Review: openSUSE 12.1 GNOME + KDE

GNOME: Main Screen
It's November again, so what does that mean? It means there's another new release of openSUSE, and I'm reviewing it.

openSUSE doesn't really need much of an introduction here. There are a few new things with this release, though. The first is that GNOME 3 has become an official part of openSUSE; this is not surprising considering that openSUSE and Fedora were the only distributions who provided vanilla live CD previews of GNOME 3 before its official release. The second is that the release numbering and schedule have changed. Now, there will be releases in November, July, and March, and they will respectively have decimal numbers ".1", ".2", and ".3" before the number before the decimal point gets incremented by one with the next November release. This means that there will be no more ".0" or ".4" releases, and that the jump from, for example, version 13.1 to 13.2 will be just as significant as the jump from version 12.3 to 13.1.

KDE: Main Screen
I reviewed both the GNOME and KDE editions using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox in one of the live USB systems with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see if I'll like this release as much as the last one.


I decided to try the GNOME edition first because the KDE edition seems to have experienced only minimal changes, while the GNOME edition has of course experienced huge changes. After the boot menu came a wall of scrolling text. This is better than the black screen from version 11.4, because I could tell that the system was actually working and hadn't frozen. Plus, the boot process seemed to have become quicker, and the time that the openSUSE desktop splash screen showed also became quicker, so all in all, the time required to get to a working desktop was shortened quite a bit, which is a great thing.

Aside from the wallpaper, which I feel doesn't look quite as nice as the last one, the desktop is almost entirely stock GNOME 3.2 Shell. The only change I can see right off the bat is the presence of a menu option to actually shut down, which was not present in GNOME 3.0, so that's nice. In fact, considering that there aren't any advanced configuration tools like the GNOME-Tweak-Tool present beyond the stock GNOME 3 tools, I think the shutdown option has officially become a part of GNOME 3.2, which is great. Otherwise, there really isn't much to say here. One annoying thing is that the notification area on the bottom kept bothering me with notifications about the other mounted partitions of my USB drive, and clicking elsewhere on the screen wouldn't make the notifications go away; I had to actually do something with the notifications, so I had to open all the partitions in Nautilus and then close those windows, which is a little tedious if you ask me.

Mozilla Firefox, at version 7.0, is the default browser. Proprietary codecs are not included, so they must be installed, but once I did that, YouTube, Hulu, and other such sites worked fine. Plus, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked out-of-the-box as well.

GNOME: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
LibreOffice is present at version 3.4. When I first started it, it warned me that it needed the JRE to run, so I thought that I would need to install that too, but oddly enough, LibreOffice worked anyway. It wasn't a huge deal considering the warning never showed itself again.
The other present programs are standard GNOME and/or openSUSE/Mono fare, including the GNOME Games, Banshee, Tomboy Notes, the Totem Media Player, and some others.

The YaST2 Package Manager is essentially unchanged from last time in terms of functionality, though the interface looks a lot prettier and simpler than before. Installing packages is as easy as clicking checkboxes and clicking "Apply". This is what I used to install Adobe Flash.

I installed Skype and the Google Talk plugin by downloading the RPM files and opening them in YaST2. Thankfully, in contrast to version 11.4, PackageKit/KPackageKit has been completely removed, so now Mozilla Firefox automatically suggests opening all RPM files in YaST2, which is great. Also, YaST2 did not ask me for an administrator password in the live session, which is another nice improvement to the live experience. However, installing Skype prompted the installation of 150 MB worth of unrelated packages. Plus, compared to last time, YaST2 did not give me the option of deselecting those suggestions; I had to go with it, which is rather wasteful (and I would call it a regression too).
GNOME: Nautilus + Sushi
Skype and Google Talk both recognized my laptop's webcam OK, but my laptop's mic, while recognized, wasn't capturing any sound at all. It seems like this is an issue with openSUSE considering both programs had the same problem. I tried to use the GNOME System Settings tool to fiddle with the sound settings, but that didn't work. I then used YaST2, whose setup options are basically more advanced forms of the tools in GNOME System Settings, but its setup options were for really low-level configuration, and in any case fiddling with it didn't fix the problem. Considering that version 11.4 had no problem with my laptop's mic and considering that virtually no other modern distribution has had this problem recently either, I'm going to call this a regression as well.

Nautilus is of course the default file manager. It also comes with GNOME Documents, but when I tried creating a document and viewing it in GNOME Documents, nothing appeared. It seems like GNOME Documents only works for cloud document services, which is odd. Also, Nautilus comes with the Sushi file previewer, which is basically a slightly slower but better-integrated version of Gloobus Preview.

Speaking of slow, openSUSE 12.1 GNOME used about 330 MB of RAM at idle. Compared to GNOME 2.X, that is of course far from impressive, but it's on par with KDE 4.X, and it's quite a bit better than some other implementations of GNOME 3.X that I've seen so far. That said, ironically, where other GNOME 3.X distributions used more RAM but felt quite fast, this did have slight but noticeable loading times. I could tell the system was hard at work to provide all the smooth animations built into GNOME 3 Shell. Anyway, that's where my time with the GNOME edition ended.


