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openSUSE 11.4 review – KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed shine

by Koen Vervloesem

Do you want to run the newest software like KDE 4.6 and LibreOffice 3.3? OpenSUSE 11.4 has it all on offer, and if you’re really impatient there’s even a rolling updates repository in the form of Tumbleweed. Koen Vervloesem investigates…

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If you have experience with various Linux distros, it’s hard to be excited about openSUSE, as on the surface it doesn’t seem to have changed that much in recent years. Of course, open source development doesn’t stand still, so you’ll find a lot of major version bumps in the distribution’s software when you upgrade from openSUSE 11.3 to 11.4, especially if you choose the KDE desktop environment. OpenSUSE 11.4 gives you the newest KDE 4.6, LibreOffice 3.3.1 and even beta 12 of Firefox 4. Under the hood the developers have also integrated the newest components, including Linux kernel 2.6.37 (the 32-bit kernel supports 4 GB of RAM, no need to install a PAE kernel), X.Org 1.9 and Mesa 7.9.

openSUSE 11.4 review - KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed shine
OpenSUSE runs the KDE 4.6 desktop with its own fetching Stripes artwork

Most of the new features you’ll encounter in daily use are due to the KDE project. KDE 4.6 has made its Activities system more easy-to-use and the file manager Dolphin has added ‘faceted browsing’: you can search through your files using their metadata as filters. A new sidebar shows these filters you can select, e.g. the rating you gave to your music files. KDE 4.6 also includes smarter power management preferences and a new Bluetooth back end. A couple of KDE applications have gained support for social networks: the image viewer Gwenview has a Share button to export pictures to popular photo sharing and social networking websites, and the screenshot program KSnapshot has received the same functionality. Of course you’re not obliged to run KDE: the openSUSE 11.4 DVD also offers GNOME, Xfce and LXDE to choose from, although KDE is still the distribution’s focus.

openSUSE 11.4 review - KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed shine
Upload your pictures to social networking web sites with ease and panache

The notable distribution-specific improvements are not that numerous in openSUSE 11.4: most of them are tiny but still noticeable. For instance, package management with zypper or YaST is noticeably faster and the update applet has been replaced by KDE’s KPackageKit. Moreover, KSynaptiks is now configured by default to recognize touchpad clicks and to disable the touchpad while you’re typing, so you’ll never accidentally type your sentence in a completely different window because your palm is rubbing on the touchpad. And if you want to experiment with the newest technologies, openSUSE offers the new init daemon systemd and the new boot manager GRUB2, though neither are enabled by default.

openSUSE 11.4 review - KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed shine
KPackageKit has replaced the software update applet

One game-changing new feature is Tumbleweed, a “rolling updates” version of the distribution. If you don’t have the patience to wait until the next openSUSE release (which has a eight-month release cycle) to use newer versions of the software, but if you don’t want to try the bleeding edge Factory repository (which is the openSUSE development release), Tumbleweed could be right the thing you need: it provides you with the latest stable releases of software. This all depends on openSUSE’s package maintainers: they choose which version of their package is ‘stable’ enough to be packaged in Tumbleweed. Just add the Tumbleweed repository and upgrade your system to the Tumbleweed versions, after which you’ll never have to upgrade to a newer openSUSE release. However, there’s one caveat: if you need proprietary graphics drivers, Tumbleweed can give you some headaches because it frequently updates the kernel, after which you’ll have to reinstall the drivers. But in most circumstances, Tumbleweed looks like the right balance between stability and new software.

openSUSE 11.4 review - KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed shine
Upgrade openSUSE 11.4 to a rolling updates release with Tumbleweed. Nice.

Advanced users will also love that they can spin their own customized openSUSE 11.4 image with SUSE Studio. Inexperienced Linux users, on the other hand, will still have some problems with openSUSE: the default repository lacks a number of high-profile packages, such as OpenShot, Dropbox or WordPress. Many of these are available in Packman or other popular repositories or in the openSUSE Build Service, but new users won’t find their way to these software sources easily.

Verdict: 4/5
OpenSUSE 11.4 is much like its predecessor, so it’s not easy to pinpoint specific reasons for why you should upgrade. It mostly boils down to newer software releases, which is not irrelevant with openSUSE’s eight-month release cycle. And if you find this release cycle too long, Tumbleweed can definitely help you out, with a relatively low chance that things might go wrong…

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    • Joe

      Good article!

      I tried out 11.4 and was quite impressed with the speed of the OS. I’m mostly an Ubuntu user, so it was nice to try out a different OS.

      However, I ran into difficulties when installing the NVIDIA driver. There is a known issue with Amarok and some Plasma apps crashing with the proprietary driver.

      Do you know if enabling Tumbleweed will fix these issues. They are, unfortunately, show stoppers for my users on NVIDIA hardware.


    • Luka

      I’ve been testing out various KDE distros lately and with openSUSE 11.4 I finally made the switch (from Ubuntu, which I used ever since I started with Linux). What can I say, openSUSE with KDE is completely awesome. It’s almost the perfect distribution. I have to check out this Tumbleweed thingy some more, sounds very interesting.

