I recently installed SUSE Linux 10.0 on my notebook computer and after using it for a day, I’m not sure it’s really better than previous versions for user customization. I have not installed a version SUSE Linux since before it was acquired by Novell. The last real lnstall I did was SUSE 8.2 on a home and work machine.

SUSE 8.2 was fantastic in it’s ease with which I could change things, like the GRUB boot screen or the KDM login screen. It looked decidedly Linux and was a far cry from Windows; a welcome difference from Windows. It was only a couple years ago, that Novell purchased SUSE Linux and has been working on it themselves. Now, with the latest version, 10.0, I find myself looking at screens closer to Windows, than Linux.

As boot managers go, GRUB is a favorite. GRUB allows easy configuring of the visual interface. Past that, when SUSE is selected from the GRUB menu and booted, version 8.2 could be configured to drop into a nice windows terminal so the user could watch the various operations occurring a the OS level. Or if the user preferred, they could watch a simple status bar slowly fill up underneath the SUSE mascot on a clean screen. With version 10.0, this same slow progress screen has been modified yet once again, and has a real look of Microsoft Windows. In addition, the user used to press the F2 key to get the boot messages, but now it’s the [Esc] key, and the messages are now in a regular terminal window, rather than being confined to a nice “window” that SUSE used to draw on the screen. This “window” I might add, was also something that could be easily modified by the user to create a “custom” look to the boot process.

Once booted, the system typically ends up in runlevel 5, which is the graphic user environment. This means that either xdm, gdm or kdm is started and the user is presented with a login screen. In version 8.2, the login screen was simple, with a background image you could select using the KDE Control Center, as well as customization for a greeting string, icons for different users, and a dialog box that a clock or log could be added to. In version 10.0, it took me hours to finally figure out the new interface paradigm appears to be driven with “themes”, the default of which appears way too similar to WinXP for my liking, bit I can’t apparently change it very easily. Now, this is extremely bothersome, since controls still exist in the KDE Control Center to modify kdm settings, but they have zero affect, being over-ridden by the installed “theme”. In addition, I found that disabling the theme left me with a stark xdm login screen rather than the old kdm screen. I became very frustrated.

When logging out from a session, I used to get a simple dialog box with two keys, one said “Logout”, the other “Cancel”. No frilly stuff, no fancy graphics, just a simple box with two buttons. Now, in SUSE 10.0, I am assaulted by a large dialog box, with a colorful graphic of a dragon going to sleep in the crescent of the moon, along with several buttons. Now perhaps this is a difference between KDE 3.2 and KDE 3.4, but I can’t seem to change it readily. I now have to select “End Current Session”, which to me is taking up a lot more brain space than “Logout”. I want to logout, simple, why ask me if I want to end the current session. Maybe to me the current session encompasses several logins. Oh well.

Kicker appears to have been re-designed a little too, and again, maybe this is a KDE thing. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Novell, and it’s really KDE I should be directly my displeasure to. When wishing to install additional software, I believe I found the choices lacking. With 8.2, there were literally thousands of extra apps, but with 10.0, I couldn’t find XMMS to play all the media files I did with 8.2. In fact, all the multi-media players that came with SUSE 10.0 did not allow me to play a windows media file (wmv) or a simple video mpeg (mpg). This just seems backwards to what SUSE provided in the past.
I like SUSE because it’s a nice stable and powerful Linux distribution. I like KDE because it’s highly customizable. I like Linux because it’s easy to customize. I like to get away from the marching throngs of Windows, by making my Linux feel like something closer to me. I’ve had that freedom in the past, but now, with this new version from Novell, I just don’t feel I have those same choices. I feel like I’ve been cornered a little, that I’m being directed to a certain outcome, and that’s why I wanted to get away from Windows.

I guess change has to come to everything, and SUSE is no different. Once again I find myself searching on the Internet for the clues I need to make the changes I want. I know there are fans of Debian, who would simply tell me to switch, and they’d probably be right, after all, Knoppix is my other favorite and it’s based on Debian. Someday, when I have more time, if I ever do have more time, I might take them up on the idea. For now, I’ll keep SUSE 10.0 and get used to it, or customize it as I go along.

Asa Jay

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Copyright 2014, Asa Jay Laughton