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Turning SLED10 Linux Into a Practical User Desktop

After Installation

The screenshot below depicts the applications browser that comes up when you click "More Applications" on the main menu. I couldn't get a Main Menu image, because the screenshot utility will not show an open menu.

SLED10 is slick, clean looking, and even pretty, and has two very nice features: automated RPM installation including dependencies; and Beagle file search.

I've got mixed feelings about the main menu, however. While the scrolling menu "More Applications" page makes things easy to find, it also takes up most of the available screen real estate. Unfortunately, I can't show you what it looks like, as the default screenshot utility turns off open menus when one tries to take a screenshot.

The following depicts the Main Menu Crash—which is definitely something you do not want to see:

The menu also crashed after a few hours of operation, though it reloaded promptly when I pressed the reload button. The button's existence may tell you how often Novell expects a user to see it. My guess is that the reload button was a workaround they found satisfactory. But it seems to demonstrate that Novell knows their main menu program is unstable and buggy.

The default desktop is based on the Gnome window manager. There's a v2.+ version Novell-branded OpenOffice. I discovered that it only has a limited choice of fonts: Even plain old Arial was unavailable.

For various reasons, involving legacy configuration, I mounted a drive for SUSE/RHEL as had (it's actually had 1-6), leaving my regular workstation drive as hdb, which I externally mounted afterwards.

Wrong: # mount -t ext3 /dev/hdb1 /mnt/workstation "ext3 not recognized file type"

Right: # mount /dev/hdb1 /mnt/workstation

Support: Simply stated, support comes from the Novell Knowledge Base—and whatever you can find with Google. Remember that the Google search engine can also see into the Knowledge Base. So you might want try Google first. I've also had good luck with enclosing a few words from an error message in quotes and using that as a search string.

If you want to ask questions, try the public Novell SLED user forums. You can access them via the Web interface.

You can also get access to these forums as Usenet newsgroups, which you can access with your news client, too. Add to your news server list on your news client to access these newsgroups. I use and recommend Pan as a news client for Linux, and you should be able to find it on your automated installer program list regardless of which Linux distribution you use. The biggest advantage I've found of doing this via Usenet: I find it easier to mark discussion threads that way, particularly the ones I've started to ask questions.

For more information on Usenet in this context, go to the Novell Usenet FAQ page. If you go the newsgroup route, search within your news client newsgroup list for "sled" and search through or post your inquiry to the newsgroups that look most appropriate for your problem.

To find out how this kind of support worked in practice, I requested help with respect to mounting my workstation drive, installing my printer, and installing my wireless setup. I got the right answer for mounting my drive. With respect to the printer and wireless problems, I had to figure it out through a Google search and ultimately, that ndiswrapper recommended on the Novell help forum gave me unsatisfactory results. In fairness, it should be noted that ndiswrapper might work perfectly for you, depending on your system configuration and wireless adaptor. In any event, it installed and ran intermittently with the adaptor about 18 inches from the access point. However, they may have the answers to some or all of your questions, so I still recommend them as a resource.

If you want support from an employee, it's a separate offering. You will pay for service requests on a per-incident basis at a rate of $650 each. Or you can get a lower per-incident price various subscription service plan.

The real problem with the "enterprise distributions" like this one, at least from the viewpoint of a white box builder, is that they're intended for companies big enough to have their own internal Linux support capabilities. This is unlikely to be a major part of your customer base. Companies that are the real target of this software and support can be reasonably assumed to have internal IT staff. So the problems the Novell in-house support are expected to handle are the ones professional sys admins can't handle. That's how Novell justifies the hefty price tag.

Automated Installation: YaST is the automated SuSE configure-everything tool. The software installer is zen-Installer, found on the main menu as "Software Installer." Zen-installer is neat, but the first app I installed with it, usbview, failed miserably. You'd think something from the official repository would be configured so that it knows where SuSE keeps its USB devices. That initial experience did not give me a good feeling about the installation tool.

But I was pleased to discover that YaST will automatically download and install an RPM through the zen-installer tool. (RPM is an installable package type used with SuSE or RedHat/Fedora and other distributions.) It even finds, downloads and installs dependencies—and installs them and the program one asked for in the right order for proper operation. What's more, in the case of a GUI program, it will put in a desktop icon and/or a menu entry in the right place.

Dependencies are programs or library files or library packages required for the proper operation of a program you are trying to install. This is one of the areas where I find Linux superior to Windows. If a dependency appears in a Windows program installation, you get to write down the filename, type it into Google, and hope it's out there somewhere. Then put it in the right place and try reinstalling the program.

An automated installer package like YaST or yum or apt-get gets programs for installation from distribution and installer specific repositories where programs and library files are kept. When you want to install a program, the installer program searches through the repositories listed in a configuration file residing on the your machine, which will contain the installable program set and library files.

Ordinarily, if you want a program that is not in the repositories, you're on your own. That's true not only in finding it, but also in installing it. If the program won't install because dependent files are missing, you get to look for them (including often, the right versions of those files) all by yourself. With the new zen-installer built into YaST, you can locate a program that's compatible with SuSE distribution and install it by double-clicking on a Web page. It will do the download, check for dependencies, and install everything in the right order.

