Some other SUSE firsts are first commercial Linux distribution, first 64-bit, first to support Itanium and PowerPC, first to adopt OpenStack and KVM, and first to adopt reiserFS.

**Corrections**

SUSE was not the first commercial Linux distro, but SUSE invented the Enterprise Linux Server, meaning that it was the first Linux company to offer a commercially supported, enterprise-ready Linux OS.

Also the "1/3 of mainframe market share" is not completely accurate: 35% of IBMs mainframe customers already run Linux, and SUSE is the clear market leader in this area.

 

Mainframe SUSE

I've had a special interest in mainframe Linux for a long time. The frustrating part is getting hands-on experience; we are spoiled in Linux-land by easy availability to whatever software we want, and inexpensive x86 hardware. But enthusiasts drive adoption, so it seems a bit silly to me to erect barriers. As we discussed in How to Run Your Own Mainframe Linux, if you can't afford your own mainframe to play with you can run mainframe Linux on the Hercules mainframe hardware emulator. Like other curious nerds, I'm not interested in being something like a mainframe operator and babysitting boring ole batch jobs-- I want to dig into the guts and know how to configure the hardware, and install and maintain operating systems and application software.

Another option that doesn't require a mainframe is IBM's own System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT). zPDT is a virtual mainframe environment that supports z/OS and mainframe Linux. To get your hands on zPDT you need to be an IBM customer, an IBM business partner, systems integrator, or independent software vendor (ISV). zPDT costs several thousand dollars per year.

You can run Hercules on openSUSE (and pretty much any distro), and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System Z offers a free 60-day trial.

Retail SUSE

Mr. Werner shared some insights on SUSE Point of Service, a complete point-of-sale retail stack that includes a central administration server, branch servers, and point-of-sale terminals. The POS terminals can be pretty much any retail endpoint: ordinary PCs, customer kiosks, wireless terminals, and cash registers. With all the excellent open source software available to us in these here modern times, a primary differentiator is management tools, and SUSE has great management tools such as centrally-managed security and regulatory policies, central upgrades, and the KIWI custom image builder. KIWI builds custom images for pretty much anything you can think of, from tiny very specialized appliances to virtual machines to large, complex application stacks.

SUSE Studio

Which brings us to SUSE Studio. SUSE Studio, like Kiwi, is a rapid-build service for creating customized operating system images. So what's the difference? KIWI must be installed on SUSE, while SUSE Studio is both a Web service and a local installation. KIWI is open source and free of cost, the online SUSE Studio is also free of cost, and a local installation of SUSE Studio costs money. SUSE Studio can import KIWI configurations.

suse-studio

It seems the SUSE folks like fancy build tools, because they also offer the Open Build Service for multiple Linux distributions and hardware architectures.

Dell, Moblin, MeeGo, VideoLAN, and the United States Postal Service are all OBS users.

SUSE Jobs

Linux is growing, and SUSE is growing. Ms. Chabowski pointed out that Linux has about a third of mainframe market share, and Linux growth at all levels of the enterprise is steady. (See Linux Jobs in 2013, a Q&A with Dice's Alice Hill and If You Don't Know Linux, You Better Learn Fast.) SUSE is always looking for kernel hackers, especially those who can write modules and drivers. Systems management is red-hot as cloud technologies change the datacenter-- brush up on your OpenStack, virtualization, Ruby, Java, PHP, Python, and Perl skills. Check out the SUSE jobs board to see if, somewhere in the world, they have anything enticing for you.

But What About...

I love my Linux desktop because I like having powerful applications on my PC that work right, that don't roll out the welcome mat to malware, adware, junkware, and corporate spyware. I adore a powerful operating system that doesn't need a quad-core and trainloads of RAM to get out of its own way. So when will Linux conquer the general-purpose PC desktop? Probably never. Android and other smartphones are replacing desktop PCs for large numbers of users. Linux is replacing high-end Unix CAD workstations in industry, for example auto manufacturers are big Linux users and SUSE customers.

It may be that desktop Linux will settle into a role as the open, inviting portal to the vast Linux and open source world, and that doesn't seem like a bad thing at all.

 

Comments

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  • Mark Post Said:

    Although I work for SUSE, I have to make a correction to the statement that "Some other SUSE firsts are first commercial Linux distribution..." The first commercial "enterprise" Linux distribution (that was labeled as such) perhaps, but not the first commercial one. That distinction belongs to Pat Volkerding and Slackware.

