openSUSE 11.2 - James Bond's choice


Updated: November 20, 2009

Remember that Swiss Omega James Bond's choice commercial? Well, that's the title for today's review. Does that mean openSUSE 11.2 is all uppity and posh and only meant for nobs or that it is tough and slick and charming? Well, read on and discover for yourself.

SUSE was my first distro and as such has a special place in my heart. I've used every single release of SUSE/openSUSE since 9.2 and liked them all quite a lot. There had been issues and problems, but overall, the distribution behaved and delivered a solid, mature and responsible experience that befits a large, international company like Novell.

openSUSE 11.2 is out and it's time for a big review. I have tried and tested the KDE version naturally, since for me, the German chameleon can only be KDE. With the last week's review of Kubuntu Karmic running KDE 4.3.2, you may expect very little to no difference between the two, however you'll be surprised to learn how much different two distributions can be, even if, on the first glance, they might appear quite similar.

Teaser

Today, I'll show you how openSUSE 11.2 behaved on my three laptops and three virtual machines. We'll talk once again about KDE4 and its integration into SUSE, we'll examine the live session, Wireless, Bluetooth, and more, we'll install the distro and talk about the new, revamped installation process, finally we'll tweak the installed system and test multimedia, programs, performance, stability, laptop modes, network sharing, proxy support, printing, and more.

After me.

Get openSUSE

openSUSE comes in several flavors, including the full-blown DVD that allows you to install both KDE and Gnome desktops. Alternatively, you can download the smaller, fully installable live CD versions, each coming with a single desktop manager, either KDE or Gnome. To make a fair comparison to the common bunch, I downloaded the live KDE version and tested it.

Live CD experience

openSUSE 11.2 starts with the rather classic boot menu that you've seen in previous releases.

Boot menu

After that, it starts the boot process, featuring two splash screens, just like Ubuntu. Although I find the two animations unnecessary, they are still done somewhat better than with the Canonical release. They are more streamlined and feel less obtrusive. The usual greens have been muted down, turning darker, grayer and more pastel-like in texture.

Booting

Additional splash

After a short while, you'll reach the live desktop.

On my T42 and T61, openSUSE booted in the 4:3 aspect rather than 16:9, ending up with 1400x1050px rather than 1400x900px. I like this, I must say.

Desktop live

The choice of the wallpaper is a bit troubling, as I find the olive-green color not to my taste. What more, the circle/bubble shapes create an illusion of the desktop being stretched in the vertical dimension, a sort of an anti-claustrophobic effect.

If you like wide monitors, you won't like it, if you're a traditionalist and prefer 4:3 aspect ratios, you'll be pleased. My opinion is that Novell aimed their desktop at a more mature crowd. But you can easily change this, if you want.

Otherwise, you get a pretty standard KDE4 looks, which we've seen quite a bit last week.

Wireless

While Kubuntu and openSUSE may look the same, details start to show when you interface with applications, like the network manager.

Connect

Choose

Compared to Kubuntu, the network manager is smarter. One, it shows the encryption methods used. Two, it chooses the right one when connecting.

KWallet

One more thing that stood out was KWallet. On Kubuntu, it barged in and asked for passwords, without really explaining what it is and what it does. openSUSE behaves like a gentleman and explains the purpose of this tool. What more, it has a wizard that can help you set your session keys.

KWallet

Bluetooth

Like Kubuntu, Bluetooth was up and running fine, but it was not turned on by default on all machines. I don't know why this is, but must be a KDE4 thing.

Installation

One of the big changes in openSUSE 11.2 is the refurbished installation process. While it remains essentially the same, which is a great thing for veteran users already set in their ways, some polish has been added and some clutter removed.

Begin install

The big changes are apparent in the partitioning setup, which is the most important part of the setup.

I've had a good chance to battletest the refined procedure, as I was installing openSUSE on a machine with Ubuntu already installed, so I had to take into account the partitioning layout already in place, making sure I did not overwrite any existing data, choose the right bootloader, either GRUB legacy coming with openSUSE or GRUB 2 that was installed with Ubuntu, and choose the filesystem, including Ext4.

