Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the category “Linux on the Bench”

OpenSUSE 11.0 beats Vista, Leopard and Ubuntu hands down

The battle of operating systems is over. The dust clouds of the Linux distributions wars can finally settle down. The victor is known to all and we simply have to bow our heads in gratitude. After working intensely with OpenSUSE 11.0 for at least a full day there is not a shadow of doubt that this is the release everyone has been waiting for.

Granted, the 200 improvements in OpenSUSE fall short of Mac OS X Leopard’s 300, but who is counting. It’s the result that counts. The shiny and polished interface with applications a couple of clicks (and then some more) away simply obliterates the murky Mac OS X screen.

Yes, Ubuntu, you had your moments. You had your time in the limelight, but you are so gone. Just look at the software repositories. Come on, do you really think you can master the Linux universe with main, restricted, universe and multiverse? Take your cue from OpenSUSE. Once you have added the multimedia related repositories you already have 7 or 8 in the list. And by clicking “Add” there are at least ten more to add. The brilliance of structure and organization this proves. Of course, the package manager is par to none in order to keep software management working flawlessly without so much as a hick up.

Beating Vista hands down is like stealing the milk bottle from an infant, but since all other Linux distibutions fall short of doing that, it is a marvel how OpenSUSE achieved it. It truly is.

Yes, this mother of all Linux distributions will be responsible for the utter demise of Microsoft, Apple and will create an immensity of spare time for all maintainers of other distributions. By all means an achievement worthy of it’s own wikipedia entry.

Disclaimer: this article was written at the speed of typing. I didn’t actually think about it. Of course, I can not be held responsible for the truthfulness of the statements.This isn’t a review, I simply wondered how much superlatives it needs to satisfy the ones who become angry at an article that more realistically describes their favorite Linux distribution. But, truly, OpenSUSE is worth a look.

OpenSUSE – searching for programs and packages

I had some writing to do and this provided a good opportunity to actually spend a few hours on OpenSUSE 11.0. When trying to work with OpenSUSE the way I am used to work I quickly needed to install some new programs. I use Abiword often, since it is light and fast. Under Ubuntu I need to install both Abiword and a plugin pack in order to have proper support for various document formats. Now it was but one package to take care of it all.

Bluefish was next on my list. I wasn’t surprised not to find it in the repositories. Basically all RPM-based distributions I tested in the last six months didn’t have it in the repositories. Downloading and installing the RPM-package from the website was the simple solution.

Installing my Bible study tool via Wine was a necessity. I am preparing a new talk and access to the reference materials is paramount. I have no problems installing the tool under Wine with Ubuntu, but with OpenSUSE the install routine crashed repeatedly without leaving an error message that I could interpret.

Later today I wanted to install Prism, the new toy that brings webbased applications to the desktop.It isn’t in the repository and so I added it as an extension to Firefox. I also downloaded the latest version from the website.

Looking for software that isn’t there is a nuisance, though you can’t expect the repositories to contain everything you like. What really got on my nerve was the menu panel. I switch from app to app and to click on Computer, then on More programs and then have to wait in order to see the list and then find the application is cumbersome and requires more mouse clicks than I want. Okay, I didn’t dump it immediately. I added a new panel and a menubar.

What a relief! With this it was no problem to enable the 3D effects on my laptop. I finally found the menu entry to do that. :p

Banshee 1.0 received a cursory glance today. I noticed my Last.FM stream now previews the next three songs. It made me forget Rhythmbox.

OpenSUSE 11.0 on Acer Aspire 3681 WXMi

While the Dutch soccer team got kicked out of the European Championship tournament I was watching the Earthquake 10.5 miniseries on the other channel and installing OpenSUSE 11.0 on my laptop. The series was fun with the usual list of plot elements. Intelligent scientist with ludicrous idea which proves to be the only correct idea, but isn’t accepted at first for lack of social skills? Check. Disaster can only be averted if the nation comes together and we do something that has never been done before (like fusing a vault line with five nukes)? Check. S.O.B. with family issues turns hero, sacrifices himself for the cause? Check. Happy end? Euh… well, not really. See, the plan didn’t work 100% and so a large chunk of California did wash into the ocean. Some morality to top it of? Check.

What does this have to do with installing OpenSUSE 11.0 on my Acer Aspire 3681 WXMi laptop? Nothing, of course, though it does indicate that installing it was pretty painless. The laptop has been multibooting between Ubuntu 7.10 and Ubuntu 8.04 for the last two months. The bad thing about writing two books on Ubuntu Linux at the same time is that you are looking at the default human theme quite extensively. Now that I am wrapping up the work on the manuscripts I can replace Ubuntu 8.04 with something new.

‘Pretty painless’ doesn’t equal ‘without quirks’. For one, I like to keep the GRUB for the ‘toy distribution’ away from MBR and put it on it’s own partition. OpenSUSE apparently decided not to go along with that. At least, I couldn’t find an easy way (tick box, anyone?) to install it anywhere else but MBR.

The second issue was getting wifi up and running. The solution was found and after following the suggestions I could go online without an ethernet cable attached to my laptop.

The issues I had with the software repositories and the ugly fonts were gone with this regular install. I could add the multimedia support almost without a problem (it had to be repeated twice to get everything).

Good, time to get some work done.

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 blasé 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.

Mike Kavis – Comparing Linux Distributions

Mike Kavis tried out various Linux distributions over the last months, both 32-bits and 64-bits versions, in search for a distribution with ease of use and ease of install.

The conclusion: when it comes to user friendly distributions it is a close finish, but he recommends Kubuntu and Mepis

Summary

All of these distros except OpenSuse (couldn’t load) are great options for those wanting to move to Linux (I will try Mint again later). For those who are more experienced with administering Linux desktops, you may have come to different conclusions. I did spend a lot
of time with most distros performing command line magic to make some things work (especially on the 64-bit environment). Kubuntu and Ubuntu were the only distros where I just installed and went on my way. All others required some amount of tweaking.

I had the luxury of owning several different machines and some time to experiment with the different Linux distributions. Each distribution that I was able to get up and running ran well. I was able to make use out of some old machines that were running poorly on XP. Most importantly, my new laptop that was running Vista very slowly is now cruising with Mepis.

By no means was this a highly scientific experiment. This is the view from a technical guy with limited systems administration skills. Take it for what it’s worth. My recommendation is Kubuntu and Mepis.

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