openSUSE 11.3

SUSE Linux was one of my very first distros; I used to buy it from CompUSA and other places back when I first got started with Linux. These days, of course, one can simply use openSUSE instead of buying it at a store. This week I decided to look at openSUSE 11.3, the latest and greatest version.

OpenSUSE is known for being one of the more preeminent KD-oriented distros, but it also supports GNOME (and now LXDE). Since I reviewed Linux Mint KDE last week, I figured I’d go with the GNOME version of openSUSE 11.3 so I could take a little break from KDE.

What’s New In This Release

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in openSUSE 11.3:

Netbook Support
Smartphone Support
SpiderOak Personal Cloud
Btrfs Support
Zypper Package Management Enhancements
Improved Package Dependency Handling
LXDE Support
Linux 2.6.34
Alsa 1.0.23
X.org 7.5
Nouveau Nvidia Driver
GNOME 2.30.1 (With Support for GNOME 3.0 Preview)

I’ll cover the GNOME changes in the desktop section of the review.

The netbook support offers the KDE Plasma Netbook Workspace, and the MeeGo netbook interface. I like the KDE netbook edition, but I haven’t tried MeeGo yet. Still, it’s good to see both of them being offered for openSUSE users. It’s great for netbook users to have a choice in desktop environments.

Zypper can now list packages that can’t be updated, and it can tell you why. You can also remove dependencies of a package by using the -clean-deps option. OpenSUSE 11.3 also features better package handling in general, letting YaST also remove dependencies needed by a removed package.

The smartphone support will be very much appreciated by Android, iPhone or Blackberry users. OpenSUSE 11.3 now lets you sync music, access photos or use your phone to connect to the Internet. It’s great to see this kind of smartphone connectivity in openSUSE, the developers seem to be supporting all of the major phone platforms.

You can connect your smartphone to OpenSUSE 11.3.

The SpiderOak (what a weird name!) personal cloud is a cool idea and reminiscent of Ubuntu One. It wasn’t installed by default, so I had to go into the Software Manager and install it. After the install, I found it in the Internet applications menu. Signing up for SpiderOak was easy and quick; the SpiderOak interface is very well done and quite intuitive.

You’ll need to install SpiderOak via the software manager.

Signing up for a SpiderOak account takes just a minute or two.

It’s easy to set up a backup, see your status, sync and view your files. You get 2GB of space, if you need more you can buy it. You can opt to be billed monthly or yearly, starting with 100GB for $100 per year or $10 per month.  SpiderOak is a great addition to openSUSE, I’m very glad to see it included. I think it will prove to be a very valuable service for many openSUSE users.

The SpiderOak service in OpenSUSE 11.3.

I’m also happy to see LXDE support in openSUSE 11.3. KDE and GNOME are both great, but there are folks that really believe less is more (I go back and forth on that personally). So having LXDE as a desktop option in openSUSE opens the door to having it used by minimalists who prefer speed to gratuitous desktop features and functionality.

Although I decided to do this review using the GNOME version, I couldn’t resist the temptation to install LXDE and run it for a while instead. Whenever I run LXDE or some other minimalistic desktop environment, I always wonder if we really need all of the stuff that we get in KDE or GNOME. Sometimes less can really be more.

The minimalistic LXDE desktop in OpenSUSE 11.3.

Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements

Here’s a list of what you’ll need to run openSUSE 11.3:

*  Processor: Intel: Pentium 1-4, Xeon or newer; AMD: Duron, Athlon, Athlon XP, Athlon MP, Athlon 64, Sempron, Opteron or newer
* Main memory: At least 256 MB; 512 MB recommended
* Hard disk: At least 500 MB for minimal system; 2.5 GB recommended for standard system
* Sound and graphics cards: Supports most modern sound and graphics cards
* Booting from CD/DVD drive or USB-Stick for installation, or support for booting over network (you need to setup PXE by yourself, look also at Network install) or an existing installation of openSUSE, more information at Installation without CD

Installation

As I noted earlier, I downloaded the GNOME Live CD version of openSUSE 11.3. I highly recommend the Live CD version since it lets you use the distro without actually having to do an install. As always, remember that running it off the CD is usually a bit slower than running it off your hard disk after an install. The Live CD GNOME version I downloaded weighed in at a petite 716MB.