Suggested partitioning

The suggested partition was great. Really. I think this is the most intelligent choice ever made by a distro. /dev/sda1 was empty and openSUSE chose it as its root, using the new Ext4 filesystem. Then, it picked swap. What more, it also identified /dev/sda6 as Ubuntu root and left it alone. But it did find /home on /dev/sda7 and recommended using it, without formatting it.

Suggested partitioning

I have yet to come across a distribution that makes a more elegant decision for the user. Not only do you get root & home separation, the right devices are chosen, without jeopardizing the existing setup. Really commendable and a light year ahead of alternatives, including the very friendly Ubuntu partitioner, which usually suggests splitting the last partition in half and placing the distro there, root and home together.

If you still want to fiddle, the Expert options are easier, less cluttered and more intuitive than before. You still everything you need, but there's no need to panic over RAID, LVM and NFS if you don't know what they are.

Edit advanced

Partitiong settings

One thing that is not intuitive is the Edit function. You have to right click on a selected partition to make changes. openSUSE also allows encryption for all devices.

Edit partition

Editing

Options

The partition manager is powerful and can do a lot of advanced stuff that you don't always get in most distros. For example, you need Ubuntu alternate install to setup RAID, driving through an ncurses text wizard installer. And if you're not into GParted, you have everything built in, slick and smooth.

Like both openSUSE 11 and SP1 since, you can use your own account for administration, akin to the popular sudo mechanism in Ubuntu.

New user

Final settings menu also takes into account existing setup. For instance, the bootloader installation to MBR is disabled by default if another bootloader is already found. Instead, openSUSE will recommend installing to its own root partition - or /boot if you have it.

openSUSE 11.2 uses GRUB legacy, which is production quality, unlike GRUB 2 used in Ubuntu, which is still Beta. We'll talk about this more in the soon-to-come GRUB 2 mega-guide, this very example in fact!

Final settings

Enable/disable

GRUB setrings

After this step, you can begin the installation. It took about 15 minutes to complete.

Installing

Installed

You will require additional 5 minutes spent after first reboot for the automatic configuration. We will talk about the installation procedure in great detail, step by step, in a dedicated tutorial soon. Overall, I was really, really pleased up until now.

You get the new and exciting technologies, up to a point, that is. It is obvious that stability takes precedence more important that state-of-art wizardry. You have the Ext4 filesystem, but you're still running GRUB legacy. The partitioner is clean and careful. What more, KDE4 has reached maturity and has good, professional looks. Compared with the initial releases in openSUSE 11, it looks better, smarter, less cartoonish.

I was looking forward to the post installation tweaks and hacks.

Post-install fun

It's time to make openSUSE presentable - this means multimedia, codecs and whatnot.

Desktop

And here we are ...

Another lovely, friendly feature that I found is the SUSE welcome & intro notice. You do not get this in every distro and it's rather fresh and commendable. You also get a link for KDE4 introduction, which is quite important.

Desktop

Clicking on the link takes you online - you need to be connected - in Firefox. Kubuntu requires that you first install Firefox. openSUSE does not insist on Konqueror and serves you the best browser available by default.

KDE intro

Multimedia

Worked like a charm on all machines, without any sound or video problems. Getting codecs for your proprietary stuff is a one-click business, you just need to know where to look. In this regard, the automatic suggestion system used in Ubuntu or Fedora is a better choice, although openSUSE comes quite close.

To get codecs, you should go here: openSUSE-Community.org.

Community

On the page, follow the link for Multimedia/Restricted Formats and choose the right file for your desktop: KDE or Gnome. Pa attention to the note, which tells you that there will be a dialog asking you about the architecture change from i586 to i686. This is just a formality, just answer the prompt during the installation.

One click links

Get codecs

This will install pretty much everything, including Flash, DVD, MP3 codecs, etc.

Codecs

Once installed, you'll have it all:

Flash

MP3

The video does not show in the screenshot, so there's nothing to show, but it worked, trust me.

Other plugins

You will have to manually install Java Firefox plugin. BTW, both for Flash and Java, you will get the prompts, so you can follow them too, if you want.

