Leapin' Lizards: openSUSE Jumps to 11.1 Tomorrow

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 17, 2008

On Thursday, the openSUSE project will make available its stable 11.1 release. I was fortunate enough to take a sneak peek at the new release this week, and while the changes aren't quite as dizzying as those between 10.3 and 11.0 (understandably), they work nicely to make this new release both eye-catching and functional.

Though the final releases will be offered in a variety of architectures with DVD, network install, and liveCD images, I used one of the DVD install images. openSUSE offered an installer with the 11.0 liveCD, and in its 11.1 beta versions, and I imagine this has not changed. The DVD install process is slightly different than liveCD installers, but is just as straightforward and offers more from the get-go.

Though I have a 64-bit system, I used the 32-bit openSUSE. Much of this was due to internal compatibility of software (though I've found openSUSE to be one of the better Linux distributions when it comes to handling 64-bit applications -- and Linux is far ahead of other systems here in general) and the quirkiness some 32-bit distributions have when booting on 64-bit systems. Some 32-bit distributions require the -noapic argument be added to the kernel commands at boot. openSUSE has in the past -- this time, it didn't.

A few aspects of YaST, the openSUSE installation utility, have gotten make overs for 11.1. I looked at the early changes in the new partitioning module in November, and recently openSUSE stopped using a click-through EULA in favor of an open license agreement and changes in the way optional non-free code is delivered.

Most of the installation is generic -- configuring timezones, keyboard and language localization and default desktop environments. The GNOME 2.24.1 desktop is available. For KDE fans, it seems using KDE4 is encouraged, though openSUSE still offers KDE 3.5.10 as a desktop option. Xfce 4.4.2 and various window managers can be chosen here, as well. I opted for KDE4, primarily because it had been some time since I'd used it, and I've found traditionally openSUSE has felt more polished on the GNOME front, so changes would likely be more noticeable from the KDE4 desktop.

The previously mentioned license text caused a bit of a stir, with some being concerned that it would be harder to add any desired non-free software (such as Adobe Flash). openSUSE couldn't have found a more elegant way of handling this concern -- as well as the concerns of those who would like a free system. After the license agreement text displays, there is a checkbox asking if you'd like the non-free repositories added to your installation. After you've made the decision, the non-OSS repositories are added to YaST -- or simply ignored.

The partitioning module, though revamped from 11.0, is not terribly different from when I took a look at it in beta. If an operating system exists on your hard disk already, openSUSE will try to repartition, squeezing itself around the existing system and suggest that as the partitioning scheme. If this isn't what you want (I tend to reformat / and preserve /home), the appropriate choice is to "Create New Partition Setup." Editing the partitions you see on the suggested pane will allow some changes, but editing options are limited, and it's better to leave this alone unless you are planning to run co-existing systems.

One of the areas that openSUSE improved greatly moving from 10.3 to 11.0, and again from 11.0 to 11.1 is speed. I expected the DVD media to take some time, as I installed core/suggested packages and selected a few additional package groups. My live image installs were quite speedy (and are a relatively new feature to openSUSE), but this DVD installation has officially retired the era of the "hour and a half install." The actual installation from DVD took a bit longer than a live media install, but live media, of course, offers less initially. The installation process in its entirety is longer than a liveCD install, mainly due to the fact that with live media some choices are already made for you (desktop environment, package selection).

The real test starts after installation. My hardware was recognized -- all of it, almost perfectly. The traditional sticking points with any distribution on my machine tend to be my video card (which usually gets the NVIDIA generic driver, and graphics acceleration isn't -- can't -- be enabled) my monitor (an off-brand LCD), and oddly, just in the RPM based distributions, my printer.

My video card was identified correctly, the proper driver was installed (probably due to the inclusion of the non-OSS repositories), and acceleration was enabled on first boot. My monitor was identified as a VESA monitor, and not a generic LCD, but this happens regardless of distribution. For the first time in months, I had an RPM-based distribution work with my printer, an Epson Stylus CX7400. The drivers selected previously were always correct (and worked with Debian-based systems) but never successfully printed anything.

openSUSE 11.1, with KDE4, is stable, responsive and feels -- above all -- well thought-out and polished. I have always preferred GNOME's rendering of YaST, but there seems to have been some streamlining of YaST's appearance that makes switching from the GNOME-centric version to the one in KDE feel very natural. The beauty for me, right now, is that I installed openSUSE, and I haven't had to think about doing much else to make it work, aside from adjusting the monitor settings.

At this time, the safest way to upgrade openSUSE to 11.1 from previous versions is to grab an .iso (the DVD image installer asks if this is an upgrade, repair, or new install). Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier, openSUSE's community manager, says that work is being done to make distribution upgrades possible through Zypper in a similar manner to apt-get dist-upgrade, but there's a little more testing to be done on that front.

openSUSE 11.1 may be an incremental release, and the changes may not particularly call attention to themselves, but sometimes that's the whole point. This release builds on the previous version that introduced so many new features -- and was still quite stable and solid -- by smoothing out the rough edges, streamlining both look and behavior, and making something that was initially very nicely done really shine.