2011-08-19

Revisited: openSUSE 11.4 GNOME


If you guessed again that there isn't much else to write about, you'd be right! That's why I'm looking at openSUSE 11.4 GNOME today.

Slab Menu + GNOME Application Browser
A few months ago, I took a look at openSUSE 11.4 KDE. Before that, I had compared openSUSE 11.3 KDE to other distributions that primarily used KDE. I found that version 11.4 was a dramatic improvement over version 11.3, to the point where I heartily recommended it to anyone who wanted to try it. It was fairly fast, stable, looked great, and had or could easily get all the applications I wanted. But to call openSUSE a primarily KDE distribution is slightly misleading, because while openSUSE does indeed try to promote KDE a little more, it puts just as much effort into making the GNOME edition a unique experience as well. Plus, the developers that created openSUSE also created Mono, which is basically the C# programming language for Linux, and helped develop the applications written in it that are now popularly used in many GNOME distributions, such as the Evolution mail client (UPDATE: Evolution is not written in Mono, though it was developed by the same group/a group close to that one that developed openSUSE — thanks to an anonymous reader for the correction), Tomboy note-taking application, F-Spot photo manager, and GNOME-Do launcher. So I figured it's time to see what openSUSE GNOME is really like.

I tried the 32-bit edition (and, for further clarification, all distributions I test are tested in 32-bit guise unless specifically stated otherwise) using a live USB made with MultiSystem. Because I didn't try the installation process with the KDE edition, this time I tried it in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS inside a Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini live USB host. Follow the jump to see if the GNOME edition is as good as the KDE edition.


After the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text, which was unlike the KDE edition which presented a nice boot splash. The boot took a little time, but it wasn't a huge deal; anyway, after that, I was taken to the desktop.

YaST2 installing Adobe Flash
The default desktop does not look like stock GNOME 2.X, which immediately shows openSUSE's commitment to the GNOME edition. It actually looks very much like the default Linux Mint GNOME desktop in versions 7-9. There's one panel on the bottom with a main menu (oddly labeled "Computer"), a Tomboy notes applet, a window switcher, a notification area, a clock, and a button to hide windows (oddly labeled with a folder icon). The default Metacity and GTK+ themes are Sonar, which is unique to openSUSE but again reminds me very much of the dark Shiki-Mint theme present in Linux Mint versions 7-9. Another nice touch is the unique font present on the titlebars; it makes the desktop look just a bit more slick. The icon theme is the default GNOME icon theme, which blends very well with the rest of the desktop. The wallpaper is identical to that of the KDE edition, and complements the dark theme quite nicely. The main menu is the unique-to-openSUSE Slab menu, which was sort of the precursor to the Linux Mint Menu. It's laid out similarly, but clicking on "More Applications" brings up a separate window, which makes it feel a bit more cumbersome; that said, the GNOME Application Browser window feels vaguely familiar (I think I saw it in Linux Mint 6 "Felicia", but not after that), and it is sort of an old-school version of the Launchpad feature in Apple's Mac OS X (which should put yet another nail in the coffin of "Apple inventing everything used in modern PC desktops"). Overall, the desktop doesn't just feel nice; it feels like home. I know that sounds weird/cheesy/corny, but it really does.

As with the KDE edition, Mozilla Firefox is present at version 4.0 beta 12. Hopefully there will be official updates without the need to use third-party sources, because Mozilla Firefox versions 4 and 5 are already obsolete now that version 6 is out. Multimedia codecs weren't included, so I had to fetch them from YaST2 upon the recommendation of Mozilla Firefox. After that happened (and I'll describe that process after this), YouTube and Hulu worked fine; also, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were properly recognized, which was good.
Mozilla Firefox 4.0 beta 12 + LibreOffice Writer
When I needed to install the codecs, YaST2, the openSUSE all-purpose setup tool, opened and began the process of downloading and installing said software. Unfortunately, I forgot that it would also try to install all the unrelated recommended packages as well, so the overall process took a while. That aside, I'm still struck by how professional YaST2 looks; it isn't bling-tastic, but it's relatively simple and very informative without ever getting overly technical. This is also true of the full YaST2 package manager, which aside from these nice touches operates much like Synaptic Package Manager.

LibreOffice is included and worked well. Also, as hinted at earlier, this GNOME edition also has Evolution, Tomboy, F-Spot, GNOME-Do, and Banshee, thanks to them all being applications written in Mono. The other included applications are fairly standard for GNOME.
Skype and the Google Talk plugin worked flawlessly. (I did not test the latter when testing the KDE edition.) Both were just a matter of downloading and clicking through to install the proper RPM files. My webcam and mic were recognized out-of-the-box.