Prompt

Plugins found

Install flash

Java

Applications

Although Kubuntu and openSUSE are the same size (live CD), openSUSE has a wider, richer repertoire of programs available by default. You get GIMP, for that matter. And then, there's Marble, a spectacular, open-source geographical map program that you can use instead of Google Earth, no 3D acceleration needed!

Marble

You also have digiKam, K3b, GwenView, Kopete, Amarok, OpenOffice, and many others.

Apps

And of course, if anything is missing, you can always power up YaST and install what you require. Speaking of which ...

YaST & Package Management

YaST has undergone uplift and is easier to use now. The old familiar layout is there, with some polish, smarter icons and the ability to reach any category from one another.

YaST

Package management in openSUSE has always been a difficult, complex issue. It has always worked, but it's slow. Too slow in fact. This is the one thing that makes openSUSE imperfect. It takes time to fetch updates from the server and starting the software installation YaST modules is too long.

Updates

You'll get everything you need, but if you are more accustomed to apt-get, you will find openSUSE too slow for you.

Adding new repositories is a very simple thing. You can go for Community repositories, like we did last year in openSUSE 11, which allows you to setup popular repositories like Pacman or VLC. This method also allows you to easily grab games, drivers for webcams, Wine stuff, or even additional desktops like Gnome and Xfce.

Repos

You will be warned when adding new repos, a nice security feature:

repo warning

And you will have to import the keys:

Import repo keys

Compared to Ubuntu, this is much easier than adding software sources and importing the keys manually via the command-line. If only the speed was better ...

Graphic drivers

What about ATI or Nvidia?

They do not currently show in the repos, true. Well, if you follow the one-click install advice, you will find links to relevant installations. But the one-click links do not really work yet. Aha!

I'm not sure who's to blame, but it seems that if you're looking for fancy 3D stuff, you don't get it just yet. This is a sore point, in my opinion, but hopefully it will be sorted out soon. This probably means the inclusion of the extra repositories as well, so that users can install the drivers via the GUI easily and will not have to reinstall them after every kernel upgrade.

Performance

Believe it or not, openSUSE 11.2 is faster than previous versions of the 11 release and it's faster than Kubuntu, too. The initial response on application launch is pretty much the same, but the more programs you use, the more noticeable the difference is. On elderly machines like my T42, while Kubuntu starts to stutter with Firefox with 15 tabs and 5-6 other programs open, openSUSE manages fine, without slowdowns or delays, and pushes the margin much higher. If you expected openSUSE to be a weight too heavy for your frail, aging rigs, you should reconsider.

Stability

Save for a single Kaffeine crash, openSUSE was stable as a rock, with no issues. I would guess the Kaffeine crash can be attributed to KDE4.

What more, laptop modes were phenomenal. See below.

Laptop modes (suspend & hibernate)

openSUSE delivered a spectacular performance when it comes to my laptops. Suspend and hibernate worked well, without any errors or issues whatsoever. What more, the system was smart enough to throttle down the CPU when on battery to conserve power and set two different profiles, one for AC power and one for the battery mode. Indeed, after just a few short minutes of inactivity when running on battery juice, openSUSE prompted me that it was going to sleep and suspended itself to RAM. Worked like a charm.

Battery

It would not even run some of the heavier tasks to conserve battery time:

Save battery

I'm tremendously pleased by the laptop modes, as openSUSE delivers the best results of any distro yet. This is a great surprise and a major boost for the distribution. It also makes it a great candidate for corporate and enterprise uses, since it promises business-grade stability that even weathered, corporate-built images of operating systems have a hard time meeting.

Looks

We've talked about this quite a bit, still here's a quick look at KDE 4 in openSUSE 11 versus openSUSE 11.2. For instance, the Wireless connectivity:

openSUSE 11, a year ago:

Wireless

openSUSE 11.2, now:

Choose wireless

Or the Kicker ...

openSUSE 11, a year ago:

Kicker

openSUSE 11.2, now:

Kicker

Better, clearer fonts, smoother icons, more polished looks overall. A definite improvement!

