Well, my new Linux package is installed, and …

I’m pretty disappointed, actually. I’ve been using Linux as my main OS since about October 2002, and as I mentioned before I’ve used many Linux distros and always come back to SUSE. I think this may be the last time I pay for one of SUSE’s upgrades. Despite the obvious advantages of Linux from a security point of view, this is let down by the usability bugs which mar the user’s experience of their system. In fact, after Novell bought out SUSE a few months back I was hoping that they would iron out some of the serious bugs in the last version, like the one which would not let the user log in to anything except a plain terminal. I’ve not encountered that particular bug so far, but there are some new ones. YaST (Yet Another Setup Tool) is great - it is probably the best Linux configuration package out there - but the first thing you notice with each new edition is its strange choice of resolutions. When I first installed version 8.2 (8.1 was the first version of SUSE I installed), it went straight to 1280 by 1024 on my 17-inch monitor, something I never knew it could do. This time, when I installed it on my laptop which has a single resolution of 1024 by 768, it insisted on going to 800 by 600, which of course looks funny on a fixed-resolution screen. That said, the installation is really one of the great things about this version of Linux. Partitioning is quick and straightforward, there is a huge range of packages to choose from (I always buy the Professional version), and installation is often quicker than the time indicated. (On my desktop computer, however, it took quite a long time, but perhaps that was just because of the large amount of software I installed.)

SUSE as ever comes with two graphical environments, KDE and GNOME, along with a number of old-style window managers. KDE is now version 3.2, which is said to be faster than both its competition and previous releases of KDE, and GNOME is now version 2.4 - and by the way, version 9.0 shipped with version 2.2 after 2.4 was out, and now they’ve finally got round to releasing 2.4 after 2.6 has been released. (There is some sense in this, however, because 2.4 is now more mature than 2.6 having been given two minor upgrades.) Even more strangely the new version of XFce (pronounced X-Face), which is a more lightweight environment based on the same graphical tools as GNOME, has not been included. They have followed Microsoft in including a ‘landscape’ backdrop, in this case a mountain scene; the menus have been done up to look a bit like Microsoft’s new menus as well.

I had huge problems getting the OS to change my monitor resolution. After setting the resolution at 1280 by 1024, I tried moving it back to the standard 1024 by 768, but it failed to store my new settings. I did manage it, eventually, but it does demonstrate a fault on their configuration system. YaST modules take a strangely long time to load, particularly under GNOME - they are based on KDE - which may suggest that they are scripted rather than compiled into proper machine code. My K menu (the KDE equivalent of the Start menu) ended up with bizarrely large icons, which pushes the menu into two columns, which I cannot find any way of getting rid of. GNOME has seen some improvement on earlier versions; Novell, which owns SUSE, also owns Ximian which produces a commercial GNOME-based desktop for Linux, and I suspect that they had some input into this, which may make James Ogley’s “usr local bin” effort redundant. I’m glad they haven’t imposed Ximian’s awful desktop on us, however - the last time I installed that on my system, it took it over completely, even affecting my KDE setup which I had not wanted.

One thing I’m still wondering is why it’s called version 9.1 when so much has changed since the last. It should really be called version 10, because it has a new kernel besides the new desktops, and other packages which weren’t in previous versions. But on the whole, I don’t think this is a serious competitor to Windows yet, despite its considerable advantages. Apart from the lack of commercial software, which is gradually improving (there is a free version of a commercial word processing package included with this), there are too many bugs which ruin the user’s experience. This is of course minor compared to your system continually crashing due to viruses, but I doubt that the difficulties in getting this package to work will outweigh this when it comes to people taking up Linux. Linux is great. KDE and GNOME are great. It’s just these packages that let them down. I still think the Mac is the best competitor to Windoze, and the eMac is very reasonably priced at the moment. Go get one.

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