  • AlexT Said:

    While I haven't used SUSE in awhile, my organization had moved away from it as the registration process was a bit klugey. This was especially true if no GUI was installed. It also never felt well supported by Novell. We have since standardized on Red Hat and Ubuntu.

  • John Gutierrez Said:

    Thanks for letting readers know about "Retail SUSE". I'm using SUSE/Samba Server in a small non profit. The POS sound like just what we need.

  • Rafael D Said:

    I'm glad SUSE is on the upswing and wish it well. However, I still have a bitter taste in my mouth over trying to use SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) in 2005 when it was owned by Novell. I feel like I got ripped off by a tool that was not really ready. I realize it's ancient history and SUSE is under new owners, but it was money out of my pocket and I have not forgotten.

  • David P. Said:

    Yeah, SLES 9 was a warthog. I nearly dumped it myself for the reasons you mentioned, I even had words with my Novell rep over how bad it was. SLES 10 was a completely different story and made me glad I held out.

  • Leslie Satenstein Said:

    I have installed OpenSuse and found it rock solid and rich with functionality. I am not used to yast, but it did not take long for me to become used to it. The version performs well, and I am delighted with it. I am using the 64 bit version on a 4 gig desktop. Thank you OpenSuse

  • salparadise Said:

    Rock solid? rofl I've tried every single openSuSE/SuSE since SuSE10 and every single one has had some issue or other. I tried 12.3 the other day - graphic artifacts all over the upper left corner of the screen, drivers not working properly, WINE not working properly. Compared to Mint/Manjaro/Slackware and Fedora, openSuSE is a bloated pile of nonsense.

  • Ded87 Said:

    And you use openSUSE for use Wine? openSUSE work 20 times better then every Fedora or Ubuntu with Linux software

  • salparadise Said:

    A hasty post on my behalf. Never post at 5:30AM when you've only been awake 20 minutes is my lesson for the day. And no, I don't use openSuSE for WINE, I use Mint and it's quite amazing how many games will run with WINE these days. The comment was more aimed at the overall intitial experiece. With 'out of the box' functionality these days being what it is, when a distro and fairly major one at that, doesn't behave on first boot after what appeared to be a flawless install, then patience wears thin in short order.

  • Hayath Said:

    Hey @salparadise, I faced exactly what you faced. :) right from 11.1, but I used contineously till 12.1, and it totally dissappointed me when it became very very unstable and bloated, And I wish they had LTS free version like Uuntu/Mint. than I installed MintOS 12.0X LTS from past 1 year, and its wonderfull. its fast, very stable and every month I update and it becomes more solid. Yesterday night I installed suse 12.3 and again dissappointed hugely, VLC after some time stopped playing, started giving errors, brighness function key dint respond., than like that I saw many small issues, and reinstalled Mint OS, Dear OpenSuse, your paid version wont be profitable to you, so please release a stable LTS version, and dont make LTS extreme old. just keep it simple, stable and modern , same like Mint OS.

  • QL Said:

    I used SuSE extensively in the late 90s, early 2000s (the capitalisation will prove that!) for deployments in a number of countries and found SuSE folk here at home in the UK anyway to be really helpful, supportive, and really, really nice people. I can't say every release was rock solid - odd-numbered releases were OK, but even numbered ones not so much - but it was reliable. Then came the Novell years, when I felt really sorry for the SuSE people trying to find their way in a failed business, Novell had no clue what they had bought, and their later antics of course made staying with SUSE (by this time) too risky. The final straw was finding a certified Novell engineer at a server having installed a full GUI on a headless server and sitting at a console logged in graphically as root. But I've recently tried OpenSUSE again, and find it to give the same sense of solidity and capability as I remembered, now without the bloat that characterised earlier releases, and to which I think another comment referred. My desktop running XFCE4 uses about the same as the equivalent Debian or Ubuntu system. I don't think there's a need to change my sever preference from Debian just yet, but the desktop's looking really good once again. It's nice to be back,

  • David P. Said:

    openSUSE has always been stable for me except the 12.1 release. Everything I complained about in 12.1 was fixed in 12.2 - never had the hardware issues you are complaining about.

  • hakim Said:

    Am the new student of IT, still don't know where to start learning this. So what to do.

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