2013-12-09

Review: openSUSE 13.1 GNOME

GNOME Activities Overview
I haven't been able to write up any reviews recently because of the confluence of classes, UROP, and graduate school applications. Now my classes are sort of wrapping up, in that my last problem sets were due yesterday (the publication date is after the date of writing), so I have a little time to relax and do some reviews. The first is openSUSE 13.1 GNOME. I've reviewed openSUSE before a number of times, so I won't try to introduce it again. I tried the live version of the GNOME edition on a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the MultiSystem boot menu, I was greeted by some text scrolling by, followed by a black screen. After a reasonable amount of time, I was greeted by the desktop. On the surface, it doesn't look too different from past versions of GNOME 3, but GNOME 3.10 does have some pretty interesting changes.

The most immediately noticeable change is one that reminds me a little of Elementary OS. Minimize and maximize buttons have been banished forever. Moreover, if a GNOME application has a main toolbar to do stuff in that application, that toolbar will be integrated with the window decoration. The good thing about that is that more space is available for the application itself; the bad thing about that is that it's a little harder to grab the window titlebar to move the window around, as less whitespace is available.
YaST
There are some other changes too. The user session indicator applet has been overhauled to be more useful, and I would agree that it is indeed more useful. There are now applications for maps (which are more up-to-date than Google Maps), clocks, and many others. The GNOME Activities overview has been changed slightly in that the list of applications can be scrolled through in pages. Finally, the GTK+ and icon themes have been updated a bit, and I have to say I like the new icon theme a lot better than the old one.

But does any of it work? Well, GNOME actually has a very convenient page for extensions, and most extensions can in fact be installed in just 1 click. I was able to install an applications menu, a taskbar, and an extension to set window rules in workspaces, and all of those work well. The only issue is that static workspaces as set in GNOME Tweak Tool are not well-enforced, because it seems like even if I set 3 static workspaces, if I close all windows in workspaces #2 and #3, I only get left with 2 "static" workspaces (so I think the workspaces aren't really static at all but still have vestigial dynamic behavior). Other than that, though, the extensions work as they should, and I'm actually more inclined to say now that I could probably use GNOME if I really have to (though I still wouldn't like it as my daily DE).

Regarding applications, Mozilla Firefox is the default browser. It takes a few clicks and commands to get Adobe Flash and other proprietary plugins & codecs to work right, but it isn't too bad. After that, sites like YouTube and Hulu work fine.
LibreOffice is the default productivity software. Oddly, LibreOffice Calc is not included, while LibreOffice Writer, Impress, and even Draw are all present. I can see the reason for not including LibreOffice Calc (saving space, not as many people use spreadsheets on a daily basis), but I can't see why LibreOffice Draw would be such a great idea.
Mozilla Firefox + GNOME Terminal
GNOME Files (formerly Nautilus) is an application that has been significantly altered by the merging of the toolbar and the window decoration, as now the breadcrumbs, settings button, and other configuration buttons are on the same level as the close button. It actually makes sense especially if GNOME is really serious about touchscreen interfaces, and I have to say it works decently well even on a normal laptop. Also, I'm happy to see that openSUSE has included GNOME Sushi for file previewing even in the live ISO file. That said, I'm still not too happy about the loss of split-pane viewing along with other removed features, but I guess GNOME won't likely bring those back.
I had mentioned some new applications from GNOME before. I would also like to point out that it's a little weird that openSUSE includes XTerm in addition to the GNOME Terminal; moreover, it makes XTerm immediately visible in the menu while hiding GNOME Terminal in the "Utilities" subcategory. 

YaST has a somewhat different interface now; I can't tell if that's a common change [with KDE] or if it is just for GNOME. It still works fine for other administrative stuff along with installing RPM packages that have been downloaded from a third party, but for some reason the main software manager just...doesn't work. I'm not sure if it's an issue with the live session or if it carries over even after installation, but that's not too promising either way. I was able to get around this by using the Zypper CLI tool. I used that to install Adobe Flash and Redshift, both of which worked fine.
LibreOffice Writer + GNOME Files + GNOME Sushi
I installed Skype and Google Talk by downloading their respective RPM files and installing them through YaST. That worked fine in each case. For Skype, I had to choose to adjust sound levels manually, because for some reason allowing Skype to automatically adjust sound settings would make both input and output sound levels drop to their respective minimum values. Otherwise, both audio and video worked fine.
I was able to install Mupen64Plus 1.5 by downloading the TAR file and running the installation script. Unfortunately I wasn't able to configure the input controls because that requires a plugin whose available version in the openSUSE repositories is too new. That said, otherwise it worked OK.

openSUSE 13.1 GNOME used 800 MB of RAM at idle. That is a lot. It looks like most of it comes from various GNOME Shell processes. I'm not even sure how GNOME Shell is supposed to work on older hardware. That said, it was stable the whole time, and all composited transitions and animations worked fine.

That's where my time with openSUSE ended. I would say that GNOME 3.10 is decent (though of course I still couldn't use it on a daily basis). openSUSE is generally pretty good too, though the half-functioning YaST was a bit of a turn-off, as was the heavy RAM usage. Overall, I could almost recommend this to newbies as long as they have hardware that can handle GNOME (and that could go beyond "almost" if YaST worked right in the live session — for all that, it could still work after installation).
You can get it here.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the excellent review. I tried the live usb openSUSE 13.1 RC with the Gnome desktop but it wouldn't boot to the desktop. Then I found out online that it was a bug affecting more users. After reading your review I'll give it another go. I have a friend that uses openSUSE and he swears by it so I'm curious, although I think that it's not for distro hoppers. It's more like a full install commitment. I use Ubuntu Studio (I'm an amateur musician) and Voyager (both have the Xubuntu engine) in both my workstation and netbook because I really love the Xfce desktop but I like to test other distros for fun (tested Tails 0.22 today). I love your blog and understand that your academic life won't give you enough time to write every week but when you post something new I always come here to read. Merry Christmas!

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  2. I wish reviewers would stop reviewing the live CDs. That's Ubuntu thinking, and OpenSUSE is not Ubuntu. The Live CDs are not the default or preferred installation medium and are not tested to the same degree as the DVD installer, nor are they even close to being the most downloaded versions of OpenSUSE. They're presented for convenience only.

    When you use these live CDs you do not get the full OpenSUSE install experience. Unlike the CDs, the DVD offers many more options, including the ability to customize the install by choosing which packages to (not) install. Calc is included in a normal install of OpenSUSE; this is another artifact of trying to squeeze OpenSUSE onto a live disk. There are some other differences, including the DVD installing Flash during the update process, being able to update before being dropped into the desktop, etc.

    Why would one want to recommend GNOME for newbies? Far and away KDE is going to most resemble what they're used to already.

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  3. @Kaf Shiel: I have reviewed openSUSE on a more long-term basis as well, and I did like it then too, so I'd encourage you to check that out as well. Thanks for the support!

    @alcalde: I agree that openSUSE is not Ubuntu. The focus is on different DEs, they manage packages quite differently, and so on. If you noticed, I discussed why LibreOffice Calc may not be present in the live medium (but emphasized a little more the oddity of including LibreOffice Draw instead). Furthermore, I mentioned how despite the fact that Adobe Flash and other plugins are not included out-of-the-box, it only takes a few clicks to install them. I would encourage you to read my long-term review of openSUSE where I do install and use it for over a week on real hardware. I don't have the time to do that with every review, which is why for everything else, I settle for reviewing the live medium, which usually works out because live media for Linux distributions are usually fairly consistently good nowadays. Thanks for the comment!

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