The desktop as a whole worked well, but it felt a little slow and sluggish at times. This was in contrast with the KDE edition, which was always snappy; to me, this is ironic because typically KDE has been more sluggish than GNOME, but I guess times are a-changin'.
Nautilus + Desktop Cube
Compiz desktop effects were included, and surprisingly many were included, so maybe that's why the desktop felt a little slow. Some of the effects themselves also felt a little slow, but I think this is because of Compiz settings, because I know the same effects in Pinguy OS are faster because Compiz has been set that way. Unfortunately, the CompizConfig Settings Manager was not included, so I couldn't change this right away.
With all this talk about slowness, surprisingly, openSUSE only used 250 MB of RAM at idle, even with all the Compiz effects running. That's quite good for a fairly heavy GNOME distribution.

At this point, I tried out the installation. When booting the live CD in the VM, I did see a boot splash, meaning that there must have been some minor graphics error that I otherwise couldn't detect when booting the live USB. This might also account for the general feeling of sluggishness. Anyway, after booting into the live system, I started the installer.
The installer, which is yet another facet of YaST2, is one that rivals Ubiquity and Anaconda in professionalism, simplicity, and sheer power. It started with setting the keyboard layout and reading the license. This led to setting the region/locale and time, replete with a nice-looking world map. This gave way to partitioning, which isn't particularly helpful graphically in depicting the partition layout but is quite simple for those who have done partitioning before. Even for newbies, though, everything is explained pretty well, and the suggested layout is among the best I've seen (among suggested partition layouts for other installers). It offered to keep the existing 1 GB swap partition and create a 5 GB EXT4 root partition and a 4 GB EXT4 home partition. One thing I might like to see is a little explanation for newbies on why creating a separate home partition is good, but that's not a big deal. I stuck with the default layout and proceeded to user creation. One thing I haven't seen before is the name of the password encryption method (in this case, Blowfish); furthermore, it seems like said method can be changed. Wow! There were two minor gripes here, though both can easily be changed by unchecking the checkbox: I think the selection of automatic login by default is a bad security practice, while other people may say that the option to use the user's password as the root password (as is the case in Ubuntu and its derivatives) is a bad security practice. Anyway, this led to a final review screen, which led to the installation, which only took 5 minutes (quite fast among graphical installation procedures I've tried).
(Note: I meant to include a screenshot of the installer, but it looks like I rebooted Pinguy OS before I could upload that picture to this post, so that picture was erased. Darn it! Sorry about that! If you really want to see it though, there are tons of such pictures online.)
After installation, I booted into the installed system, but first, I was greeted by a screen telling me some post-installation initial configuration was being done. After that, I logged into the installed session, which was for all intents and purposes identical to the live session. Everything looked good, so that's where my time with openSUSE ended.

The only real sore point in the whole experience was the perceived slight slowness of the system, though the numbers in the system monitor somehow did not bear that out. Otherwise, it's stable, relatively user-friendly, quite professional, and reminds me of my favorite distribution, Linux Mint. I'd recommend it to users just as much as I'd recommend the KDE edition, but I don't know how useful this review will be in just a few months. Why? Well, for one, openSUSE releases are only supported for 18 months after the final release (meaning version 11.4 will be supported until 2012 September or so), and for another, version 12.1 which will come out this November will feature GNOME 3 with GNOME Shell, which is a drastically different experience from GNOME 2.X.
You can get it here.

16 comments:

  1. is a good review, but i don't agree with conclusion. opensuse 11.4 was released month ago, and it was the only major distro that stuck with kernel 2.6.37 and gnome 2 instead kernel 2.39 or gnome 3, or unity. in fact, this choice is due to the release time, but gnome 3 is in a preliminari stage, and it's usability for now is improving every day, but has also less features than gnome 2. and kernel 2.39 has a big issue with power consumption in laptops. in conclusiom, suse remains major distro with a good release without major hicchups of ubuntu, or fedora. installing it in a real machine is a good choice to make a review, because the speed is good, repository are fully populated of applications. and there is the possibility to turn it into a rolling release, with all the new features of gnome, kde and so on.

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  2. @enrico: I know that openSUSE was released many months ago; that's why for example it has Mozilla Firefox 4.0 beta 12. What I'm saying is that once openSUSE does release GNOME 3 in version 12.1 coming this fall, this review will probably become moot. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. I always have "high hopes" for OpenSUSE leading up to a major release, since it always looks like it will be a great showcase for Linux, with newer versions of KDE, etc.

