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1/3/2007
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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.

Outside the set-up process, however, the hardware system seems to work pretty well, with just a few annoyances, and there are many improvements as well. For example, the Intel Ethernet drivers in SUSE 10.1 had a nasty habit of leaving the hardware in an error state during shutdown, which in turn prevented the system from being managed with IPMI over the network, but I've had no such problems with the drivers in the 10.2 release. On the other hand, the IPMI support in 10.2 is a little weak in general--the power-down function is mapped to the user power control, so a remote power off signal will cause a logout dialog box to appear instead of putting the system into shutdown mode. Meanwhile, the IPMI plug-in for lm_sensors requires kernel features to be enabled which are not present in 10.2, so I have to use incomplete legacy sensor interfaces to monitor system health.

There are some other hardware improvements that are worth noting. For example, openSUSE 10.2 includes version 5.37 of the smartmontools package, which supports monitoring SATA hard drives directly. openSUSE 10.2 also includes version 2.04 of the nut UPS toolkit, which includes support for the Tripp-Lite SMART2200RMXL2U in my rack, which is good because Tripp-Lite's own software doesn't seem to work with this setup. Overall, hardware support is all-around better, and the few things that don't work are not show-stoppers.

Applications And System Services

On the software side, the most visible difference between openSUSE 10.2 and prior releases is the inclusion of a new menu system in KDE and Gnome. The KDE menu has received a fair amount of praise, but I run Gnome on the servers that have a GUI (fewer features translates to fewer potential problems), and I found the new Gnome menu to be rather unhelpful. The new menu uses a drop-down box to choose between "favorite applications" and "recent applications," with everything else behind a "more applications" button. I found that I was hitting the "more" button more often than not, which was taking longer than just traversing the legacy hierarchical menu, so I went back to the classic menu instead.

While I'm on the subject of the GUI, I should mention that openSUSE 10.2 ships with release candidate 2 of version 7.2.0 of the X.Org X Window System. While this isn't much of a problem for server systems that don't need fancy graphics, it has proven problematic for my desktop systems, given that there aren't many proven third-party drivers available for it yet. I have already had problems with OpenGL on my ATI graphics cards, for example, which came as a bit of a surprise since these systems worked well enough on prior releases of the SUSE 10.x line.

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