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Review: openSUSE 10.2 Earns A Seat At The Head Of The Table

Columnist Eric A. Hall was looking for a Linux distro that combines stability with the capabilities needed to test bleeding-edge technology. After a long search, he found that openSUSE 10.2 was up to the job.

In fact, I was so disappointed by SUSE 10.0 and 10.1 that I gave serious consideration to changing to another distribution entirely, but the only other release that even comes close to my needs is Red Hat's Fedora, and it is missing features that I consider essential for my environment. For example, I use the XFS filesystem for my servers, since it's at least 20% faster than Ext3, it has the best crash-recovery mechanisms that I've found, and it has rock-solid support for features like extended attributes and ACLs. But Fedora doesn't really support XFS (it can be made to work, but just barely), and there's nothing about the distribution that justifies taking a +20% performance hit in exchange. For this and other reasons, I've continued to stick with SUSE 9.3.

When openSUSE 10.2 was released in December, I approached it with a combination of hope and trepidation. However, after performing an extended amount of testing, I can conclusively state that it's the first release I've seen in several years that's worthy of succeeding SUSE 9.3 as the centerpiece of my testing network. Although there are some serious kinks that still need to be worked out with some of the components, and it's quite obvious that the release as a whole would have benefited tremendously from another month or two of developer time, most of the important features work as expected out-of-the-box, and the operating system is quite stable overall. There's also a fair amount of newer technology in the base system, so this release should be usable for another couple of years.

Hardware And Setup

For my new server, I used a Tyan S5162 motherboard with a dual-core Pentium (Presler) processor and an ICH7R SATA controller with four Seagate ST3808110AS drives. OpenSUSE 10.2 recognized the motherboard (even down to the revision level), and was able to support the processor's 64-bit extensions in SMP mode without any tweaking.

OpenSUSE is one of the first distributions to implement the new dmraid components for hardware-assist RAID cards, and while it also was able to recognize my ICH7R SATA RAID-0 and RAID-1 volumes, it was unable to create partitions on all of them (the installer got confused about the partitions, and would only create one or two of them). Furthermore, GRUB is unable to boot from a dmraid array, meaning that it is only really useful for secondary storage. All told, the dmraid support in openSUSE 10.2 is too weak to use, and it will probably be a while before it works reliably in the way that people expect.

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