The March 13 release of openSUSE 12.3 comes just six months
after its predecessor, which is a bit quicker than the target of eight
the project has set. But the shorter development cycle does not mean that
openSUSE 12.3 is lacking for new features. From the kernel up through the
desktops and applications, 12.3 offers much that is new.
The project was nice enough to provide members of the press with early
access to the
release. The distribution comes in
multiple flavors, of course; I tried the Live KDE version to get a
feel for the new release. It has been many years since I ran openSUSE, and
I never ran it in anger, so I tried to put it through its paces a
bit over the five or six days since it was made available.
Since a Live distribution is somewhat cumbersome to use as a regular
system, I opted to install it as a dual-boot system with Fedora on my
trusty laptop. While I was ultimately successful in getting things
installed that way, it took a rather extensive detour through GRUB 2, GUID partition
partitions, resize2fs, and so on to get there. It's not clear
that openSUSE or its installer were the only culprits, as I have dark
about the BIOS on the laptop, but it is clear that allowing the installer
to write to the master boot record (MBR) in a dual-Linux setup leads to an
unbootable system—at least it did for me, and more than once. It
should be noted, though, that the Live media was
quite useful in helping to recover
from that state as it had all of the GRUB 2 tools and GPT-aware utilities
needed to fix things up.
One new thing that came in with 12.3 is a change to Live media. It is now
nearly 1G in size, which means it won't fit on a CD—either DVD or USB
sticks must be used instead. That extra space allowed
for additional packages, including LibreOffice 3.6 and OpenJDK 7, though
not GIMP 2.8 as promised in the RC2 news item.
Installation was straightforward, with the only "tricky" piece being the
partition and filesystem layout. 12.3 gives the option of using Btrfs for
all non-boot filesystems, which seemed worth trying. I haven't done
anything particularly interesting with Btrfs (yet), but it seems to be
working just fine for / and /home.
Other than some cosmetic differences (theme, background, and so on),
openSUSE 12.3 didn't seem much different from Fedora 18 once I logged
into the KDE desktop (or Plasma workspace if that's the new terminology).
It comes with KDE 4.10, which is more recent than Fedora's 4.9, but that
difference was not particularly obvious. It works well for the limited
desktop use cases I need—terminal windows, a browser, email client,
and so on. I was able to use the Dolphin file manager to mount and access
the encrypted /home that I use on the Fedora side, for example,
convenient, but I still haven't gotten the hang of KDE Activities.
KDE is not the only desktop available for openSUSE 12.3; there is, of
course, a GNOME version of the distribution based on GNOME 3.6.
Community manager Jos Poortvliet put together a lengthy
preview of openSUSE 12.3 for desktop users that covers both desktops.
KDE was chosen as the default for openSUSE
back in 2009, but its GNOME
support is said to be top-notch as well.
UEFI secure boot support is available in 12.3, and the systemd
integration that started in earlier versions has been completed. The switch to MariaDB as the "default MySQL" has
been completed. MySQL is still available, but MariaDB has been chosen as a
more community-oriented, drop-in replacement for MySQL.
The kernel is fairly recent, based on 3.7. It exhibited the same annoying
blinking WiFi indicator behavior that I have seen on the laptop with other
though it was easy set a driver parameter for iwlegacy and get rid
of it. In fact, the same file I used on the Fedora side (with a minor name
change) just dropped into /etc/modprobe.d on openSUSE. Perhaps
that's not surprising, but it is indicative of how it felt to use 12.3; it
was often hard to remember that I wasn't still running Fedora. Some
adjustments were needed (e.g. retraining fingers to type "zypper" rather than
"yum"), but the two distributions are quite similar.
There are a few oddities. The default is for the primary user to be
logged in automatically, which doesn't seem like the most secure of
choices. Installing Emacs led to a complaint about a lack of Asian fonts
for Java. The auto-lock-screen appears not to work, as any key will unlock
the screen, which seems to be a known
problem, though it doesn't start working after 60 seconds for me. But
those are pretty minor.
A more substantive complaint could be made about one of the more advanced
features being touted
for the release: using the Open Build Service (OBS) to get the latest and
greatest packages. There is even a video in that news item describing how
to use software.opensuse.org to
update LibreOffice from the 3.6 version that comes with 12.3 to LibreOffice
Perhaps LibreOffice was a poorly chosen example, but the video paints a
picture that is very different from what a user will actually run into. In
fact, it stops before things get interesting. The "one click install"
offered does bring up the YaST software installer, but there are many more
clicks ahead. If it were just extra clicks, it would be a pretty minor
issue, but the new package conflicts with the old LibreOffice, so the user
needs to make a decision about what to do—without a reasonable
default (like "go ahead and break LibreOffice 3.6"). Beyond that, the
upgrade caused YaST to choose an enormous number (over 100) of additional
packages to install, many of which (telnet, screen, GIMP, ...) seemed to
have nothing to do with LibreOffice. Licenses for Flash and Fluendo
GStreamer plugins had to be clicked through as well. That said, once the
process was complete, LibreOffice 4.0 was up and running on the system, it
was just a lot more complicated than the video (which does feature some
amusing Geeko animation) depicted.
But openSUSE is not specifically targeted at non-technical users, and
anyone who has used Linux before has likely run into these kinds of issues
once or twice. For technically savvy users, openSUSE provides a solid
operating system with the ability to get bleeding-edge applications via
OBS. For Fedora users, a switch will probably be uneventful, while other
distribution users (non-systemd, .deb-based, or
build-it-from-quarks-and-gluons, for example) may have some adjustments to
make. It's not clear that there is a strong reason to do so, but if some
"distro hopping" is in your plans, openSUSE should certainly be on the
list. But for those who already use it, openSUSE 12.3 will be a welcome
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