Updated: April 15, 2013
My first Linux distro was openSUSE, and things sort of worked well for some five years. Then, come version 12, everything went downhill, the sort of push an old lady downhill kind of thing. The last two editions of this distro failed to satisfy the geek in me. Which means, grab your forks and knives, because it's openSUSE 12.3 review time!
I will show you if and how openSUSE 12.3 can redeem itself. Naturally, we will go with the KDE desktop, because Gnome is not an option anymore. My test box will be the same T61 laptop, featuring two SSD for local storage, 2GB RAM, and a simple, generic Intel graphics card. And so we commence.
Booted swell. Before me eyes, I saw a very stylish desktop - that would not let me connect to my Wireless access points. For some obscure reason, the network was down. And the network manager applet was hovering about 70px above the bottom panel.
Trying to click the Enable networking button did not work. I was actually forced to open the command line and start the network from there. Then, the Wireless networking option was still disabled in the NetworkManager and I had to tick it to get things going.
KDEWallet interfered at this stage, and naturally the NetworkManager complained about failed connections, even though I had not yet initiated them, which makes the experience somewhat of a C.L.U.S.T.E.R. crap. It worked, but then getting molested by a drunk hobo at a random metro station in Toronto is also an option.
Look & feel - delicious!
Back to the matter of style. openSUSE 12.3 brings a new theme, new design, and it's really fabulous. You get the combination of black and white, with flat yet meaningful icons, and some color, just a dash of green to spice things up. This is KDE at its best.
The Activity Manager also looks dandier than before. And you have a wider range of widgets, some of which are quite useful.
Program integration is rather good, too. For example, Amarok comes with a new icon that is inline with the overall system theme. It will display little clues whether it's currently playing tracks, stopped, paused, and more. I'm melting from so much aesthetics.
Well, there's the rub. Like Ubuntu, you don't get any fun until after the installation, so music, Flash and such are out of the question right now. However, I would expect a somewhat more robust mechanism of notifying users that this is the case.
For Flash, no need to offer the missing plugins wizard, because it will stall unnecessarily, making things look and feel cheap. For MP3 plugins, the no package found popup inside Amarok is equally annoying.
Which means we ought to install openSUSE 12.3 to disk.
Uneventful, precise and smart. That's how I have always labeled the openSUSE installer, and this version is no different. Truthful to its safe and sane configuration, it offered the correct root and home partitions, without trying to format the wrong ones, and whatnot. For noobs, this is the best there is.
Now, I did slightly change the layout to suit my own needs, replacing /dev/sda1 as designated root to /dev/sda2, but the initial guess by the installer was just as good. It also offered to use both swap partitions, which is not what most distributions do. And then, the bootloader setup was equally considerate. For those of you who care, UEFI is fully supported, so you need not worry about that. Well, the truth is, you need not worry anyhow, but then, people like drama in their lives.
And then ...
Something naughty happened. On the very first boot, openSUSE froze. No virtual console would respond, and I had to reboot. On the second boot, it threw an error about some KDE configuration problem. The keyboard did not work at this stage. Restarting the X solved the keyboard thingie, but my logins as a user failed. I only managed to login as root. Then, I discovered that my user had not been created, and that only the root was available. Holy banana, why.
On top of that, Wireless + KDEWallet woes resumed. The hateful little wallet software kept pestering me, while the NetworkManager kept throwing the connection failed errors, even before I managed to type my passphrase even once. Eventually, it worked, but not before souring my mood.
However, I decided to persist and initiated a short pimping session. KDE4 on openSUSE 12.3 looks awesome, and you really do not need any of the alternative desktop environments to make things better, like we did in the past.
Multimedia, take two
I tried playing music and Flash again, to no avail. The worst part is, using zypper from the command line, I could see the relevant plugins, but the programs failed to find them. I assumed this had to do with the repositories, so I decided to add a few.
I added several community repositories, including Packman, LibreOffice, Mozilla and such, so I could get the latest versions of programs. Moreover, the Main Update repository was disabled, which is really curious. However, on the bright side, YaST was so much more responsive than in the past. On that same note, zypper is also zyppier. Get it? Hihi.
Multimedia, take three
Eventually, I was forced to install the Gstreamer plugin and the Adobe Flash from the command line. No other method worked. Looking back at my experience with both openSUSE 12.1 and 12.2, the trend of annoying the users continues.
Again, on the bright side, Amarok looks cool in the system area:
For a distro that weights 950MB in its live CD edition, openSUSE 12.3 KDE comes with a very decent bunch of programs. You have the full LibreOffice suite, Firefox AND Konqueror, GwenView, Shotwell, digiKam, K3b, Marble, and quite a few more. Balanced and useful.
Here's a sore one. Even though there's an option to configure Samba printers, the wizard would not ungray out some of its buttons, and thus I was unable to proceed, because frankly, I did not really remember the full printer name string and all the little geeky options. I expected the wizard to let me browse my Windows network and mouse-click the desired devices. The firewall is off by default, so this wasn't the reason. Overall, the printing utility seems somewhat simplified visually, but it did not work.
Fingerprint reader - oh, really?
Aha. Well, it worked. And while it used to be clunky once, this time, the feature was both easy to configure and use. The only complaint I have is that the fingerprint reader PAM is active in the console too, so if you try to switch to other users, you will get an innocent but unnecessary prompt.
System resources, responsiveness
Now, here's an interesting development. openSUSE 12.3 is much more responsive than previous versions. It is smoother, faster, snappier, more elegant. Even though the memory usage is not the best, the CPU is rather quiet, and applications respond instantly. This is a great improvement. Remember my woes with openSUSE 12.1, especially with the BTRFS partitions. Not any more.
Desktop effects - bling, bling!
Lovely jubbly. Again, faster, smoother than ever before.
Stability, suspend & resume
openSUSE 12.3 worked without a single crash, if we forgive the Wireless nonsense, which cannot be really classified as crashes, per se. Suspend & resume also worked great. And again, a new record, when it comes to the time it took the laptop to go to sleep and wake. Not more than one or two seconds, in the worst case. To top things nicely, the fingerprint reader doubled the password authentication on screen lock when coming awake from the sleep state, which is rather nice.
Methinks openSUSE 11.4 was the best openSUSE so far. And had this latest version somehow managed to have more streamlined networking and multimedia stacks, it could have topped that. Seriously, what's wrong with some automation on codecs configuration and making sure the NetworkManager does not vomit like some bulimic equivalent of C++ and Python. Because it USED to work well in the past.
On the positive side, openSUSE 12.3 is a thing of beauty. It's stylish, elegant and very fast. Plus, it's stable and robust, and generally works very well. The installer is also very safe. However, we cannot ignore the user setup problems, or the few random seizures that occurred before the first session.
My suggestion is not using the KDEWallet in either the live session or the installed desktop, and it will instantly improve the networking stack. Then, make sure the right repositories are marked, properly enabled and refreshed, and that users need not go to some online 1-click wizard, when they can achieve the same from their desktop. Reduce the verbosity of various prompts and error messages, make it all the more streamlined. And finally, sort the printing thing, because it's unprofessional.
All in all, this openSUSE deserves around 7.5/10. It's much better than its predecessor, and it comes with a few really awesome, killer features. Alas, they do not come to bear enough, and there are other less killer features that kill the fun. Or should we call them bugs? So hard work engage, and let's see what happens come the autumn.