OpenSUSE 11.1 Review

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OpenSUSE 11 was released to the early this year. This distribution was upgraded from 10.3 which was released last year. OpenSUSE project is sponsored by Novell. Novell, famous for it Netware OS started the free OpenSUSE project about 2 years back. It is also famous for its controversial deal with Microsoft which drew a lot of criticism from the Open Source and Free Software community. Harsh words apart, lets take a look at the features of OpenSUSE 11.

Installation

The OpenSUSE installation disc is a 4.2 GB DVD. According to your needs, you can download either a 32-bit image for your 32-bit PC or a 64-bit image for a 64-bit processor based PC. A word of caution thought. If you’re downloading the 64-bit version of the OS, then make sure that you have at-least 4 GB of RAM installed in your computer. The 64-bit bit operating system will not be installable on 32-bit system but the 32-bit OS can be installed on the 64-bit processors.

As soon as the system boots from the DVD, you will see a beautiful greenish installation screen. The installer first asks you to accept the agreement. If you agree to the agreement then you can proceed forward to the installation procedure. Now the next thing that the installer asks you to select is your time-zone. Select the time zone specific to your place. I’ve selected Kolkata as my preferred time zone as I reside here in India. The next screen will present you with choosing the preferred desktop environment. There are four options here :-

KDE 4.0 – The latest version of the popular KDE, new but not that stable.

GNOME – GNOME 2.20 based version. Rock stable

KDE 3.5 – Old version of KDE. Also more stable than KDE 4.0

Other – Desktop managers like XFCE, FWM etc.

The desktop environment selection is the matter of choice. Select whichever you like. Personally, I like GNOME over KDE. But KDE has been upgraded to KDE 4.1 which brings a whole lot of new features to the Linux arena. So select whichever you like. As soon as you’ve selected the preferred version you’ll be presented with the partitioning screen.

One major thing that you’ll notice in OpenSUSE 11.1 is that the EULA is removed now. There’s only the license agreement that you’ll need to agree in order to install it on your system.

Partitioning

Now this is the part where most of the users get confused. Now its very, very easy to understand. You just have to keep in mind these things :-

‘/’ – This is the partition where your system will get installed. Its like the ‘C’ drive of Windows. This partition should be formatted in ext3 or reiserfs file-systems.

swap – This is the partition which is reserved for the virtual memory or the swap space. This is same as the virtual memory of the Windows OS but its a dedicated towards the swap-space only. Its filesystem is same as its name, swap.

/home – The place where your documents and stuff will be saved. Can be partitioned in XFX, JFS or simply ext3.

Now if you’re unsure how to partition the hard-disk, then the best way would be to create a free-space of about 10GB in Windows and then allocate that space to Linux. As soon as the installation begins and the partitioning screen comes, the installer will ask that whether you’d like to use the largest continuous free space. Just select it and installer will take care of the rest. The last option is to enter the desired username and password. Enter the best that you like. You can also select to auto-login although this is not recommended.

For the expert users there are a lot of configuration that can be set during the installation time. I won’t be covering those topics here as an entire book can be written on them. Now review your selection, click on install, make a coffee, go for a walk, watch TV etc for 15-30 minutes until your installation is finished.

The Desktop

Regardless, what desktop environment you selected, the one word which I would like to use to address the desktop is, marvelous. Be it KDE 4.0, KDE 3.5 or GNOME, the desktop is intuitive. Now if you’ve selected the KDE environment, you’ll notice that the programs are neatly organized under the categories. I’d like to mention few of them. Here are the apps that are included in KDE environments

 

Application

Task

OpenOffice.Org

Office work, word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation etc.

Amarok

One marvelous audio player.

Kaffeine

A video player.

K3B

A fabulous disc burning utility.

Firefox

The wonderful web-browser.

Konqueror

A file manager and a web-browser. Apple’s Safari is based on this browser.

Kamera

A digital photo organizing utility.

The GIMP

A very, very powerful image manipulation tool.

Kmail

The E-mail client.

Kopete

Universal chat client, supports multiple protocols.

There are whole bunch of KDE applications which are shipped with the installation DVD of OpenSUSE 11. But I can’t mention all of them here. The next thing that I’m going to cover are the GNOME applications.

 

Application

Task

OpenOffice.Org

A complete office suite containing word-processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and drawing.

Banshee

A wonderful audio player.

Totem

A video player.

Brasero

A new, disc burning app for GNOME

Firefox

A famous web-browser.

Evolution

An e-mail client with inbuilt calendering and address book.

F-Spot

A digital photo enhancement and organizing tool.

The GIMP

A very, very powerful image manipulation program.

Pidgin

A multi-protocol instant messenger.

Although these applications are made for the respective environments but they can also be installed on either desktop environments. There’s no compatibility problems in doing so.

The User Experience

No matter what desktop environment you’re working on, OpenSUSE is a dream come true for a normal user. The first thing that you’ll see is the new look and feel of the desktop. The KDE 4.0 desktop has been overhauled to a new look and feel. The new theme is called Oxygen. The GNOME interface, on the other hand, remains unchanged from the previous versions. But you can clearly see the difference between the GNOME desktop of OpenSUSE 11 as compared to the other GNOME desktops. The GNOME menu, also known as SLAB menu, is heavily revamped. The applications are neatly arranged under their respective categories.

Now the odds. The very first thing that you’ll notice when you’ll boot in the system is the unavailability of Microsoft fonts. This is a general issue with all Linux distros. But in other distros, notably Ubuntu, these fonts can be installed easily via the Synaptic Package Manager. But you’ll have to get around this problem in OpenSUSE. The second thing is that, you’ll have to configure the repositories via visiting www.community-opensuse.org site. Here you can explore the various 1-click installation packages available. You can install multimedia support, graphic drivers etc just by clicking on it. One more benefit is of doing this is that the repositories are automatically added to your computer. So the next time when you want to install something, you can install it by add-remove programs. You can also install non-free apps like Opera and Adobe Reader on OpenSUSE.

Administration

YaST or Yet Another Setup Tool is the most powerful tool available on any platform across any operating system on the planet. This is even better than Microsoft Windows’ Control Panel or Mac OS X’s System Preferences. There are a whole lot of things that you can do with the help of YaST. You can setup networking, add-remove programs, configure modems (even mobile phones are detected as modems), configure a home-server, a Samba server for Windows’ networks, an FTP server etc. All these things are configured in a very simple and elegant manner. The security and stability of OpenSUSE is also very, very powerful. I never, ever encountered a system crash in my 3 years experience with OpenSUSE.

Summing it Up

In my opinion, OpenSUSE is one of the crowning jewels of FOSS community. However, there are many areas in which OpenSUSE has to improve itself. Hardware detection is still not up-to-the-mark. Fedora rules here. Secondly, the problem of adding repositories and setting them up is still around. This should be upgraded to something like Synaptic Package Manager of Ubuntu and other Debian based distributions. On the other hand, it has the most powerful tool, YaST, which can be used to tinker around with the system. The beauty of this tool is that it even runs from the command line interface. So you don’t need to depend on graphical environment to use YaST. This is a must try for every Linux user.

Rating :- 9.2

Pros :- Vast software library on DVD, YaST, beautiful desktops, solid security.

Cons :- Hardware detection, setting up repositories.

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