SUSE 10.2 can be downloaded as a DVD or as a set of 5 CDs for x86, x86-64 and PPC architectures. There are also two additional CDs that you can download, one that contains language packs and the other one for non-open-source software. Of course everything is also available from the repositories, so if you're only interested in a default English Gnome or KDE desktop installation, all you need is to download the first three CDs.
I found the mirrors to be quite fast and it only took me an hour to download all three CDs. You can get them from here via HTTP or BitTorrent: http://en.opensuse.org/Released_Version
The DVD contains both free, non-free and source packages. Also, A live DVD should follow the release and be available in the forthcoming days.
Installing SUSE 10.2
SUSE's installer is quite impressive. If you like options and the ability to choose every single detail of your installation, you'll love it. It is designed to be both simple and comprehensive to suit both novice and experienced users. At every stage of the installation you can see where you are and what remains to be done. It starts by asking you about your default language. Then it proposes to check your installation medias. After that you need to read a license agreement and you can choose whether you want to upgrade from a previous version of SUSE or go for a new installation. There's also an option which you can select if you downloaded the Add-on CD, which allows you to install non-free software from it. You then need to select your desktop. Gnome and KDE are available and none is selected by default. For the purpose of this review I chose to go for Gnome.
And then... you're done. A summary appears on the screen and you just need to press "Next" to proceed... Oh! But not so fast! If you actually look at the summary you can see that the default option for partitioning your drive is simply to remove everything! I can understand that partitioning was made optional so that novice users wouldn't have to care about it, but deleting all their data is definitely not what I would have chosen for them to be the default option. On top of that, the partitioning tools didn't prove to be very intuitive. Another bad thing about the installer is that it installs GRUB on the target partition by default. Most users prefer to put it in the MBR, so be careful about that summary and even though it seems "optional", chances are you don't want to go for the default options!
Although the installer is more responsive and faster than it was in the previous release... Although you can define exactly which packages get installed and get total control on every aspect of the installation... Although you are shown the time remaining between each CD, this installer is not as cool as the one found in Fedora Core. For instance, it doesn't show where its logs are kept and doesn't allow you to save the choices you made in order to automate future installations. During the installation of the packages (which is quite long) you can't access the Release Notes, so you basically get bored waiting for the installation to complete, and when the notes finally become available at the end of the process you're ready to play with SUSE so you're not going to take time to read them.
The message that asks you to insert CD3, is not labeled "Please insert CD3" but "insert '20061207-124705 CD3'" and if you'd like more esotericism you can press "show detail" on it :) It looks like some developer left the debug traces turned on (actually while I'm talking about that... dmesg is full of debug message from the wifi eth1 interface on my machine).
Overall, it's a good installer. It's full of options and it does the job. It's not fun though and it can be confusing for a novice user.
Inside SUSE 10.2
There's a nice and Christmassy surprise in SUSE 10.2. The Grub screen shows a little snowy part of the sea ice on top of which is an igloo and a bunch of penguins originated from Pingus. One even has a Christmas hat. The boot splash is neat, and although it doesn't show any progress bar it looks very professional. As usual the SUSE desktop also looks really nice and comes with a nice selection of icons and wallpapers. The default theme is Gilouche and the default icon set is Industrial.
The default SUSE 10.2 Gnome desktop
SUSE made a lot of changes to the default Gnome desktop. The most obvious one is the Gnome menu. It was replaced with Slab which represents an entirely new way to access applications and documents. Instead of showing a list, Slab shows an interactive area from which you can access nearly everything on your computer: Your favorite applications, most recently opened documents, your home folder, etc... Slab also integrates Beagle and a lot of other features, so you can search for nearly everything from your main menu, log out from it as well, access the help, monitor you network interface, launch the control center, the system monitor, and even the package manager. One place to do it all.
To be honest, it looks really nice. I'm not entirely used to it and I really don't know if I'll prefer this or the traditional way in the long term, but thumbs up to SUSE for the innovative ideas they put into this!
Slab, a beautiful replacement for the Gnome "Applications" and "Places" menus
The traditional Gnome "System" menu also disappeared and was replaced with a "Control Center" which centralizes all aspects from the Gnome and Yast configuration, and which also looks very nice.
Nautilus showing the home folder, the network and the computer.
Finally, there is only one panel and it is placed at the bottom of the screen. Apart from the fact that it reminds some people of Microsoft Windows, it makes the menus harder to access. However that's not an issue here since they were replaced with Slab. The absence of a second panel also gives applications more space to show their content, and this is quite positive.
