I always liked SuSE's Linux distros. They even used to mail me a box every now and then when there was code of mine in it. It always seemed nicely done, and well integrated. Of course I only used it as a workstation.
Recently, I had the displeasure of installing a SLES9-based server for a client.
I say displeasure, because it was by far the worse experience I had with any Linux distribution ever. It was worse than the time I had to install openldap on a P2 with gentoo that was connected to the internet over a 56k dialup and had only 100MB of free disk space.
And that one was a screamer!
What were the problems?
Well, for starters, it was a punishing throwback to the times of proprietary software installation.
I install it. Ok.
I try to update it. Not Ok.
The problem? You need to authenticate to the servers in order to get the updates. And there is no user/password anywhere in the box. You have a serial number (in a word file inside a CD, not on a sticker), and no explanation on how to go from one to the other.
It turns out you have to call Support to get the auth data, and that depending on how you do it you get data that lets you access to the novell servers or the suse servers (and not the other).
Then, after we got that (48 hours on tech support), I start installing the software I need.
The mission of this server is simple. It's a mail forwarding server. It handles outgoing mail, and it stores incoming mail for a few minutes until a CRM software (in windows) grabs it via POP3.
I can do such a server on CentOS, Debian, (hell, yes, even gentoo) in about 2 hours without counting install+updates, including migration of old data.
I install postfix and imapd (I think it's wu-imapd, which sucks, BTW, but the alternative was cyrus, which was gross overkill).
It seems to work. But the CRM can't fetch the mail. Outlook can, though. What the hell?
Well, SuSE decided to disable plain logins for POP and IMAP over non-SSL connections. And there is no way to enable it.
Since that's the only kind of connection the CRM will do, it will not work.
Mind you, in this case, it is absolutely no security risk whatsowever, since the mail server and the CRM are segregated from the user's network...
Ok, I will install courier-imap, which is better anyway. But it's not on SLES9 CDs, and the RPMs on the web are for every other SuSE and not SLES9. So I had to build it myself.
That is, of course, because there is no free repositories for SLES9. You have what comes with it, or what you can build yourself. Anything else, you are SOL.
The same thing happened for almost everything I wanted to install. Either it was not there, or it was for some other SuSE, so it was time to compile a RPM again.
It was like Gentoo, only without the automatical dependencies, and with no hope for future security updates unless I build them myself.
At that point I was already telling the customer that maybe I could just install OpenSUSE, which was free and would not have these problems (hell, I would even get apt4suse and avoid the damn novell servers).
Of course that means they would be a few hundred dollars poorer for no good reason.
But anyway, it took me roughly 3 extra days to set this up, which made me actually lose money on the gig. ANd I lost the time in the most pathetic way, sitting in a customer's office waiting for tech support, watching my money go away.
That had never happened to me before. I must say I am pretty disappointed.
But what was the root of the problems here?
If there were, then there would be 3rd party repos. The customer would still have bought SLES9 because they are support groupies, but my life would have been easier.
Of course, it would probably cut into SLES sales, but hey, that is not my problem, is it?
The guy on the phone literally had no idea what I talked about when I asked about how to get into YOU to update the box.
But don't worry Novell, I heard Red Hat Argentina's is quite bad too.
If you really want SuSE, buy a regular one, the ones with public FTP repositories, and avoid trouble. Or get OpenSUSE.
Me, I'm pretty bummed :-(