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First Look: openSUSE 11 with KDE4

A Quick Look at the Latest openSUSE Offering

  • June 19, 2008
  • By Dan Lynch

I was offered the chance to have an initial look at Novell's latest Linux offering openSUSE 11. It's a distribution I've tried in previous versions but often had trouble settling on. It seems very popular on enterprise desktops along with Red Hat. I got a copy of the KDE4 LiveCD and gave it a spin.

Kernel Version: 2.6.25.5-1.1-default
Packaging: RPM managed by Yast
Desktop: KDE 4 (GNOME and KDE3.5 versions available)

I fired up the KDE live CD to be greeted with a KDE4 desktop; the full openSUSE DVD comes with GNOME, KDE3.5 and XFCE installation options so there's plenty of choice. I used the install desktop icon and during the disk set-up stage it detected my disk's partition layout and actually offered to perform the operation I would normally choose manually: wiping and installing the 12-Gb root but preserving and mounting the larger /home partition (shown in Figure 1). This was impressive.

The installer has been rewritten in this version, according to the release notes, and it certainly runs smoothly performing the initial install in around 7mins, then taking another 5mins to complete set up after removing the CD and rebooting (see Figure 2). It's all very intuitive to use and seems a good improvement over previous versions.

I was soon looking at my installed KDE4 desktop, this is my first time using this version of KDE and I must say it looks very nice with desktop widgets and compositing effects built in (see Figure 3). I tend to be a GNOME fan but KDE seems to have more interesting innovations going on right now.

I was prompted by YAST to install system updates and it went smoothly. YAST is the all in one admin tool on SUSE and I've had mixed experiences with it in the past, especially where package management is concerned. This live CD is obviously a lot lighter than the full DVD and comes with less software bundled, but it does have everything the average user could need to get started. Including Firefox3 (beta 5 in this case), OpenOffice.org, Amarok music player and others, on top of the comprehensive suite of tools you get with KDE anyway.

I attempted to install GIMP using YAST but ran into some problems (see Figure 4), it seemed the RPM file couldn't be found on the openSUSE server which was disappointing.

Next I tried the SUSE Build Service, which works in a similar way to Click'N'Run from Linspire, it's a searchable online collection of packages with one click installation. I found GIMP didn't want to install from there either, unfortunately, and it seems at the time of writing the openSUSE servers are overwhelmed by demand. My Nvidia graphics drivers were installed already but I had to turn on desktop effects using the "configure desktop" applet from the main menu. Dolphin has replaced Konqueror as the default file manager in KDE4 and it's a big improvement, I think, but still doesn't quite feel as comfortable as Nautilus or Thunar for my taste.

The hardware support seems good on this Dell XPS m1330 notebook but I did have some trouble getting my wireless to work. I was able to see my network but couldn't connect even after adding the WPA2 pass phrase in the settings. I spent a while looking this but ended up sticking to a wired connection. This might be due to my reliance on Network Manager in GNOME, which does come with the GNOME version of openSUSE. I need to look at this again in future.

Installing multimedia codecs was pretty easy as I was taken to the openSUSE website when trying to open an MPEG2 video file for the first time. The information here is good and the whole site contains a lot of useful guides I must say, good for users new to the distro I think. I skipped the Fluendo option and chose to install the codec pack under community options. I was then able to play MP3 music and restricted video formats without any problems (see Figure 5). This package also installs Java and Adobe Flash for you web browser so it's very useful (see Figure 6).

Despite some problems with YAST and my own lack of knowledge of KDE4 I think this release is a good improvement on openSUSE 10.3 and I will be taking a longer look at the GNOME version very soon. This still feels very much like a business desktop to me with it's Windows-like looks and focus on office and enterprise apps.

A lot of work has gone into making this integrate with a typical enterprise Windows domain, which is no doubt helped by the controversial deal struck between Novell and Microsoft last year. This distro is not quite as straightforward for novice users to get to grips with as the likes of Linux Mint or Mandriva but in an office environment it's a real contender and this is of course Novell's intended market.

I will get hold of the full DVD when the rush dies down and give it a full review. In the meantime, check it out for yourself here.


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