OpenSUSE 11.0: Shine and annoyance
OpenSUSE 11.0 is another major Linux spring release. Ubuntu 8.04, Mandriva 2008 Spring and Fedora 9 preceded it. SUSE was the first (and only) distribution I bought. This new release will become the basis for the commercial offering SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11, which Novell will bring to market in 2009. The first buzz on the net about OpenSUSE 11.0 is clouded by negative feelings about Novell’s involvement.
Maybe I became a bit blasÃ© over the last few years. I don’t really expect revolutionary changes from one release to the other. The rapid evolutionary pace of the development of free and open source software seems to preclude that as well. Let’s face even the multiyear pauses between releases of Windows or Mac OSX don’t bring revolutionary new concepts in the way I use my computer. Hence, I expected the logical incremental improvements in OpenSUSE 11.0 that were noticeable in the other distributions as well. The collection of packages has been updated to the state-of-the-art. OpenSUSE has put it’s own mark on the GNOME desktop and sticks with it in this release. Even if it isn’t my preference (yet), I think it’s a good thing to stand out from the crowd and have something unique.
The install wizard had a complete makeover. It does look much better. There are two settings for the configuration option, the default being for less-experienced users. As a user you have quite some control over partitioning, for instance being offered to choose between standard partitioning or LVM and being able to encrypt the drive. By default /home get’s it’s own partition, something not all distributions offer.
OpenSUSE and SUSE used to be the slowest in term of the time it took to install them. OpenSUSE 11.0 does seem to have improved that. It’s still not as fast as -for instance- Ubuntu, but it isn’t dragging it’s feet as well. There have been some comments about the questions and settings you are confronted with during installation. Personally I appreciate to have the opportunity to fine tune the configuration at this stage.
I would have to spend some more time on OpenSUSE 11.0 to write a review about it, time that I don’t have at the moment, but two annoyances I need to mention here. OpenSUSE has been and still is the only distribution that turns out with ugly grainy fonts at first run. I install tons of distributions in virtual machines and they simply show off their beauty without a problem. Not so with OpenSUSE (or SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop for that matter). Of course, this can be fixed, but as the saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.
The second annoyance were the software repositories. Yast is the tool of choice to manage the software and updates the lists from the repositories is one of the first things to do. I was met with error messages that package lists couldn’t be found. The option “ignore” didn’t really ring a bell, since it would try it again, and again, and again. That made adding the necessary multimedia support more painful than it should have been.
Anyway, the first buzz from the digital realm is that OpenSUSE 11.0 is one of OpenSUSE’s better releases. The biggest criticism comes from – not completely a surprise- Roy Schestowitz from Boycott Novell. The issue isn’t the quality of the release, but the fact that Novell is working in tandem with Microsoft. I must say that their interoperability campaign site ruffled my feathers as well. Schestowitz position is mirrored by others in the digital realm.
As much as I understand the criticism, I do feel saddened by it. SUSE used to be a solid and stalwart promotor of free and open source software. The commercial boxsets had the best and most extensive collection of manuals and tutorials in the field, showing it understood the need of new W2L migrators. For Novell it was good thinking to buy SUSE and use it to salvage it’s declining Netware business. Corporations are driven by other sentiments than the communities of developers, as the recent remarks of Nokia’s VP show. Corporations will enter into strategic partnerships to protect or expand their market share and thus the partnership between Microsoft and Novell does make sense. But I am also raising my eyebrows at the attempts spearheaded by Novell to port Microsoft-based technology (.Net and Silverlight) to Linux (Mono and Moonlight).
Well, the market will have it’s own say about it. OpenSUSE 11.0 is ready for download for 32-bits and 64-bits machines, as well as for the PowerPC architecture. If you like, you can buy a boxset for 60 euro with the dvd, a manual and 90-day support.