The install itself is very easy and quick. The screenshots below walk you through the entire process, from start to finish. At this point it’s fair to say that installing openSUSE is about as easy as installing Ubuntu, though some would say that Ubuntu’s installer is arguably a bit more attractive to look at while the install happens. Please note that there is now slideshow during the install process.

Booting & Login

Bootsplash

The pre-install bootsplash lets you choose to boot right into the Live CD version, or do an install. You can also check the install media, do a memory test, etc. I just booted into the Live CD version. After you install openSUSE 11.3, the bootsplash screen gives you the options of booting into openSUSE, or using the failsafe version.

Login Screen

You can change your language, desktop environment, keyboard, universal access preferences, and screen resolution. You can also opt to shut down or restart your system.

The pre-install OpenSUSE 11.3 bootsplash screen.

The OpenSUSE 11.3 login screen.

The Desktop

OpenSUSE 11.3 now ships with GNOME 2.3.1; Tracker is now the file indexer (beagle has been replaced). Nautilus now has a split view mode, making it easier to manage files on your system. You can also now access iPhone and iPod Touch files in Nautilus, and Rhythmbox can also play  music from both devices. You can also right-click a menu item to open an archive file.

Nautilus now has a split view mode.

Screensavers
There’s also a better selection of screensavers (and games) included in this release. The Cosmos one is great, but I really liked the silly Pacman screensaver. I found it amusing to have Pacman running around with the ghosts chasing him around while my screensaver was on. I haven’t kept track of the included screensavers, so I’m not sure if the Pacman one is new or not, but it’s fun to use.

There’s a cool Pac Man screensaver included in OpenSUSE 11.3.

Wallpaper
OpenSUSE 11.3 doesn’t come with much in the way of wallpaper. There’s a cool Cosmos option and a few openSUSE wallpapers, but you’ll need to click the “Get More Backgrounds Online” link if you want a good selection. I ended up going with the Cosmos one, I’ve always liked space themes for wallpaper.

The selection of wallpaper is rather sparse until you go online to get more.

When you boot into the openSUSE 11.3 desktop, you’ll find icons for the Trash and your Home folder. Other than that, the desktop is clutter-free. Click the Computer button to access applications, etc. The first thing you’ll see is a list of Favorite Applications, along with tabs for Documents and Places. To the right you’ll see helpful system links such as Control Center, YaST, Software Manager and other necessities.

To see more applications, you’ll need to click the More Applications button and a menu of applications will pop up. I’ll have more to say about this in the problems section.

The applications menu on the OpenSUSE 11.3 desktop panel.

The openSUSE 11.3 desktop.

Bundled Software

Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.

Games
AisleRiot
Chess
FreeCell
gbrainy
lagno
Mahjongg
Mines
Sudoku
Swell Foop

Graphics
Cheese
Eye of Gnome
F-Spot
GIMP
OpenOffice.org
XSane

Internet
Ekiga Softphone
Empathy
Evolution
Firefox
gFTP
Liferea
Network Tools
Transmission
XChat

Multimedia
Banshee
Brasero
Totem

Office
Evolution
OpenOffice.org
Tasque

Software Management
Software management has gotten a boost in this release, with some helpful changes having been made to YaST. There’s now a simple check box to install or remove software, an improved search box, and a history of changes available via Extras on the Menubar.

There’s also a summary of changes box that lets you undo changes and that also shows you changes to packages. You also get the option to close the software manager down or return to it after installing/removing is complete.

