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Appendix B: Troubleshooting SUSE Linux

This appendix details the features of SUSE versions of Linux that may be unfamiliar to users of other distributions or versions of Linux.

SUSE Past and Present

SUSE has long been known in the Linux world for two particular features: (1) the typically German quality of the engineering which has gone into it and (2) YaST (Yet another Setup Tool)-the SUSE installation and administration tool.

SUSE's History

SUSE is the oldest existing commercial distribution of Linux. The company was founded in 1992, near Nuremburg in Germany, by four mathematics graduates. The first release of a Linux distribution by SUSE was in early 1993. SUSE rapidly gained support, particularly in Europe; language problems were an issue at first, and people still remember and joke about the early SUSE manuals, which were written in a language somewhat between German and English.

At the time that early versions of Red Hat (and Red Hat clones) were ubiquitous in the United States, SUSE Linux gained popularity in Europe. SUSE became a worldwide company with the establishment of offices in the United States (1997) and in the United Kingdom (1999).

Originally SUSE provided one product (SUSE Linux), which was released at least three times a year and was available only for the x86 platform. The current SUSE Professional is the direct descendent of this version-version numbers started at 4.2 and the current version of Professional is 9.1. In 2000, the SUSE offering was split into Professional and Personal versions, and versions for other hardware platforms (Alpha, Sparc, PPC, and IA-64) were released. The following year, SUSE released the Enterprise Server 7 version, and in due course, versions for IA64, PPC, S/390, and zSeries were released. SUSE developed powerful tools to aid in the process of porting Linux to other platforms and there was close collaboration with IBM in the production of versions for the PPC-based iSeries and pSeries and for the S/390 and zSeries mainframes.

SUSE also released a series of mail server products leading up to the current SUSE Linux OpenExchange Server 4.

Enterprise Server 7 was succeeded by Enterprise Server 8 (available on x86, IA-64, AMD64, iSeries, pSeries, and zSeries), and at the time this book was being written, Enterprise Server 9 was in beta testing.

At the time of the release of Enterprise Server 8 (in November 2002), the UnitedLinux consortium was established, with SUSE, Connectiva, TurboLinux, and SCO as members. UnitedLinux was an agreed core, developed by SUSE for enterprise distributions to be issued by the other vendors in the consortium. Following the defection of SCO from the Linux community and its extraordinary decision to take legal actions against IBM and Linux distributors and users, the UnitedLinux consortium lost its importance.

During roughly the same period, the other major commercial Linux vendor, Red Hat, also diversified its offerings to include high-value server versions. The reasons for these changes by both distributors were twofold: the vendors were keen to offer a high-value version of Linux with a paid-for software maintenance and update system, while business customers needed a Linux version with a longer life. As Linux began to be taken increasingly seriously by business, business customers needed to be able to plan for their implementations over a period of years with a guarantee that the versions employed would not become obsolete.

Historically, however, there were some differences between the two companies' philosophies. Both Red Hat and SUSE provided boxed versions of their "consumer" version for sale. While Red Hat offered ISO images identical to the CDs in the boxed product for download, SUSE did not, but allowed an FTP installation. SUSE somewhat controversially placed a licensing restriction on the redistribution of the YaST installation and administration tool; while the source remained open, it was not permissible to redistribute YaST on media offered for sale. This prevented a proliferation of SUSE clones in the way that there were numerous Linux distributions "based on Red Hat."

SUSE remained a private company, with capital from a group of investors. In late 2003, it was announced that SUSE had been sold to Novell. There was a general feeling that this was good for Novell (its share price rose very dramatically on news of the takeover) and good for Linux in general, and nothing has happened since that has dispelled this view.

Soon after the acquisition of SUSE by Novell, it was announced that future versions of YaST will be published under the GPL. It will also be possible for third-party vendors to write YaST modules to control the installation and behavior of their hardware or software on SUSE (see the YaST section of this appendix for more details).

Current SUSE Versions

SUSE divides its products into Home and Business versions. The Home versions are Professional and Personal; these are released twice yearly. The Business versions have a slower release cycle and a longer product life. They are sold bundled with a software maintenance agreement and full commercial support is available.

The current SUSE products are listed as follows:

  • SUSE Linux Professional 9.1 (contains versions for x86 and AMD64)-The Professional 9.1 version contains "everything but the kitchen sink." It's a very full distribution with five CDs containing binary packages for x86, a two-sided DVD with the material from the CDs on one side and the sources on the other, and an additional DVD from which you can install the x86-64 (AMD64) version.

    Professional has all the server software contained in the Enterprise version (and more), but should be seen as essentially an unsupported version. It does, however, possess a very effective online update mechanism (YOU, or YaST Online Updater), and though SUSE makes no particular guarantees about this feature, security updates are issued in a very timely fashion.

  • SUSE Linux Personal 9.1 (x86 only; includes a Live CD version)-Essentially intended as a desktop version, this is a subset of the Professional version. It now (since 9.1) includes a Live CD version, which is a bootable CD that boots a graphical Linux system without installing to the hard disk.

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 (9 as of Fall 2004)-Supported platforms for this version (by both the vendor and SUSE) are x86, IA-64, AMD64, iSeries, pSeries, and zSeries.

    This is the flagship commercial version. One of the great strengths of SUSE is that the Enterprise Server is built in such a way that it is effectively identical on all the supported hardware platforms: SUSE Autobuild system produces all the packages in all the versions from the same source code.

  • SUSE Linux Standard Server 8 (9)-The Standard Server differs from the Enterprise Server in that it is intended for a particular purpose and market: it fills essentially the same niche as the Microsoft Small Business Server. There is a web administration interface that allows for its configuration as a simple mail server, DHCP and DNS server, and file and print server for Windows clients. User information is held in an LDAP database.

    If you need a single Linux server in a small office environment, the Standard Server is ideal and the built-in configuration defaults that are assumed by the web administration interface will generally be the right ones. But for a more flexible, general-purpose solution, you should use either the Professional version or the Enterprise Server, depending on your needs.

  • SUSE Linux OpenExchange Server-The SUSE Linux OpenExchange Server is a hybrid product: a mail server based on well known, tried, and tested components; postfix as the Mail Transport Agent; cyrus for the IMAP server and mail storage; and OpenLDAP for the user and authentication information. At the same time it contains a powerful groupware component; this is a proprietary product from the Netline company. The groupware functionality can be accessed either through a web interface (which also offers webmail) or through Microsoft Outlook (in a similar way to Outlook in combination with a Microsoft Exchange server). A piece of add-on software is required on the Windows client to make this work. A PostgreSQL database holds the groupware data; the groupware server is provided by a java tomcat system and also provides a flexible WebDav interface.

    The Open Exchange Server has gained a considerable reputation as a powerful contender in the commercial mail/groupware market.

  • SUSE Linux Desktop-SUSE Linux Desktop is an enhanced Desktop version for business. It is a long-life maintained version with some additional features, notably the inclusion of the licensed copies of Crossover Office (which allows it to run a well defined set of Windows applications), StarOffice, and a Citrix client.

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