SuSE's YaST2 configuration tool is a step (or two) above the rest

Linux tools often don't translate into simple GUIs and ease of use. But SuSE Linux's new YaST2 configuration tool offers all of that and more. To top it off, YaST2 still boasts the Linux trademarks of flexibility and power.

Continuing its impressive product record, SuSE has released its latest Linux offering: SuSE Linux 7.2. This is the latest in a series of Linux distributions created by the German-based company, and it appears as though SuSE has outdone itself once again.

SuSE Linux 7.2 comes with the latest KDE2, GNOME 1.4, XFree86 4.0.3, and kernel 2.4.4. It also supports Pentium 4 systems and a whopping 64 GB of RAM and it comes with ReiserFS. It includes more than 2,000 applications, making this SuSE's biggest distribution yet. All of this comes on seven CDs and one DVD in the professional version, which is the version I am focusing on in this article. (The personal version comes with three CDs.)

In previous versions, YaST was the primary configuration tool. YaST is still included in this new distribution, but YaST2, the second-generation YaST, is the preferred tool. YaST2, which can also be run in text mode, might just be the most impressive part of the entire distribution. If you’re not already on the YaST2 bandwagon, it’s high time you take a close look at the benefits of using YaST2, as well as its myriad of configuration options.

Using the YaST2 control center
YaST2’s well-laid-out control center has a crisp interface with straightforward icons. To access YaST2, you must log in to X as root using KDE or GNOME. If you use KDE, you can access it from the menu by selecting SuSE | Preferences | YaST | YaST2 Control Center. When you open YaST2, you'll see a side panel with a number of icons that represent different menu options. These menus are: Hardware, Misc, Network/Advanced, Network/Basic, Security&Users, Software, and System.

When YaST2 starts up, the Hardware menu will be active, and in the larger right-hand panel you'll see three more icons that represent the submenus Sound, Printer, and System Tuning (see Figure A). If you click on the Sound option, a new menu will open where you can configure your sound card. SuSE should autodetect most sound cards and will list them here. You can select the card and fine-tune some options passed to the kernel modules here. You can also add a card if yours has not been autodetected.

Figure A
The initial window for YaST2 will present you with the hardware options.

The Printer option allows you to configure printers attached to your system, whether they are connected via parallel port, serial port, or USB. You can also select remote LPD printers, Samba/Windows printers, and Novell printers. Note that SuSE 7.2 uses LPD as the default printing system and will give you a wide array of supported printers for you to choose from. Printer configuration is extremely straightforward: Simply choose the manufacturer and model, and it will give you a choice of drivers to use. It also comes with Common UNIX Printing System (CUPS); if you prefer to use CUPS, a little further on in the process you can change the system to use it instead.

Finally, the System Tuning option allows you to enable Ultra DMA (UDMA) support for your IDE hard drives. When you enable UDMA support, you will need to reboot your system to activate the optimization.

The Misc is the second option; it doesn't deal only with configuration items. Here, you can load drivers from a hardware vendor's CD, you can view information on your hardware, you can view the startup and system logs, and you can post a support query to SuSE's online support portal. You can also edit your RC configuration and set which printer system you wish to use—CUPS or the traditional LPD—and configure them as well.

Viewing hardware information gives you an extremely detailed list of the hardware attached to your system. Viewing the Startup log shows you the contents of /var/log/boot.msg, which is basically everything that was echoed to screen when you initially booted the system. Viewing the System log simply shows you the contents of /var/log/messages.

When posting a support query, you will be asked for your personal information and registration code. To use the online support, you must first register your SuSE 7.2 product.

The rc_config editor is very impressive. It allows you to modify the main variables contained in /etc/rc.config to further fine-tune your system using a tree-view of the different main configuration option settings: Base-Administration, Base-Applications, Desktop, Firewall, Hardware, Mail, Network-Services, Network, Security, and Start-Variables. Under each main category you'll find a series of configurable variables. For instance, under the Mail category, there is another item called Mail-basics. If you click on this, you'll be asked for the value of the FROM_HEADER variable and whether you are running an SMTP server. Each item in the list will take a yes or no answer or a simple string value. With each item comes a handy informational box that describes what each variable option does.

The Printers In CUPS menu option allows you to configure CUPS and change the printing system from the default LPD. If you later wish to change back to LPD, simply select Printers In LPD.

The Network/Advanced main menu option allows you to configure some of the more advanced features for your network. The following submenu options are available here: Routing, NIS Client, NFS Client, Sendmail Configuration, Expert Network Configuration, and NFS Server.

The Routing option allows you to configure the routing tables on your system. At the very least, you should define your default gateway to the network here.

The NIS Client option allows you to define your Network Information Service (NIS) domain and the NIS server(s) to connect to the network. NIS allows the network to keep similar information files (i.e., your hosts file, or password/group files) on multiple computers.

The NFS Client option allows you to select which NFS volumes you wish to make available on your system. You'll need to provide the hostname of the NFS server, the remote filesystem, and the local mount point, as well as any other options you want to specify for the NFS volume. The NFS Server option is similar, but it allows you to configure filesystems that you want to export to other systems. You'll need to select the filesystem or path to export and then define which hosts can access it.

The Sendmail Configuration option allows you to select a default profile for Sendmail from a few different profiles including Host With Permanent Network Connection (SMTP), Single User Machine Without Network Connection, Temporary Internet Connections, Using UUCP, and an Expert Sendmail Configuration file. Once you select the profile, the configuration file will be written and Sendmail will be restarted. Further Sendmail configuration must be done manually by editing /etc/

The Expert Network Configuration option allows you to configure your network. You can add and remove interfaces here, such as eth0, and configure the options associated with each device. You can select whether the interface has a static or dynamic (via DHCP) IP address. You can also set the host and domain name for each interface and the routing information.

