The age-old criticism that the Linux operating system lags behind Windows in terms of hardware support is long dead. The majority of add-ins—such as scanners, digital cameras, and modems—will work with SUSE Linux right away, with little if any configuration.
In fact, most underlying PC hardware is preconfigured during installation without your knowledge, and no further work is required. In addition, nearly all USB and FireWire devices you plug in after initial installation will be supported. In many cases, you can simply attach a device, configure a handful of options, and it will be ready to use.
There are a few hardware items that SUSE Linux doesn't support. Generally, it's a black or white situation: SUSE Linux either works with a piece of hardware or it doesn't. The types of hardware that SUSE Linux doesn't support tend to be esoteric devices that rely on specially written software provided by the hardware manufacturer. It's also sometimes the case that extremely cutting-edge hardware won't work with SUSE Linux.
Before you buy a new piece of hardware, why not ask the salesperson if it runs under Linux? You can only hope that the salesperson knows or can find out for you. Also, compatibility with Linux is often listed on the hardware box or at the manufacturer's web site (even if you sometimes need to search through the FAQ section of the site).
As soon as a new piece of hardware comes out, work is usually undertaken to ensure that Linux is made compatible with it. This can happen in the space of months, weeks, or even days. This is just one reason why you should regularly update your system online (as described in Chapter 9).
Unlike with Windows, where a driver can be installed for new pieces of hardware, support for various pieces of hardware is made available via the core SUSE Linux kernel files. It is possible to use specially written Linux drivers supplied by some hardware manufacturers, but these are a rarity (at least at the time of writing this book). For people using desktop Linux, these drivers are usually limited to hardware such as graphics cards, wireless network cards, and some DSL broadband modems. Generally speaking, you should avoid using such drivers unless you have no other choice.
SUSE Linux usually identifies hardware in a technical way, rather than in the way humans do, which is by manufacturer and model. In other words, if you attach something like a USB CD-R/RW drive, it will recognize the drive hardware and attempt to make it work, rather than trying to find a driver for that specific model of hardware. The end result is that SUSE Linux can work with a lot of hardware it doesn't even know about, including many new products that come on the market.
SUSE Linux has a web site that contains a database detailing which pieces of hardware are guaranteed to work under its distribution of Linux. You can find this at http://hardwaredb.suse.de/?LANG=en_UK. This is a conservative list and should not be considered comprehensive. One reason for this is that, despite SUSE's best efforts, it cannot test every single piece of hardware.
Experience shows that many pieces of hardware not on the list work very well under SUSE Linux. This happens because modern hardware is very generic in nature. For example, if you purchase a new graphics card, it will most likely be based on one of only three or four hardware reference designs. These designs vary very little between manufacturers, despite what their marketing departments claim! The end result is that the task facing the programmers behind Linux is to make the operating system work with the three or four basic designs. Once this is achieved, Linux will probably be compatible with every graphics card make and model that uses those designs.
The same is true of many types of hardware, such as wireless network cards. Of the two or three types of technologies typically used in wireless cards, SUSE can work with at least one or two. Therefore, SUSE Linux has a good chance of working with a lot of wireless cards that aren't listed within the SUSE Linux hardware database.
In SUSE Linux, you configure hardware using YaST2. You might remember this software from when you installed SUSE Linux (in Part Two of this book). YaST2 is very powerful and lets you configure just about any aspect of your hardware and software setup. To start YaST2, select K menu ® Control Center, and then click the YaST2 Modules icon on the left side of the program window. Whenever you attempt to make a change to your hardware settings, you'll be asked to enter your administrator password. This is the root password you entered during installation.
When working as administrator (root) within YaST2, you should be very careful, because there are no safeguards built in and the potential for accidental damage is high. Bear in mind, however, that entering the administrator password in YaST2 doesn't mean that you have root privileges when undertaking any tasks elsewhere on your system. Your superpowers are limited to YaST2.