Review: openSUSE 11.4 KDE

Main Screen + Kickoff
This review you are about to read was originally going to be about Scientific Linux 6. However, two things changed that: one, openSUSE 11.4 got released yesterday, though I did think about doing Scientific Linux today and openSUSE in a few days, and two, Scientific Linux didn't play well with either UnetBootin or MultiSystem. In any case, that review will have to wait a bit.

openSUSE is the free end user-grade version of SUSE, the other version being Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (Novell SLED). It has been a pioneer and a force for progress in the Linux ecosystem; unfortunately, Novell has been beleaguered by financial troubles and is going to be bought out by Attachmate, though the openSUSE developers have remained committed to the project regardless of Novell's fate. Though openSUSE is primarily a KDE desktop, the developers have made almost equal contributions to both GNOME and KDE. For example, the openSUSE developers were the ones who created the Kickoff menu for KDE 4 as well as the ones who led the charge for better integration of Mozilla Firefox and OpenOffice.org into KDE 4. They were also instrumental in developing the Slab menu (which inspired and has been improved upon by the Mint Menu), Banshee and other Mono-based applications, and other things like Bonobo that aren't directly noticed by users. I was actually thinking of testing both the GNOME and KDE versions, but I figured that testing the GNOME version would be just testing the existing applications in a more familiar GNOME environment, so I might as well just test the KDE version; plus, I got lazy when downloading the ISO files. Oh well.

I have tried openSUSE twice before, both times version 11.3 KDE. The first time I tried it was in a virtual machine and as part of a comparison with other KDE distributions, and I was fairly pleased with its stability; that said, it was quite slow, though that could be attributable to the limited settings in the virtual machine due to the limited resources of my old computer. The second time I tried it was just to see if it would play well with my hardware on a live USB; unfortunately, the system still felt slow even on my newer current computer, and Skype refused to start once downloaded and installed. Follow the jump to see how openSUSE 11.4 compares to 11.3. I tested openSUSE 11.4 KDE by adding it to my current multiboot live USB setup using MultiSystem, but I did not test the installation procedure.

After the BIOS change and MultiSystem boot menu came...a black screen. Uh-oh; this didn't look too good. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, and after a relatively long boot process, I was greeted by a fresh, green openSUSE KDE splash screen. This led into the desktop.

Mozilla Firefox 4 beta 12
The desktop has not changed significantly in terms of the basic layout since version 11.3. The wallpaper does look a lot nicer and arguably more professional, and the panel seems more compact. As in 11.3, I was greeted by the openSUSE welcome screen, which is quite well-done. Towards the upper-left part of the screen is a desktop view widget with icons for various applications, such as the web browser, the installer, the productivity suite, and various places to get support. That's extremely...helpful (for lack of a better word). The default menu is the Kickoff menu, as expected, though many of the menu entries seem a bit confusingly organized.

Mozilla Firefox is the default web browser, and it's present at version 4 beta 12. It feels even snappier and more responsive than some of the previous beta releases I've tried in various other distributions. Plus, as this is openSUSE, it looks almost like a native KDE 4 application. One other thing I noticed about it is that smooth scrolling in Mozilla Firefox worked extremely well and didn't seem to slow the system down at all.

LibreOffice + Desktop Cube
Proprietary codecs are not included out-of-the-box, so I had to go to the package manager YaST2 to get them. YaST2, while still not as fast as Synaptic Package Manager, feels light-years ahead of what it was like in openSUSE 11.3. Plus, it didn't choke the system to a halt when it ran either. I found the packages for Adobe Flash and Kopete, the latter to test my webcam, right-clicked them and selected "Install", and then clicked "Accept". Unfortunately, 138 other packages were automatically selected to install alongside these two packages, and only 16 of those packages were actually dependencies. I only realized this when YaST2 was done downloading 35% of the packages, so I aborted the process, reselected the two packages install, manually selected everything else to not install, and went on my way. Happily, dependent packages were not selected to not install unless the parent packages were selected to not install. The actual process was extremely quick, and I was able to watch YouTube smoothly.
On another side note, another cool thing about openSUSE is that, like Linux Mint, it recognized my laptop keyboard's "Fn" keys including those to change the volume. It also recognized my laptop's wireless card, so I was able to hop onto wireless networks in my dormitory room without a hitch.

Konqueror is included as well, and it shows a nice openSUSE-themed start page. In addition, as KDE is at version 4.6, Konqueror has the option of using either the KHTML or WebKit rendering engines.
LibreOffice is included, which is a very good thing given OpenOffice.org's impending doom. LibreOffice feels a lot snappier too, and it is of course well-integrated with KDE 4 just as OpenOffice.org was well-integrated in previous versions of openSUSE KDE.

Dolphin + YaST2
Skype is not available in the main openSUSE repositories, but it is available as an RPM file on the Skype website for releases of openSUSE above 10.3, which obviously includes this one. I downloaded the file and opted to make it open with KPackageKit, which also happens to be included alongside YaST2. Unfortunately, KPackageKit required authentication, and I wasn't able to find the correct live session password online. I did see a suggestion online to press CTRL+ALT+F1 to open a terminal session (not just a terminal emulator in the DE) and type "sudo passwd". This caused the whole system to freeze, so I had to do a hard restart. Interestingly, this time around I was able to see a wall of text during the boot process as opposed to a black screen. Everything else was the same.
At this point, after the desktop was up and running again and I retook my lost screenshots, I went to the openSUSE website to figure out exactly how to install Skype. The openSUSE wiki has a good explanation of the process. After downloading the package, I was supposed to open it with YaST2, not KPackageKit. I tried that, but for some reason even that didn't work. Then I saw the option on the page of using a terminal command (Zypper) instead, so I did that, and that worked flawlessly and extraordinarily quickly. I started Skype, and though it took a while to log me in, I was able to test my webcam and mic. My webcam worked smoothly, and so did my mic, although testing the latter took a long time because the test calls kept getting dropped for a while probably due to the large number of people using Skype at that time. In all, Skype worked much better compared to last time.

Aside from that, the standard repertoire of KDE applications and tools is available, along with a selection of KDE games.
Ignoring the system freeze that occurred due to me trying to enter into a terminal which I think had nothing to do with KDE, KDE itself was totally stable and solid, as it should be at version 4.6. Desktop effects were also enabled out-of-the-box, and they worked well.
Also, I tried suspending the live session to RAM after having seen many recent reviews of other distributions successfully suspending the live session to RAM. Sadly, it didn't work, but then again, I wasn't really expecting success, and it doesn't work on my installed Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" system either, so it doesn't really matter.
One thing I must confess is that I would always become envious seeing pictures of Dolphin in official KDE screenshots with nice big image thumbnails. Call me slow, call me stupid, call me whatever you'd like (within reason, I hope), but I finally figured out how to do it: click on "Preview" in Dolphin and then increase the slider bar for icon size to the biggest possible while still being able to see two icons per row. Yay! Now I can ogle at my pretty screenshots of openSUSE 11.4 KDE within the live session, just like how I'm writing this now from the live session as well. Also, by doing this in Dolphin, I noticed a lot of subtle effects, such as shadows around the image previews and shadows of the name of the most recently selected file. It's really cool.

That's essentially all I have to say about openSUSE 11.4 KDE. It has or can easily and quickly install the software I want, recognizes my hardware, feels snappy and responsive, and feels solid and professionally done in almost every aspect. What more could I really ask for? I'm tremendously pleased with my time with openSUSE. Hopefully it doesn't cause problems on other people's hardware, but in any case, from what I've just seen, I highly recommend it for anyone to use.