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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.

One other unfortunate condition in openSUSE 10.2 is that the fonts don't look as good as they did under 10.1. Whereas the previous release used the Bitstream Vera font family by default, that font isn't even included in the default installation of 10.2 (it's on the DVD but you have to manually install it). Worse, the font that is embedded into the SUSE applications and menu is jagged and unreadable, and it cannot be changed since it's embedded. This is a minor complaint, but its one of those things that you run into every time you use the system, so it grates on you.

The back-end services seem to work pretty well, and I haven't encountered any major difficulties with any deep system infrastructure yet. I was able to install and immediately use the bundled releases of OpenLDAP, ISC's DHCP server, named, Apache2, MySQL, PHP, Samba, Net-SNMP, and even Cacti, all with my pre-existing configuration files. This was a pleasant surprise, since it took a fair amount of hacking to get all this stuff working right under SUSE 9.3, and having it all just work out-of-the-box with 10.2 is very, very nice.

There does not yet appear to be any significant problems with any of these packages, although there are some minor issues here and there. For example, the version of Net-SNMP included in the release has a known bug where the amount of cache memory is not reported separately, and this causes my Cacti templates to produce misleading charts, but that's a cosmetic bug and is likely to be fixed sooner rather than later. Similarly, PHP uses the /tmp directory for its session files by default in openSUSE 10.2, although you can make it use /var/tmp/php or another directory of choice by editing the php.ini files under the /etc/php5 directory tree.

There are some nice features in some of these packages, which are particularly well-suited to my network environment. For example, I use OpenLDAP as a common data-store for many of my network services, including everything from DHCP configuration data to Samba authentication to SMTP blacklists, and most of the openSUSE packages support LDAP seamlessly (as does the operating system itself). There is also a new YAST widget for building and managing your own PKI, and it seems to work for simple stuff so far, although I haven't really pushed it yet.

PAM authentication of network-based "root" accounts now works as expected, too. My preferred setup is to limit the use of the built-in "root" account to whatever local system services actually require it, and then use an LDAP-based administrator account for any human super-user duties, but this hasn't worked with SUSE for many years due to the way that PAM requests were being processed (it has worked with every other UNIX and Linux platform I've tested). Finding out that it now works with openSUSE 10.2 is a nice treat, kind of like finding a forgotten $20 bill in your pocket.

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