Right behind Mandriva and Ubuntu, openSUSE 11.2
arrived as scheduled after almost a year of development. This
incremental version increase has enough new features to warrant a closer
look. Sometimes adding so many new features between minor versions can
backfire. Is that what happened this time with openSUSE 11.2? Or are we
seeing some early effects of the newly sanctioned community
So What's New?
The first thing anyone might notice is the new theme. Developed
by KDE's Nuno Pinheiro, it has a very "Airy" look and feel to it. I say
theme, but I really mean the background and application graphics
because KDE still hasn't offered a decent window decoration for KDE 4 and
openSUSE 11.2 is using KDE's default. I don't want to spend too much time
on appearances, but while most have found the desktop unattractive, I have
seen a few positive remarks for the olive and peridot greens.
Speaking of KDE 4, KnetworkManager recently received an
overhaul and the bulk of the work was done by openSUSE developer Will
Stephenson, with contributions from Fedora, Kubuntu, and other developers.
This rewrite has been in the works for quite a while and it is still not
fully completed now. Struggles with the interface plagued development and
improvements sit at the top of the todo list for future releases. As it
is, it's built with QT4 and fits in with the KDE Plasma desktop adequately.
The current interface hides most available wireless connections detected
from the default view, instead only listing those previously used. Other
little goodies include setting custom icons on a per connection basis,
configurable tooltips, one-click connects, and the option of forcing
password input on each connect for users.
The YaST Control Center has been ported to QT4 for the KDE
desktop as well. It still resembles the GTK version for GNOME quite a bit
and is said to be more consistent with KDE System Settings, but somehow it
doesn't feel very polished. The fonts are atrocious, and I had to
configure some of my hardware (scanner and TV card) more than once for it
to actually take effect. This is very uncharacteristic for openSUSE and I
have to wonder what happened. Also new this time is WebYaST, an
easy-to-use remote management and administration interface.
The YaST2 Software Manager also saw a few tweaks for this
release. The GUI features a new View tab that's actually a drop down menu
containing various package viewing choices. Underneath, Zypper now
functions a bit faster and includes the option of downloading only. Also
new for this release is openSUSE's equivalent to a dist-upgrade. A live
update can be performed from the GUI or
command line, although reports have stated that
the command line route is more reliable at this point.
The Firefox KDE integration has received quite a bit of publicity
during the development cycle. Basically, that consists of setting Firefox
as the default KDE browser and calling KDE applications when a trigger is
clicked. For example, Firefox will open Okular when a PDF link is clicked.
This ties in with file dialogs and application selection screens, mimetype and
protocol handling (such as mailto), and proxy settings. It also uses KDE
icons and widgets and can add RSS feeds to Akregator. Several other
distributions have switched their KDE default browser to Firefox recently
as well, but openSUSE is the only one to try and integrate it so completely.
More features are being planned in this area for future releases. As in
many distributions, "check for updates" is disabled, but this is the
only time I can really see a good reason why.
Some changes can be seen in the installer as well. KDE has been returned
to the default desktop choice of the install DVD. GNOME is listed first,
but KDE is ticked. Apparently this was done to lessen the number of
choices a new user might have to make during the install process. Ext4 is
the new default filesystem and Btrfs is available for particularly brave
souls. Full disk encryption is now available for the security minded. And
for netbook users, the live CDs can be copied to and booted from USB memory
At the desktop, KDE's Strigi and Nepomuk are disabled by default to
lessen system requirements and improve performance. In contrast to KDE,
the new GNOME theme is receiving quite a bit of praise. Pidgin remains the
included instant messenger for GNOME instead of migrating to Empathy like
some others, and new microblogging clients were added for the two major
desktops, Gwibber and Choqok. The primary desktops are KDE 4.3.1, GNOME
2.28, Xfce 4.6.1, and Enlightenment 1.0. OpenOffice.org has been upgraded
to 3.1.1, Firefox to 3.5.4, and GIMP 2.6.7. Under the hood is Linux kernel
18.104.22.168, Xorg X Server 1.6.5, and GCC 4.4.1.
openSUSE has traditionally been a very polished and professional system;
rock solid underneath with pretty GUIs on top. However, 11.2 has slipped
some. After installation, the fonts were very ugly and distracting. I've seen
complaints in the past about openSUSE fonts, but I've never personally been
affected. But with 11.2, my desktop was almost unusable until I tweaked
the fonts. However, try as I might, I still could not bring openSUSE 11.2
fonts up to par with my other systems.
It's not uncommon for sound to only emit from my two rear speakers in
some Linux distributions. I don't consider this a problem, really, since the
front is usually a mirror of the rear with my card, but when sound only
comes from one of the rear speakers, then I've got to say that something is
wrong somewhere. My sound card is detected with similar output as in other
distributions, the same ALSA modules are used, and the mixer channels were
thoroughly reviewed. So, at this point, it's a mystery why this old and
usually well supported card went oblong in this release.
I've also had real issues with Akregator in KDE. Admittedly, it's always
been unstable in KDE 4, but I've been experiencing more frequent crashes in
openSUSE. It seems to crash, taking the rest of Kontact with it, five
or six times a day. Sometimes it loses all the articles pulled in
previously making it quite a chore to continue using it.
KDE settings, in general, have been acting strangely too. For example,
losing settings between openings, settings that never take or change the
behavior, and settings that won't change - they appear to change, but don't
take effect and when I check back, the original settings are depicted in
the input box as if I'd never touched them.
As far as performance, which seems to be a hot topic this year, 11.2
does seem to boot faster, but I'm not seeing anything impressive in its
KDE. Many issues found might have been lessened if KDE had been
updated to one of the newer releases, because 4.3.1 (even with some 4.3.2
backports) still has many performance and functionality issues.
Overall this version of openSUSE acts more like a point-0 release or
even a release candidate. Everything feels rough around the edges and as
though lots more work is needed. There's no dispute that openSUSE
developers are the most aggressive between minor version releases, but this
is the most dramatic effect I've witnessed from them. Polish and
excellence have always been trademarks of openSUSE, so much so that I've
come to expect only that. So, it's shocking to have seen an openSUSE
released in such rough condition.
Having said that, I still look forward to 11.3 and have confidence that
it will be up to openSUSE's usual standards. In Linux, developers are
always fighting "the damned if you do and damned if you don't" paradox. If
they don't release when users expect, then they risk losing lots of
momentum, much like PCLinuxOS experienced in 2008 and early 2009. Or on
the other hand, if they release on time, even though they know
there are issues, they risk the bad press and decreased user confidence
like that seen with the latest release (or two) of Ubuntu.
I would like to give openSUSE the benefit of the doubt but my best
recommendation is for folks to wait for the next release, especially if
they are KDE users. GTK/GNOME users might have better luck. However,
overall, 11.2 isn't the best example of its work and we should wait
next release so that it can sand down the rough edges.
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