January 7, 2005

My workstation OS: SUSE Professional

Author: Keith Winston

Long-time Linux users know that the kernel and most of the programs are the same across distributions, but different implementations vary in their hardware detection, default choices of basic software, package management system, availability of extra packages, third-party software, and bundled management tools. I was looking for a single distribution I could rely on as both a server and a desktop OS, and one that I could install and support remotely for clients and use at home for work and play. What I found was the powerful SUSE Professional.

An important but subtle factor in my decision was how well I could leverage my time investment with a distribution and apply it to my work. My work is primarily as a LAMP Web developer, with a healthy dose of system administration (for 18 servers at the moment). Having tried all the major distributions and many lesser known ones, I settled on SUSE Professional, because learning SUSE well made me a more effective system administrator and programmer. It provided a test environment on my desktop that closely mirrored the
server environment where my programs end up. Also, learning how to use (and sometimes work around) the YaST administration tool helped smooth out administration issues that came up on servers.

Can't other distributions be used as both desktops and servers? Sure, but I don't think others are as versatile in both roles. With a little customization, I can quickly create a cluster of Web and database servers or a multimedia desktop, all from a single SUSE Professional DVD. Then, I can manage each remotely using the powerful YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) program. It is this combination of features that has kept me in the SUSE camp for years.

Another strong point for SUSE is that, because it is a top-tier distribution, many vendors certify their applications and software for it (as many do with Red Hat). Oracle, for instance, supports its database applications on SUSE, so if the need arises, I can offer that application to my clients. Other commercial applications come bundled with SUSE, such as Textmaker, RealPlayer, and Opera.

SUSE provides a vast number of packages out of the box, on its distribution DVDs and CDs, and has a healthy community of package maintainers. It also strikes a nice balance between doing things for you and hack-ability. It is true that YaST sometimes gets in your way, but it helps more than it hurts, and you can easily edit the text configuration files directly and YaST will leave them alone.

The multimedia support in SUSE is stellar. SUSE pioneered the ALSA sound project and is a major contributor to KDE. The distro includes a gob of sound applications.

SuSE also provides a simple way to install the Nvidia 3D video drivers from YaST. If you have a video card that supports 3D, you will appreciate the long list of games ready to install on the CDs/DVDs.

One mixed blessing with SUSE is that the vendor provides default kernels that have been patched a bit. The upside is that almost every driver you could ever want has been compiled as a kernel module for you, and there are lots of nice performance patches included. I have rarely had the need to create a custom kernel on SUSE, since it supports almost all the hardware I've ever encountered. The downside is that is it more difficult to compile a custom kernel than with a distribution like Slackware. If you want a kernel from the pure kernel.org sources, SUSE is not the place the look for it. The SUSE kernels are a somewhat bloated, and the whole distribution requires fairly new hardware to work well.

About a year ago Novell purchased SUSE, so some people worry about the future direction of the distribution. Will it still be KDE-centric? Will the price go up? Will the quality level stay high? The 9.1 version was the first one to be released under the Novell banner, and it stayed close to the roots of SUSE. In 9.2 the quality remained high and the whole package still had the SUSE feel. Only time will tell how the acquisition will impact future releases.

I love working with many distributions and always have two or three installed on my computer. In the end, SUSE meets my needs as a developer, consultant, and home user better than any other single distribution. I can run my home PC and a multinational corporation with the same code -- that is bang for your buck.

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