    But, I'm almost always very disappointed with the [supposedly stable] releases, since Quality Control appears to be be virtually non existent.

    For example, with OpenSUSE 11.4, I immediately noticed issues from both a Live CD and a hard drive install with things like the Exposure Blender choice from the graphics menus not working, since you'll see an error that a library needed by Hugin is not installed. I also saw other issues with it during some quick testing. For example, when I clicked on the icon in the tray to install new updates and KPackagekit came up, it installed the updates and went to a blank KPackageKit screen with no indication that it finished anything, then tries to reinstall the same updates again if you try to get it working (even though they were already successfully installed).

    From what I can see of reviews, my experience is not unique (as I've seen reviewers comment on how KPackagekit appears to have issues).

    IOW, my first impressions (even after a hard disk install) were that OpenSUSE 11.4 is very buggy, and should have been labeled a beta versus final release (at least for the KDE Live CD version of it, as I haven't tried the DVD version yet).

    That kind of thing seems to be typical with some distros like OpenSUSE, where I wouldn't want to recommend them to anyone other than seasoned Linux users (that wouldn't mind working through the bugs to get a stable system), so that I wouldn't give Linux a bad reputation when users run into menu choices that don't work, bugs trying to update packages and more.

    IOW, from outward appearances after a quick look at it, nobody even bothered to test and make sure application menu choices worked, much less test applications more thoroughly to find bugs. IMO, it should have been labeled a beta, not a final release.

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    1. I so agree, OpenSUSE 11.4 is soo buggy which is such a pity. I've been using OpenSUSE for over 11 years, but unfortunately they have changed. I don't understand why they have to bring out a new system every six months, when the previous one still needs so much attention. What a pity.
      Thank you,
      grasshopper

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    2. @Anonymous: Well, it's unfortunate that you run into these issues. Speaking from personal experience, I haven't had a problem with openSUSE until version 12.1. In any case, just use whatever works best for you. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. @JimC: The Hugin issues aren't an issue for me because I don't really do photo editing/organization on my computer. That said, I didn't have any issues with PackageKit/KPackageKit in either the GNOME or KDE editions. I have seen multiple reports of these sorts of issues and multiple reviews scolding the developers for releasing a beta-quality release as final, yet I've never come across any of these issues, and it continues to surprise me. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Have you managed to get GNOME in OpenSuSE speak multiple languages? I mean keyboard layouts...

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  6. @DarkDuck

    Easy: Main Menu > System > Hardware > Keyboard > Layouts tab

    From the command line: gnome-keyboard-properties

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  7. Since when is Evolution a Mono app?

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  8. @DarkDuck: I haven't actually tried this, because admittedly it isn't an issue for me.
    @VGiannadakis: I certainly appreciate the tip!
    @Anonymous: I have updated the post accordingly, and appreciate the correction.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  9. It's more likely Linux Mint took their inspiration from SUSE as they were first to introduce one panel only GNOME, together with the Slab menu, which was quite a big thing when it was released 2006 (2007?).
    > the developers that created openSUSE also created Mono,<
    It's got nothing to do with openSUSE, more with Novell, the parent company, and Gnome. More accurate would be to say some of the Gnome developers created Mono, sponsored by Novell.

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  10. @Anonymous: I think I said that the Slab menu was the forerunner to the Linux Mint Menu. I should have also said that the one-panel GNOME layout was also started in openSUSE and was the inspiration for Linux Mint, but I guess I forgot that. Also, regarding Mono, I think we're saying the same thing, just in slightly different ways. Thanks for the comment!

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  11. Sluggishness - oh yeah, that's my experience - my mouse feels like it's carving frozen molasses, and I get impatient waiting for windows and menus to pop up.

    My guess is that the modern Kernel and Distros are geared for multicore processors and my single core is thrashing in the cache or swap files.

    Ever since KDE abandoned the solid perfection (imho) of 3.5 and Microsoft laid off too many gui engineers KDE has gotten less workable and more showy.

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  12. @steve: I'm not sure you read the post. This was about the GNOME edition. If you read my review of the KDE edition, you'll see that I found it much nicer and far more snappy. Plus, my laptop has a dual-core processor, and this GNOME edition felt slow even on that (and GNOME 2.X is usually supposed to be faster than KDE 4.X on the same hardware).

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  13. Nice Old Review! Im using 11.4 now with Evergreen for expand the support until July 2014 :)

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    1. @Rizki Aulia Rachman: I'd be interested to know how that feels today, almost 2 years later. Thanks for the comment!

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