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Test driving pre-releases of Ubuntu and openSUSE

August 26, 2009

This article was contributed by Ivan Jelic

In this article we will look at pre-releases of Ubuntu and openSUSE. The latest versions at the time were Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 4 and openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 6. We will look at the planned features and see how each one is stacking up.

Ubuntu Karmic Alpha 4

Back in February, Mark Shuttleworth announced Karmic Koala and revealed the plans for an even speedier boot process, a new look, and new applications for cloud computing. "During the Karmic cycle we want to make it easy to deploy applications into the cloud, with ready-to-run appliances or by quickly assembling a custom image." Since then the blueprints for Karmic have been updated with the plans for new features.

So far Alpha 4 looks much the same as 9.04, with minor changes in the GDM login screen and a new default wallpaper. According to the release schedule, the artwork deadline won't be until September 24, 2009, so while the Karmic incoming artwork page shows a lot of activity, we'll have to wait to see the final choices for the new appearance.

Ubuntu Karmic Alpha 4

Alpha 4 enables GRUB 2 by default for new installations. Overall, testing this new feature was painless. The boot loader found and listed all operating systems on the test machine, just like GRUB 1 did. The setup on the test machine is plain, however, without LVM or password protection, which is noted not to work in the Alpha 4 release announcement. For more detailed information please refer to the GRUB 2 testing wiki page, which contains the results of the community testing.

Ubuntu 9.10 targets the 2.6.31 Linux kernel, so the current alpha ships a kernel based on 2.6.31-rc5. HAL deprecation, which started in Alpha 1, moves storage device and hotkey handling over to the DeviceKit subsystem. Again, the transition went relatively smoothly, since the hotkeys and disks were managed almost as well as in 9.04. The wireless key now switches on wifi and bluetooth together.

The Intel video driver architecture is being moved from EXA to UXA during the Karmic release cycle, which should solve the performance regressions in Jaunty. Unfortunately, the test machine we used is based on Nvidia graphics, so we couldn't test this. According to this Phoronix article, the problem wasn't solved in Alpha 3:

We also wanted to deliver new OpenGL results from Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 3 using an Intel 945 IGP found in the Dell Mini 9, but that was to no avail. The Intel graphics performance was bad in Ubuntu 9.04, but at least World of Padman, OpenArena, Tremulous, and Urban Terror were able to run successfully. With Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 3 on the Dell Mini 9 and with each of these games being run through the Phoronix Test Suite, the system would lock-up at various points.

Ext4 is now the default filesystem for new installations. This gives a performance boost to Karmic, at least my system seemed faster than it did using 9.04 on ext3 partitions.

Like Alpha 3, Alpha 4 ships GNOME 2.27.4, which introduced a default instant messaging application transition from Pidgin to Empathy. It seems that Ubuntu developers were thinking only about the technical benefits, since there is no tool for account and data migration. Other Ubuntu applications are shipped with new versions, like OpenOffice 3.1.1 RC1 and Firefox 3.5.2. Ubuntu One, Canonical's cloud computing storage service is enabled by default during Karmic development, providing the company's service out of the box. That's not all, Alpha 4 introduces Karmic Amazon EC2 test images, as mentioned in the original announcement.

Over in Kubuntu land, KDE 4.3 is still being integrated into Alpha 4. This release continues Kubuntu's Netbook effort, with the Plasma Netbook shell addition. Netbook shell is planned for Kubuntu 4.4, but thanks to the cooperation between Kubuntu and KDE developers, it is planned to be integrated in Karmic. The Kubuntu Netbook Remix is very nice, stable and fast, with some interesting ideas and concepts. At the same time, this effort depends on the Intel video driver subsystem progress. A full list of new features in the latest Kubuntu Alpha is available here.

Ubuntu Alpha 4 is interesting release. Fresh software, GRUB 2, Ext4, Empathy and Ubuntu One by default, and the Kubuntu Netbook remix are some of the new features already implemented. We will have to wait for the beta release to see the new look, even faster boot times and GRUB2 optimizations. The performance improvements we experienced during the test are mostly related to the filesystem speed up and the SQLite performance regression that was solved in the latest kernel releases.

openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 6

The latest openSUSE 11.2 milestone was released just after two important announcements. It was decided that KDE would be the default desktop in 11.2 and newer releases, as proposed in openSUSE's openFATE feature tracking system. Also openSUSE 11.2 and beyond will be supported 18 months after the release (2 release cycles plus 2 months). Previous releases received updates for 24 months.

openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 6

According to the roadmap, features were frozen at Milestone 5. Patches for software on the DVD will still be accepted during Milestone 6, but this pre-release is feature complete. From here on its bug fixes and some spit and polish.

All the planned features were working during the installation process. OpenSUSE has finished it's ext4 transition, marking it as a default for new installations. A new partition interface is there too. 11.2 will be based on the 2.6.31 kernel, so Milestone 6 uses the 2.6.31-rc6 "desktop flavor." Milestone 5 introduced the desktop kernel flavor by default, optimized for desktop and laptop machines.

The first testing steps in the freshly-installed Milestone 6 system revealed a bug. For some reason, KnetworkManager failed to connect to the wireless network, without any error or notification. I eventually used the terminal to connect to the internet. Ubuntu accomplished this task flawlessly.

The new YaST QT4 interface was speedy and well organized, and showed improved package and repository management. The package management system distribution upgrade feature (like Debian's dist/full-upgrade) will be supported officially from 11.2 and on.

openSUSE 11.2 YaST

11.2 ships with KDE 4.3 which provided a smooth, fast and elegant desktop experience. The new default desktop theme is Air. The GNOME desktop is also shipped with a new appearance, named Sonar. GNOME 2.28 is targeted for 11.2 so v2.27 ships with Milestone 6. The latest versions of other popular programs are on the DVD and live ISOs, including Firefox 3.5 and OpenOffice 3.1. There is also social networking support on the desktop in the form of a microblogging plasmoid and applications including Kopete and Pidgin, Facebook support, KDE Twitter and the Identica client Choqok). GIMP is available on the KDE live CD, showing an effort into integrating GTK applications in KDE4. OpenOffice comes with the KDE4 theme and file choosing dialogs, Firefox is shipped with the Oxygen theme.

Nearly all of the planned features for 11.2 are present and working, so Milestone 6 is quite close to what the final 11.2 will look like, which is promising overall. YaST seems to be faster than it was in the past, desktops and applications run faster thanks to ext4 and improvements in the new releases. The only problem we had was the previously mentioned connectivity issue. According to the 11.2 roadmap, the remaining milestones and release candidates will focus on bug squashing, polishing and localization. The final release is expected in November so openSUSE 11.2 should be a very good release indeed.

Comments (3 posted)

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