The Network/Basic main menu option allows you to configure more aspects of your network and also might offer an easier way to configure your network instead of using the previous method if you're unfamiliar with (or new to) Linux terminology. There are a number of options here, such as: German T-DSL, Network Card Configuration, ADSL, Hostname & DNS, Start/Stop Services (Inetd), ISDN Configuration, and Modem Configuration (see Figure B).

Figure B
The network configuration within YaST2 is about as complete a tool as you could ask for.

Most of these options are used for configuring devices that connect to the Internet. The German T-DSL, ADSL, ISDN Configuration, and Modem Configuration options allow you to configure those devices. The Network Card Configuration option gives you the same configuration screen as the Expert Network Configuration option does under Network/Advanced.

The Hostname & DNS option allows you to configure the host and domain name for your system and network. You can also define the DNS servers to use here, as well as the domain search order.

The Start/Stop Services (Inetd) option allows you to determine whether to start the Inetd super-daemon, which handles services such as Telnet and FTP. You can configure the system to use Inetd or to use the default or a custom configuration. If you select the custom configuration, you can edit the various services that Inetd handles. You can enable or disable specific services and change options such as the protocol, flags, type, user to run as, and the server program to run when a connection is to be established. The default configuration will enable the time, Telnet, rlogin, talk, and finger services.

Insecure services
It is becoming common practice for Linux distributors these days to disable such insecure services as Telnet and rlogin by default. When you fire up YaST2, you will notice that these services are enabled. If you are looking for a more secure environment, disable these services.

The Security&Users menu option provides a number of configuration options such as Security Settings, Create A New User, Create A New Group, Edit And Create Groups, and Edit And Create Users. This seems a little redundant to me as the Edit And Create options can be used instead of their simple Create counterparts.

The Security Settings option allows you to select from three precreated security settings: Home Workstation, Networked Workstation, and Network/Server. These settings define password options such as minimum and maximum password length, days until forced password change, and plausibility testing for passwords to make sure they are not too easy to guess.

The Edit And Create options for users and groups simply allow you to add new users and groups to the system, as well as modify user/group information and delete users/groups. These are pretty straightforward.

The Software main menu option (see Figure C) features such items as Online Update, Change Source Of Installation, System Update, Install/Remove Software, and Patch CD Update.

Figure C
The Software configuration allows a number of options to prevent the new user from having to install/upgrade/remove via the command line.

The Online Update is SuSE's online update tool. When you first start it up, it will tell you how long ago you last updated any packages via the Update tool. It will also ask you if you wish to use Automatic or Manual mode. Manual mode will allow you to select which packages to update, while Automatic mode will preselect the recommended updates and install them. You can also define a source for updates here: CD, Network (NFS), FTP, or Harddisk. The default is FTP, which connects to SuSE's FTP site. The program will then connect to the specified update medium and retrieve a listing of packages available for update. The next screen allows you to choose which packages to update and tells you their status: recommended or security. To select a package to update, double-click on it. The first column is the status column, and there are three status flags:
  • X—means that the package will be updated
  • G—means that the package is not relevant to your system (i.e., it isn't currently installed)
  • _—means the package will not be downloaded or installed

The Change Source Of Installation option allows you to select a source for installation media: CD, network (via NFS), or local hard drive. The Install/Remove Software option allows you to install new packages or remove already installed software. It shows you the standard SuSE installation groups, which you can choose on the left-hand side. In the larger right-hand window is a list of packages with their sizes and descriptions. If a package is prefixed with the letter i, it means it is already installed. To remove a package, double-click on it and then click the Apply button. You would do the same to install packages. When you install a new package, you will be prompted to insert the appropriate CD.

The Patch CD Update and System Update options will examine the system against the currently inserted CD (CD1 for the System Update and a Patch CD for the Patch CD Update) and will bring the system up to date with the found packages.

This last menu item also offers a number of configuration options, including: Configure Boot-mode, Select Timezone, Select Kernel, Choose Language, and Create A Boot, Rescue, Or Module Disk. The first sets Linux loader (LILO) options for your system, allowing you to write LILO information to the MBR, boot floppy, or nowhere. You can also set kernel boot parameters here.

Select Timezone lets you set the time zone you live in and whether your system uses GMT time in the BIOS. The Choose Language option simply allows you to select the language to use on your SuSE Linux system.

Select Kernel allows you to choose which kernel you wish to use on the system. You will be prompted to insert the first CD of your set so YaST2 knows what kernels are available. You can choose from 2.4 and 2.2 kernels, and also kernels with Pentium optimization or regular i386 instructions, SMP kernels, and even a vanilla 2.2 kernel.

Finally, you can create a boot disk, rescue disk, and module disks with the Create Disk option. You will, obviously, need to insert a floppy disk in the floppy drive to create the selected disks.

I recommend upgrading
If you are a SuSE Linux user, I highly recommend updating to this version since YaST2 is such an extremely impressive piece of software. The installation was extremely straightforward and complete, making it perfect for beginners and advanced users alike. The ease of use present in YaST2 with the many helpful information sidebars will make configuring your SuSE system a breeze. SuSE set out to create a modular configuration system that was flashy, clean, simple, and powerful, and I believe they succeeded admirably.


Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

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