openSUSE is one of the most popular desktop distros available. This time around it’s version 12.1 that has been released. If you aren’t familiar with openSUSE then you should know that it comes in KDE, GNOME, Xfce and LXDE versions. For this review I’ve picked the KDE version of openSUSE 12.1. I may do a quick look at the GNOME version on Eye On Linux later though.
Speaking of the GNOME version of openSUSE 12.1, I took a quick peek at it to see if the openSUSE had made any significant changes to the dreadful GNOME 3 desktop. Unfortunately, they didn’t though they should have. The Linux Mint developers did a good job on altering the GNOME 3.2 desktop to make it usable; I had hoped the openSUSE developers would do the same. Alas, perhaps they will in the next release. The lack of GNOME 3 tweaks is one of the reasons why I decided to review the KDE version instead.
Okay, enough babble about GNOME. Let’s get on with this review of openSUSE 12.1 KDE.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Linux kernel 3.1
Apper software manager (renamed KPackageKit)
KolorManager + Oyranos (color management tools)
Chromium added to the repositories (but not included in the default install)
Support for ownCloud including the Mirall tool
Samba 3.6.1 Systemd for booting
Snapper for system snapshot functionality
Sax3 for keyboard, mouse, monitor, touchpad configuration
YaST bug fixes and tweaks Latest desktop environments
openSUSE comes with Linux kernel 3.1 and KDE 4.7.2. You can find a summary of changes to the kernel here, and the KDE 4.7.2 announcement here. Highlights for the kernel update include better ext4 and btrfs file systems, as well as better memory management and data handling.
Systemd now handles the booting of openSUSE 12.1 and promises faster boot times. I didn’t notice a difference, frankly. But then again I’ve never really cared about boot times when using Linux. For the most part I rarely have to reboot anyway so I don’t really care if the boot time is a few seconds or whatever faster. But your mileage may vary and you may appreciate the inclusion of systemd in openSUSE 12.1.
The Apper software manager replaces KPackageKit in this release. Well actually, it is KPackageKit but it’s been renamed to Apper. I’ll have more to say about that in the software section of the review.
Chromium has been added to the repositories but, unfortunately, is not included as the default browser. For that you’ll find Firefox 7.1. While I still like Firefox, I’ve pretty much settled on Chromium/Chrome as my default browser on all operating systems.
This release also now supports ownCloud and includes the Mirall tool. I have more to say about them in the problems section of the review. Suffice to say though that I don’t think they are very relevant right now for most desktop users.
openSUSE 12.1 also supports the latest KDE, GNOME, Xfce and LXDE desktops. This review covers the KDE version, but you should check out one of the others if you prefer it to the KDE version of openSUSE 12.1.
Snapper lets you manage system snapshots if you’ve used btrfs for your root and home file system. Next, I’ll look at the hardware requirements and I’ll show what the install routine looks like in this distro.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
Here’s what you’ll need to run this distro:
Pentium* III 500 MHz or higher processor (Pentium 4 2.4 GHz or higher or any AMD64 or Intel* EM64T processor recommended) Main memory: 512 MB physical RAM (1 GB recommended)
Hard disk: 3 GB available disk space (more recommended)
Sound and graphics cards: supports most modern sound and graphics cards, 800 x 600 display resolution (1024 x 768 or higher recommended)
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
The install is easy though not as elegant as Ubuntu’s installer. Newbies should be able to get through it without a problem though. The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.
Booting & Login
Here’s what the booting and login screens look like:
When you first boot into your openSUSE 12.1 desktop, you’ll get a welcome message that contains helpful links to information about the openSUSE project, as well as community support and the openSUSE Build Service. If you are new to openSUSE, it’s certainly worth your time to check out some of those links. There’s a lot of helpful information there that will help you learn about openSUSE.
The desktop itself contains icons for Firefox, My Computer, LibreOffice, Online Help and the welcome message.
Themes & Wallpaper
The wallpaper is vintage openSUSE, with the green colors with a whitish swirl and the openSUSE mascot in the bottom right corner. You can easily change the theme and wallpaper to suit your tastes. openSUSE doesn’t come with much in the way of choice, but it’s easy to go online to get more themes and wallpaper.
YaST2 is openSUSE’s system manager and it’s a very comprehensive tool. In this release YaST2 has gotten bug fixes and some small improvements. If you haven’t used YaST2 before, take a few minutes and browse around it to get used to its interface. It will be helpful to you later if you decide to change your system and need to make the adjustments in YaST2.