The KDE boot process was much the same as that of GNOME, with the exception of the addition of a KDE 4 startup splash screen. Interestingly enough, the openSUSE developers have made the splash screen into a slight variant of the standard splash screen rather than doing something completely unique as has been the case for previous releases of openSUSE. After that came the desktop.

KDE: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Calc + Desktop Cube
The desktop is standard openSUSE, which is not much different from standard KDE 4. The only difference I could see is that the panel is thinner than before, and the panel icons are smaller than before. Digging deeper, though, there are some other differences. For example, openSUSE's developers have also been the developers of the main Kickoff menu, and despite its usability flaws, menu items have been generally categorized in a logical and consistent way. That seems to have been thrown out the window. For example, KSnapshot is now in "Utilities" rather than "Graphics"; I guess this makes sense considering that in most distributions in most other DEs, screenshot applications are filed under "Accessories", which is the counterpart to KDE's "Utilities" category, but I still find the change strange. Other stuff, like KWalletManager and Klipper have been moved from "Utilities" to "System" for no good reason. Overall, the new categorization scheme seems rather weird and illogical. Also, I found it interesting that LibreOffice, which is not a KDE application, uses the KOffice/Calligra Suite icons in the Kickoff menu, while GwenView, which is a standard KDE application, seems to lack its usual icon so it uses a much more generic viewing program icon. Finally, I haven't usually had problems with KDE fonts unlike many other people...until now. The KWin titlebar fonts look engraved into the titlebars, so they may look classy at first, but they're really hard to read. It's a shame that the font issues have presented themselves now rather than before. Plus, in comparison, the GNOME fonts are absolutely amazing (and those fonts are frankly quite classy in their own right as well).

KDE: Apper
Aside from the usual GNOME versus KDE program differences, the KDE edition has Apper, a new software manager. It tries to look and act like an older version of the Ubuntu Software Center or the Linux Mint Software Manager, but unfortunately, it doesn't really work. I tried installing a variety of different packages, and despite refreshing the repositories and asking about dependencies, none of the packages installed. After that, I decided to stick to YaST2 for package management.
Speaking of YaST2, unlike in GNOME where it looks like a stock GNOME application, in KDE it has a rather interesting appearance, with important buttons highlighted in a nice shade of green and with glossy dark gray scrollbars. Also, I figured out that in GNOME YaST2 defaults to the nice category-based view, whereas in KDE it defaults to the more complicated view I remember seeing in version 11.4. This also meant that it was possible, as in version 11.4, to deselect the suggested packages to be installed alongside things like Skype and Adobe Flash; it's just that in the GNOME edition, I didn't realize it the first time around, so that complaint is now moot.

Aside from checking out differences like these, I also wanted to see if the Skype and Google Talk issues were resolvable. In short, the answer is "no". I came upon the exact same problems and the exact same lack of a solution, which is unfortunate.

Desktop effects worked fine, which is great. Also, at idle, openSUSE used...650 MB of RAM. Although it didn't feel any noticeably more sluggish than before, that's way more than most KDE distributions I've used, and in absolute terms, it's way too much! Compared to this, the GNOME edition might as well be Openbox in terms of its relative light weight.

It was at this point that I started the installation. Unfortunately, VirtualBox kept crashing in the openSUSE live USB session, so I switched to Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" which was also present in the multiboot setup. That worked fine, and when starting the VM, I decided to go directly to the installation rather than starting it from within the live session.
YaST2 Installer
The installation starts with language and keyboard layout setup, along with asking the user to accept some sort of EULA. After that came choosing a time zone, but the installer somehow automatically detected where I am right now (or it just happens to coincidentally default to where I happen to be right now). After that came disk partitioning. Because the virtual hard drive is only 10 GB in size, I opted not to use a separate "home" partition. I really like the way openSUSE smartly suggests different partitioning layouts and allows for basic modifications without requiring the user to touch a standard partitioning interface. After this came the user creation, which works like that of any other installer; this tool offers to use the same password for root like Ubuntu, which probably isn't good for security, and it also defaults to automatic logins, which definitely isn't good for security, but it'll probably help new users feel a little more at home. After that, the only thing I changed was that where openSUSE suggested booting from the root partition rather than from the MBR, I chose the opposite. After that came the actual installation, which took about 10 minutes, which is fairly standard. Following that, I restarted the VM, and after the boot process came some post-installation configuration, This took an additional 5 minutes. After that came the openSUSE KDE splash screen, but then the VM just hung there; I won't fault openSUSE for that, because it was in a VM, and VMs can present some problems that won't be found in real installations. It was here that my time with openSUSE ended.

So what's the deal? Most of the problems I encountered were just minor quirks that I could deal with, except for the issue with the laptop mic. That is one issue that's big enough to make me not use it on a regular basis, because I use video chat on Skype and Google Talk a lot, so I just can't see why I should use openSUSE over another distribution that provides all the same cool features plus working mic support. But that doesn't mean openSUSE 12.1 is bad. I would say that it's still a good distribution, but it's not quite as awesome as version 11.4, so I would recommend it, but not as much as version 11.4.
You can get it here.