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.