Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the category “OpenSUSE”

OpenSUSE 11.0 – The Kobayashi Maru angle

The Kobayashi Maru scenario figures in various Star Trek novels. It’s a no-win scenario that only a few are able to beat. One of those is Mackenzie Calhoun, the main character in the New Frontier books, who simply blew the Kobayashi Maru and it’s crew to smithereens. Writing about Linux distributions is like that, a no-win scenario. Yesterday I decided to follow Calhoun’s lead and smashed the reviewing process.

What is surprising is that I didn’t actually hide the fact it was a bogus review. Still, some were offended to enough to start defending their own little distributions against this unwarranted onslaught. But why has reviewing Linux distributions become a Kobayashi Maru scenario?

In essence, what set’s one distribution apart from the other? Is it the software collection? The choice of graphical interface? Hardly. Within a certain timeframe all distributions have similar collections with slight third-digit differences in version numbers. All major distributions have to juggle between providing a userfriendly distribution while at the same time wondering about licensing and other rights. Smaller distributions can get away with adding default support for this, but the larger ones can’t. Hence the necessity for creative solutions, either by providing easy access to repositories or simply paying for the fees themselves. The quality of the creative solution is one way to set itself apart.

One can distinguish oneself in but a few areas. Installation routine? Yes, somewhat, though it limited to the amount of questions you would want to ask your user. You can add some shine to it, but the essence of the routine is virtually the same.

The next area is that of management tools. Managing users, groups, hardware, various settings and software, but to name a few that are of interest to end-users. It’s here that we see the differences creeping in. SUSE/OpenSUSE users will point to YasT, Mandriva users to the various *drakes, Fedora users will see what is the current flavour of the month and proclaim that and Ubuntu users start looking for the generic names that describe the main functions of the tool.

Now, the issue is that working with these tools is an acquired art or taste. When migrating from Windows to Linux you will have to learn to work with these and once you are used to them -with all their quirks and idiosyncracies- it becomes harder to move to another distribution that provides “yet another graphical innovative frontend for basically the same function”, shortened to YAGIF. Every YAGIF requires getting used to. You might like your YAGIF but that is in itself insufficient proof that it is better than the other YAGIF.

Sadly, some participants in online discussions fail to see this. They simply see an all out attack on their favorite distribution, claiming that the other distribution didn’t work on their machine. Right… What they are actually saying is they didn’t understand the other distribution enough to make it work for them. Why can I say this? Well, because tons of others will yell that they didn’t have any problems getting hardware X running with distribution Y. And vice versa of course.

The development of Linux distributions is an evolutionary process. Packages are developed constantly and a distribution is a snapshot of that process. In each distribution release innovative new features are heralded that finally solve whatever problem is the fad of the day. 2007 was the year of Compiz and 2008 seems to become the year of PulseAudio, “yet another tool to solve a problem that was to be solved by the previous yet another tool”. I’m not arguing that PulseAudio is good or bad, I’m simply saying that previous solutions were heralded as well without actually solving all problems. The development should continue, but it shouldn’t be something to bicker about in the comments.

So, what are my real impressions of OpenSUSE 11.0? For one, it is a decent release. In fact it is better than the 10.x releases or SLED 10. It is way faster and snappier and more polished in various areas.

The solution for the multimedia issue is elegant and easy to use for novice users. Adding the collection of other repositories isn’t what I call elegant. Plus, if you enable them all (something a novice user might do) you run into problems with dependencies that can’t be solved. I would rate the software management tool between that of Ubuntu (easier to use) and Fedora 9 (who ever came up with that idea).

I don’t like the menupanel in GNOME or KDE. It looks nice, seems elegant, but it requires way too many clicks to get to the program I want. The ‘older’ program trees requires two clicks (menu and the program) instead of clicking from panel to panel. Yes, I can change that without a problem.

I have been working with OpenSUSE 11.0 for a couple of days now and will continue to do so for some time to come. However, not a day went by with at least a few program crashes or error messages. Simply launching the file manager is enough to get another crash report. Of the tested spring releases (Ubuntu, Fedora and Mandriva are the other ones) OpenSUSE is the only one that shows this behavior. To answer your question: no, I didn’t file bug reports. No doubt all problems will be fixed and the fixes be made available through the update channels. That is one of the things you can count on with open source software.

Is OpenSUSE 11.0 better than Vista, Leopard, Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, SabayonLinux, Fedora or whatever other distribution you can think of? Well, better than Vista perhaps, but that’s easy. In comparison to all other distributions it is safe to say that OpenSUSE 11.0 is keeping pace with them, satisfying their own userbase the most, but hardly bringing something so innovative that it would lure users away from them.

“Computer. End program.”

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.

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