You can also customize the appearance any which way you want, like I did, using Navy blue windows decorations, Plastik windows border and the good ole Alta Badia snow desktop.

Desktop

Bottom panel

Virtualization

I'm not talking about virtual machines just yet. I'm talking about the very tight integration between openSUSE desktop and the Xen virtualization solution. You can have it installed with a one click of the mouse from the omnipotent YaST.

Xen

Then, there's of course, Kiwi, with powerful frontends like Image Creator and Product Creator, which you can use to make wonders, bringing the power of SUSE Studio to your desktop.

Ah yes, speaking of virtual machines, openSUSE does not have the Ubuntu woes, when it comes to either running as one or being the host for solutions like VMware Server. The system worked great inside VirtualBox, VMware Server and ESXi, with guest tools/addons installed without any problems. Likewise, hosting these virtualization products was easy and carefree.

For more details about this, there's a whole bunch of articles in my Virtualization section.

Other things

Samba sharing

Worked great. Which makes the last week botches with Kubuntu surprising. However, if you have the firewall on and running, it may preventing you from connecting until you configure it properly, so pay attention!

Samba

Proxy support

No problems, everything worked smoothly. What more, you can setup and test proxy during the installation so it's ready to use when the system is installed. Furthermore, you'll have the luxury of grabbing updates even before you reach the desktop.

Printing

I managed to fool openSUSE into thinking my Lexmark E232 was LaserJet PCL 6, an old trick that worked so many times. Nothing new here. You will have to install samba-client package to use Samba printing. However, this will be suggested automatically if you try to configure a Microsoft network printer.

Cool stuff

Hardware info (scan)

You also get an impressive HW info for your system, detailed and easy to use, allowing you to track down hardware drivers and/or additional stuff quite easily.

HW info

Middle-click app switcher

You don't have to Alt-Tab to switch focus to the next app. Middle mouse scroll will do that for you. Speaking of the mouse settings, Touchpad works in SUSE, compared to Kubuntu where it was disabled by default and not configurable in any way.

Distribution upgrade

If you're running an older version of openSUSE and would like to upgrade, you do not have to boot from live CD/DVD to perform a distribution upgrade. This can be done in-vivo, although the upgrade process is meant for more experienced users.

This is the first time Novell officially support distribution upgrades this way, so there's much to be desired in the way of simplicity and smoothness of the procedure, but it's a good start. However, Debian-based distribution are more advanced in the this regard, for now. For more details, I recommend you check a very detailed blog entry at tuxmachines.org.

Conclusion

openSUSE 11.2 is an excellent release. While it is not a revolution that version 11 was compared to 10.3, it builds on the good points and makes them ever better.

openSUSE 11.2 runs faster, smoother, conserves power more wisely, has a more polished desktop, and simpler installation. You get a decent, colorful choice of programs, lots of useful utilities, plus centralized management by YaST, which is smarter and easier to use than ever before.

The one sore point is package management - it's slow. It works great and makes some quite intelligent choices, but waiting a whole minute for it to complete caching the repo info is too much. If only this could be solved - somehow, openSUSE 11.2 would be perfect.

Compared to Kubuntu, another extremely popular KDE distro, openSUSE has fewer glitches and runs faster, a big surprise. You would expect them to be the same, but they are not.

The best way to describe openSUSE 11.2 is by a James Bond analogy. If James Bond were to use openSUSE, he would probably choose openSUSE 11.2, except that last guy, Daniel wossname, who's not really a James Bond and uses a Mac anyway.

openSUSE is tough yet soft, charming, handsome, aloof, and cool, all combined. And I'm probably way way over the line with uber-ultra-excessive flattery.

But openSUSE is everything you want from a mature distro released by a Linux leader company, like Novell. It's smart and stable and polished. You can feel the dedication, hard word and global thought. This can easily be on your corporate laptop or home desktop.

If you're more of a conservative type yet still love to get job done fast, efficiently and elegantly, do not like short cycle releases or things going bad on and off between successive versions, plus love quality and robustness, openSUSE is ideal for you.

The lizard has done it again.

Cheers.

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