Default Selection of Software
SUSE 10.2 comes with Firefox 2.0, OpenOffice 2.0.4 and Evolution 2.8.2. The kernel is 18.104.22.168. I only downloaded the first three CDs and went for the default selection during the installation process. I was surprised by the large collection of software that was installed by default. I couldn't find any IRC client installed, but apart from that there was an application for nearly every basic need and a large collection of games too. F-Spot and Gaim (although it's version 1.5) were also present.
Evolution 2.8.2 and Firefox 2.0
Package Manager and Configuration Tools
The last time I reviewed SUSE, my main complaint was about its package manager. Improvements were announced in SUSE 10.2's Release Notes so I had a look.
First, the package manager doesn't know where and how to find its sources and repositories. You have to find that information and set it yourself. There is also too many choices and not enough default values in Yast to configure this. If you're not used to SUSE you'll probably be lost. I had a look at the opensuse.org website and found out that I could add the following repositories:
So I went to Yast to add these "installation sources". I clicked on "Add", I "specified the URL" and after waiting for more than 35 minutes for the first repository to be added, I decided to give up. An applet is present on the panel for the Software Updater. It probably works fine, but without repositories there's no much point to it. It takes a few seconds to APT to fetch the list and configuration for a repository, and I doubt SUSE's have more packages than Debian and Ubuntu have, so what can justify a 35 minutes wait? I hope this is only happening to me or that it's due to the repositories not being ready for the new release yet. (although it's version 1.5) were also present.
SUSE's Package Manager, sluggish and not intuitive
The configuration tools on the other hand are great. They're centraed in a place called the "Control Center". It has all the features usually found in the Gnome "Preferences" menu plus a few others added by SUSE. The interface is very nice looking and also very intuitive. From the Control Center you can also access Yast to administer the computer, its hardware, network and services.
The Control Center, a beautifully centralized configuration tool
If you download the CD edition of SUSE 10.2 you get a 100% free desktop. So restricted formats like MP3, DivX...etc are not supported by default. It is easy however to add support for these formats by installing a few packages and extra software. In this release the Add-on CD also makes this process easier.
SUSE 10.2 comes with the Network Manager applet and the Control Center allows you to choose whether you want to use it or not. The configuration is very easy and this represents an ideal solution for laptops. The Gnome desktop has all the tools necessary to access remote servers and to browse Windows shared folders.
I was very disappointed with the hardware recognition in SUSE 10.2. As soon as the system was installed I ran into problems. In a majority of cases my hardware was detected but not set correctly.
My i855 graphic card was detected but Yast could not activate the 3D on it. This is something that worked out of the box on every other distribution so I was quite surprised to see that I wouldn't be able to run Xgl/Compiz in Novell's own distribution. I tried to set my screen resolution to 1280x768, but it didn't work either. The 915resolution was installed by default, but most of its modes were wasted.. . some resolutions settings taking two slots while other ones were simply not set at all. I had to tweak the modes and some configuration files to get my 1280x768 resolution working.
My ipw2200 Wifi card was detected but it didn't work either. I think this is because of licensing issues though, and it worked perfectly after I installed the ipw-firmware-7.31.noarch RPM package.
The release notes announced improvements on the detection of internal SD readers, so I thought maybe my Sony memory card reader would be detected as well. It wasn't.
Finally, I had a problem with my sound card which I never had before. It simply wasn't configured. I went to Yast, and it started to work after I "automatically configured" it. Why didn't the installer do that for me? I really don't know.
There were some good things though. For instance, the power management was improved and I could hibernate my Sony Vaio T2XP for the first time under Linux, without configuration :)
I couldn't test the speed of the system with the 3D effects activated, but I can say that I found SUSE 10.2 to be responsive and the applications were fast to launch. Of course it doesn't benefit from Ubuntu's upstart and in comparison it was quite slow to start. On my computer, from the Grub menu to a fully operation Gnome desktop, it took 1m54s.
Well, what can I say about SUSE 10.2? I'm very disappointed in it. It hasn't changed much. It still is one of the best desktop Linux solutions available, its configuration tools are brilliant, its Gnome desktop is great and uniquely designed but the quality of its package manager is simply unacceptable. If you've ever used APT before you can't decently consider using this. I had a few problems with the hardware detection and I would have solved them, but if the package manager is bad why would I bother? This release is better than the one before, and SUSE did what they did best: a great desktop with great configuration tools. Maybe it is time however they learn from others and start addressing what doesn't work. There are better solutions out there for novice users, and there are better solutions for experienced users as well. When I look at this I understand why some people love SUSE, but I also remember why I'm not using it.