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
Gwenview Image Viewer
As I noted earlier in the review, Apper is the latest and renamed version of KPackageKit. Apper promises to be faster than KPackageKit and offer greater stability as per the blog of its developer:
First Apper is based on my rework of packagekit-qt which is called packagekit-qt2, and this rework makes Apper much faster than KPackageKit was, the inner details is that we don’t use the huge QSharedPointer for packages and don’t create a bunch of useless stuff unless the user asks, I didn’t measured the time but first time you run it you will surely notice. This also means Apper is more stable since packagekit-qt2 has a cleaner code and a nicer API. Second Apper has several user interface changes and a much nicer integration with KDE.
It’s hard for me to say whether or not there really has been a noticeable speed increase since I never used KPackageKit for very long in the past. I’d be very interested in hearing the thoughts of regular KDE users in the comments below. Let me know if Apper is indeed faster and more stable than KPackageKit was. If so then the developer certainly deserves some praise for improving it.
I do like the fact that the left frame is gone. It makes the interface look a lot better and more cohesive. On the whole, Apper seems to be a good update of KPackageKit.
However, if you are going to install or remove software in openSUSE 12.1 you should use YaST2 instead of Apper. When I tried to install applications using Apper, I got a “simulating the install” message but the application didn’t get installed. I was able to install it via YaST2 though.
It’s potentially confusing to have what seem to be two different software management tools in a desktop distro like this. Newbies might not understand why two of them are included. So if you are going to use openSUSE 12.1, you’re probably better off skipping Apper and just going ahead with YaST2 as your software manager. Just open YaST2 and then click the Software Management icon to get started.
Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
Flash isn’t installed by default so you’ll have to open YaST2 and do a quick search for it in the software management menu. Install it and then restart your browser and you should be able to run YouTube videos, flash games, etc.
openSUSE 12.1 comes with a pretty basic number of multimedia applications. Amarok, K3B, KsCD, and a couple of others are installed by default. Don’t worry though, you can fire up YaST2 to find many more in the Multimedia section of its software management page.
Problems & Headaches
Software management was not a pleasant experience in openSUSE 12.1. I initially tried to install Chromium in Apper. I got some sort of message saying that the install was being simulated or something. Huh? The install never actually seemed to happen.
I gave up on Apper and tried to install it via YaST2. The install seemed to work but I didn’t notice Chromium in the Internet applications menu until after I ran software update and then restarted openSUSE 12.1. The same went for Banshee, it didn’t seem to appear in the menus until after I restarted openSUSE 12.1.
I’m not really sure what the problem was with the software installs, but it was a bit odd to see that happening. Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen anything similar or perhaps I was just cursed this time around with openSUSE 12.1.
One of the more interesting new features is openSUSE 12.1′s support for ownCloud. Part of its support includes the Mirall tool. However, this tool does not seem to be installed by default and there seems to be no easy or quick way to set up ownCloud without it. While I’m happy that openSUSE is supporting ownCloud, what good is it if there’s no easy way for desktop users to use it? You can get more information here about ownCloud and Mirall. Right now I don’t see it as being particularly useful for most desktop users since it’s not installed by default.
The burps above aside, I didn’t notice anything else in the way of problems with openSUSE 12.1. It was stable and relatively speedy for me. I didn’t see noticeable application or system crashes while I was using it.
Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum; everybody is welcome. Feel free to post a message in the forum and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, as well as other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.
You might also want to check out the OpenSUSE support portal page. You’ll find documentation, a support database, mailing list archives, forums and a link to IRC channels.
Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
openSUSE 12.1 is a fine desktop distro. The fact that it comes in a range of different desktop environments adds to its appeal. With the exception of the Apper software oddities, it performed very well for me.
openSUSE 12.1 is certainly worth a look if you are looking for an alternative to Ubuntu or if you’re just a curious distro hopper that hasn’t yet used openSUSE.
Beginner, intermediate or advanced users can use openSUSE 12.1. Beginners should take time to familiarize themselves with the system management tools found in YaST2 after installing openSUSE 12.1.
|Pros:||Comes in KDE, GNOME, Xfce and LXDE versions. Includes updated Linux kernel, KDE 4.7.2. Mirall tool provides support for ownCloud. Includes Snapper for snapshot functionality.|
|Cons:||Newbies could be confused as to whether they should use Apper or YaST2 for software management.|
|Suitable For:||Beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users. Support for ownCloud and the Mirall tool will be appreciated by advanced users.|