Lenovo's SUSE Linux Play–Take TwoBy Frank Ohlhorst | Posted 2008-02-29 Email Print
eWEEK’s Channel Lab takes a second look at Lenovo’s Linux laptop. Does it make the grade this time around or will “Take Two” become "take two aspirin and call me when you get it right?"
When I last looked at Lenovo’s SUSE-powered notebook (see: Lenovo Launches Linux Laptop and Leaves Lots of Questions ), I was less than thrilled. After all, the company had a golden opportunity to get a pre-configured Linux notebook out to the masses (well, the Linux user niche market, at least) and perhaps best Dell’s Ubuntu offerings, but at first glance it looked like Lenovo blew it.
Perhaps my less-than-stellar opinion about Lenovo’s SUSE-powered notebook was due to the company sending an engineering sample system, one that did not mirror what an end user would take out of the box. Or maybe it was due to how the system was configured by Lenovo’s PR team?
Either way, Lenovo got a second chance by sending an "actual" shipping unit, with all of its retail packaging and a native, out-of-the-box experience. So here we are: Let’s cut through the "red security tape" on the box and dive into Lenovo’s Linux Laptop the way a solution provider or IT staffer would -- or even an end user.
A New Experience
Opening up the packaging offered what one would expect; inside the box was a notebook computer, sealed in plastic, along with a battery, power brick and a welcome addition – a Lenovo/SUSE recovery DVD. That self-booting DVD offers diagnostics and the capability to restore the system to an "as-shipped" condition. The capability to wipe out any changes and roll the system back to the shipping condition is a critical one that solution providers and tinkerers alike will value. Those new to Linux can mess around with SUSE as much as they like, experiment and attempt unorthodox deployments, yet still go back to square one if all goes wrong. Bravo to Lenovo for offering what many consider a basic feature.
Booting up the freshly unwrapped Lenovo ThinkPad T61 gave the expected new-user experience. The boot screen displayed the anticipated company logos and then the system presented a "Welcome" screen, welcome to a Lenovo ThinkPad preloaded with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.
The welcome screen went on to explain that the "next few screens will allow you to set up your computer." One bit of sage advice on the welcome screen was to make sure that you have an active Internet connection so that you can register for updates from Novell. That could prove to be a little troubling if you are relying on a Wi-Fi connection to reach the Internet. After all, at this point Wi-Fi is not active or set up – so a wired connection may be advisable!
After clicking "Next" to continue, some EULA screens came up, and then the actual setup started. Minor settings must be selected, such as time zone and keyboard type. Users are then presented with Hostname and Domain Name questions – the fields are pre-populated with linux-e5r8 for the host name and site for the domain name. There is also an option to assign those two elements via DHCP. A dialog box explaining how those settings affect the use of the system and some recommendations would be a nice addition at this point, especially for those Windows users who are new to Linux and its networking underpinnings.
A network interface setup screen appears next, SUSE correctly detected both of the T61’s network interfaces (wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi) and offered a recommended configuration. Again, some more information or tips and tricks would be a welcome addition here, but those with network knowledge should be able to figure out what to do with little trouble. For my setup, I chose to manually configure the Wi-Fi interface. The wireless network I use employs encryption, so it was necessary to input a key. Some users may be confused by the wireless settings screen. At this point of the install - the system has not identified any of the wireless networks, so the information must be entered manually – some users may also be put off by some of the "more expert" settings, such as key input type (Passphrase, ASCII, or Hexadecimal) and the Authentication Mode (Open, Shared Key, WPA-EAP or WPA-PSK). While not an insurmountable problem, it is noteworthy that Windows (XP and Vista) does a much better job of automating the wireless settings. Long story short, if you put in the correct information, everything works fine; make a mistake here and it can be hard to figure out what’s wrong.
After I set up my specific network settings the system went on to ask for a root password (think of this as the administrator’s password), user setup (just like the name implies, add users) and then options for registering with Novell’s customer care. Finally, a hardware detection and configuration wizard runs (no problems here, everything was detected quickly and correctly) and then some automated configuration tasks, and then finally the system does a soft boot and prompts for a user to log in.
As far as setups go, the Lenovo/SUSE combo is pretty straightforward and should not pose a challenge for anyone with some networking knowledge.