Automated installation of RPMs found at random on the Net greatly expands the number of programs available for easy installation. I would expect an experienced systems builder to have run into this in Windows. That is, any files not already present on the system required for the operation of a program you're attempting to install. Unfortunately, the "success" prompt after running the tool does not guarantee that the program installed will actually work properly!

Automated installation of RPMs is a good concept. But Novell needs to do more work to ensure that applications installed this way will actually execute properly.

Printer: Trying to get my Canon IP3000 to work, the imagerunner driver suggested by the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS) installer failed. The BJC7000 driver recommended at the site a Novell user group poster pointed me at printed a test print at one-half size.

Though Canon Japan makes drivers available at their ftp site (cited in the list below), neither the CUPS project, nor Novell, integrate them into the printer setup. This means you have to figure out how to install them into CUPS.

I found SLED10 installation information for the ip3000 Canon Japan here. However, that didn't include which order to install the three packages in. You'll find installation will work if you do it in this order:

  1. compat-2004.4.2-3.i586.rpm. Download it here.
  2. bjfilter-common-2.50-2.i386.rpm. Download it here.
  3. bjfilter- [your model here] i386.rpm (from the Canon Japan ftp site cited above).

I spent two hours putting the PostScript Printer Description (or "ppd") file in different locations in the

tree. I found that the printer installation program simply could not see the canonpixusip3000 driver no matter where I put it. In the end, I gave up.

I don't think it's impossible to make this work. And there is an easier alternative method for installing a working printer driver.

Turboprint is a package of proprietary, commercial printer drivers for Brother, Canon, Epson, and HP. It has drivers for many printers the ordinary CUPS setup doesn't. It also provides full printer functionality that won't be available from free Linux drivers. For instance, I can print to duplex and printable CDs via a Turboprint driver for the IP3000. The Canon Japan Linux driver can't.

I downloaded the turboprint driver rpm package. It installed as an RPM automatically via the zen-installer YaST component. I clicked turboprint-setup after the setup/configuration icons appeared on the desktop. Then I added the printer from within the setup application. Voila! the printer started running immediately in demo mode.

The demo prints the turboprint logo over a large enough chunk of text to make it useless as a general printer. If it prints with the printer you're trying to install, then I recommend buying the license key for $37. This is the general solution for any distro for when your Brother, Canon, Epson or HP printer isn't available in the driver list. If this doesn't work, Google your printer model number. With luck, you'll find an Open Source driver project. If you can't find one readily, the only choice may be to buy a printer that is supported.

Scanner: I tried running my Canon LIDE30 USB scanner, but the version of xsane (front end for the sane Linux scanner interface program) bundled with it did not recognize my scanner at first. Later, I accidentally found the scanner hardware configuration in the control panel. Ordinarily, one configures this either from the desktop UI or the command line. Once I told it to install the scanner and picked the driver from a list, the scanner was installed immediately.

Network (Ethernet): The YaST network interface component found my card and, with only minor encouragement, set it up correctly with no problems. The next image lists the available SLED10 preconfigured wireless drivers.

Network (Wireless): I have a D-Link G122B / Ralink RT2570 chip set. The network installer didn't see the chip, though the scanner interface did.

I found and installed the wireless driver package, wlan-kmp-default in YaST. I then discovered that it supports only Prism chipset devices. The mass-market wireless chipsets you're most likely to find are Atheros, Broadcom, and Ralink, among others. Novell Open Source developers are trying to find out how to build drivers for any available chipset. So I recommend Googling for a wireless driver suitable for SLED10 before trying ndiswrapper.

Ndiswrapper is a Linux utility that permits use of Windows wireless drivers from the vendors with the Linux OS. Though this works for some, my experiences with it haven't been good.

On a message board entry I found here, the words "SuSE 10.1 does not contain any of the Ralink drivers. Support was dropped due to kernel version conflicts." After that, I gave up on downloading and installing those drivers and tried ndiswrapper for use with the Windows wireless drivers I had.

I installed ndiswrapper based on the instructions I found on a Novell site. It ran, but not consistently enough to make it really useful, even less than 18 inches from an access point.

The Wireless-tools diagnostics utility package which I hoped to troubleshoot the wireless connection with, is not available even by repository. So downloading and then building the tools from source didn't seem worth the trouble, given that wireless network connectivity doesn't seem to be a Novell priority. So I gave up. Instead, I used the Ethernet cable to connect.

If you must have wireless with SLED (that is, you're working on a laptop), then I suggest you get one of the devices listed on the Prism Project hardware compatibility list. Good luck.

Next, you'll see the SLED10 PDA setup screen:

PDA Applications: To my surprise, when I plugged in my PDA, as soon as I hit sync from the PDA side, a setup window came up. Ordinarily, configuring a PDA is something of a nuisance even after opening one of the Linux PDA desktop interface programs.

If the Pilot-settings screen does not automatically enable, enable it in Control Panel > Removable Drives & Media Preferences. I hit it again after going through the wizard you see above, and I heard the tones that indicate successful sync. I was even more surprised to find that there doesn't seem to be a PDA desktop application like Jpilot to provide access to the backup files now stored somewhere or other on the hard drive. While I didn't see Jpilot in the SLED10 repository when I wrote this article, it may be available now. Otherwise, you can try to find it in an OpenSuSE software site.

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