There have been some changes to the software included with openSUSE 11.3 as well. Empathy is now the default IM client, and you can send files via drag and drop. Banshee has also gotten some upgrades including a grid view for albums, automatic play queuing, new extensions, and audio equalizer support. Transmission is included with DHT already enabled.

Software Repositories
You can add more repositories by opening the Software Manager and then clicking on Configuration then Repositories. OpenSUSE 11.3 does not lack in terms of bundled software and additional software in the existing respositories. Most users will find virtually all of their software needs already met with the existing repositories.

Adding & Removing Software
As noted above, adding or removing software is even easier in this release. Just find the software you want in Software Manager, then click the checkbox next to it, then click Apply. If it has dependencies, they will automatically be added before you click Apply.

Sound and Multimedia

YouTube & Flash

In order to run YouTube videos, you’ll need to install flash. Just go into Software Manager, and do a search for flash. OpenSUSE comes with some good multimedia applications such as Banshee, Brasero, and Totem. As I note below, it would be really nice to see some web based multimedia content included in OpenSUSE 11.3 in a future release. Local applications are necessary and good, but there’s so much more out there online that could be included.

Problems & Headaches

One thing I don’t care for about OpenSUSE 11.3 is the way you launch applications besides Favorite Applications. First, click the Computer button on the panel, then note that you must click More Applications. I’d much rather have cascading menus of applications. Once you click on an application in the popup menu, the menu disappears and you have to pull it up again to click on another application. I find this somewhat irritating, and non-intuitive.

Am I just being lazy here or what? It might not be a bad idea to let the Applications Browser stay open after an application is launched.

Another thing that might bother some users is that, SpiderOak aside, openSUSE 11.3 really isn’t very cloud-oriented. Its history is in installable software, not web applications so this is understandable. However, after using Peppermint OS One and Peppermint Ice, I’ve come to appreciate the virtue of web applications being built into distros. So it would be nice to see openSUSE move in that direction and include web apps in its application menus in future releases.

One last complaint, why the hell does this distro have to be called “openSUSE” instead of “OpenSUSE?” I absolutely will not start a sentence with a word that isn’t capitalized, so you have have noticed that some instances of the distro’s name are capitalized in this review and others are not. Can the openSUSE developers please consider changing the damn name to “OpenSUSE” instead? Sometimes the names given to technology absolutely drive me mad.

:blink: :sad: :cwy:

The Banshee music player.

Flash is not installed in Firefox by default.

Where To Get Help

Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum (registration takes less than a minute and you can login with your Facebook account if you want); everybody is welcome. You are welcome to post a message in the Linux Help section and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, but also many other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

You might also want to check out the openSUSE support portal. You’ll find documentation, mailing list archives, a link to the forums and lots more helpful information.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It

I’m extremely pleased with openSUSE 11.3, it’s a fantastic alternative to the various Ubuntu based distros. There’s an enormous amount of value bundled into openSUSE 11.3 for desktop users. It’s definitely one of the best desktop distros available right now and I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re already using a favorite distro, openSUSE 11.3 is worth checking out in a virtual machine as a backup distro or simply as a change of pace.

OpenSUSE is suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced Linux users. I recommend that beginners download the Live CD version first though, to get their feet wet with openSUSE without having to install it.

I’m very happy to see an old favorite of mine progress so far in this release. Give it a download, you won’t regret it.

What’s your take on this distro? Tell me in the comments below. Visit the DLR forum for more discussions. Visit JimLynch.com for opinion columns.

Summary Table:

Product: openSUSE 11.3
Web Site: http://www.opensuse.org
Price: Free
Pros: SpiderOak cloud service, netbook support, smartphone support, and LXDE support. Enhanced software management.
Cons: Lacks some of the web based application integration found in distros like Peppermint OS One and Peppermint Ice.
Suitable For: Beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users.
Summary: OpenSUSE 11.3 is finally a true contender in the desktop distro wars. It’s on par now with Ubuntu. This release adds a lot of value for desktop users.
Rating: 4/5