    • Ragnar

      It’s hard to say after one week try if SUSE 11.4 KDE is great. However that Tumbleweed (giving rolling release feeling) is a good choice. Personally i don’t see 8 months cycle as too long. As Linus has said – 6 month cycle period could be pretty hard for any Linux distribution.

      About KDE 4.6 – today i got first headache coz after booting to desktop there were several application icons behind the lowbar (Thunderbird, Chromium etc…). I guess my pc was shutdown yesterday evening without clousing those applications. Or perhaps desktop activities (i’ve several of them) made that mess. KDE of PCLinux 2010 was the reason why i stopped using PCLOS after 4 week. It looks like it has lots of bugs still.

    • Ragnar

      When i was using Fedora 13 i got several problems with Nvidia drivers after every kernel update. Kernel update came first and perhaps 2 or 3 days later came the Nvidia update for that new kernel. So i had to edit menu.lst every main kernel update. Besides – in my dualboot machine Fedora 13 couldn’t hardly ever boot fine in the first time. Normally i got to try two, three, four, five or even more times to reach the desktop. That’s why i gave up and kicked out F13 and gave SUSE a try.

    • John G

      I did not find a corresponding Nvidia or ATI driver for the Tumbleweed kernels. For ATI/Nvidia laptops, computers, I would stick with the 11.4 repositories and add the Nvidia/ATI repositories as appropriate. For all other graphics cards, I would add the Tumbleweed repository

    • Good article!
      I have tested OpenSuSE with GNOME and results are not so nice…
      Everyone says I should try KDE.

    • John

      I have tried OpenSuse 11.4 but it seems to have some bugs. Yast2 (software manager) crashed for me.
      I guess they will fix that in time.
      If you look for a more stabile KDE 4 (installed in the harddrive) version with Firefox 4 and LibreOffice I can recommend Pardus2011:

    • Joseph

      I was a new Linux convert with openSUSE 11.3 and I didn’t find the lack of certain packages in the main repository a hindrance. One of the first things I did with YaST was select “add”, then “Community repositories” and you get a list of major repositories. I then checked off all the ones that seemed useful. :-) This tip is on some of the intro pages, quick-start guide, etc.

      Regarding Tumbleweed and kernels – perhaps a simple solution is simply to use the package manager to set the kernel as a “taboo” file that is never to be updated?

    • tseg

      I’ve been a long time Ubuntu gnome user but found it a bit “dry”. I had tried Opensuse 11.3 KDE but found it a bit slow and buggy. I came beck to Opensuse with 11.4 RC and have now made the permanent switch from Ubuntu. It really works well and is sharp looking. I’m still nervous about using Tumbleweed because I’m not looking forward to Nvidia driver issues at inopportune moments… but that’s just me and can see it’s value to others who play around with their computer as a hobby.

    • Penguinclaw

      Nice article! But I need too add my enthusiasm… This is, IMHO, the best Linux distro yet. I’ve been around the block for a long time and with my apparent awkward hardware, everything works out of the install box. Well okay I need to disable pulseaudio (I do this with all distro’s as a bug needs fixing), and my printer needs it’s own proprietary drivers. But hey these would probably (actually I know) be problems under windows

      The best thing with openSuse is and always will be YAST and their complete attention to detail…. no sloppy releases, just proper operating systems!

    • Ali

      hey guys i want to recommend you “Linux Mint”. it is nice, fully featured and light and with minimum bugs and very easy to use for newbies.

    • Ali

      also Arios is good.

    • Emir

      Speechless! It’s great.

    • Toad

      How do you get Firefox running on suse 11.4?


    • Benzin

      I too was an ubuntu user for years (since8.04), and now i have completely eliminated ubuntu from my life and switched to opensuse.
      ubuntu gets more unstable, bloated, and buggy with each release, to me this came to a point where ubuntus un-stability and bugs were actually keeping me from working! i ditched windowsXP precisely for those reasons! and now i get it worse in linux????
      opensuse on the other hand, has been stable, fast and reliable for me. The only “problems” it has given me, were related to compiz, font rendering was bad. But this was solved very easily by disabling desktop effects (using metacity instead of compiz).

      To me stability and reliability are VITAL, i dont care how many “unity”es, “me”menus and (useless) dancing puppets my desktop has, they are all USELESS if the OS they run in crashes all the time. And i find opensuse to be FAR more stable and reliable than ubuntu 10.04. About 11.04 “natty”? hehe lets not even go there.

    • Pingback: News About OpenSUSE 11.4, Possibly the Last OpenSUSE Release « It's impossible to be unhappy on a skateboard.()

    • NanoSurfer

      I must say, openSUSE is by far the best, most stable, most professional Linux distro by far (in my opinion) I used to be a long time Ubuntu user and sadly I too found lots of bugs and headaches, especially with Natty 11.04 and Unity. I seriously am grateful to the guys that have made this fantastic distro possible. This to me is truly a “windows” competitor and it definitely shows what Linux is made of. OpenSUSE has changed my life for the better and has given me many hours of joy to use with very few minor headaches. to me it deserves 10/10

    • Querque

      Add my name to the list of new happy openSUSE users. I was an Ubuntu user until they released version 11.04, at which point I move away from Ubuntu to openSUSE 11.4 KDE, the best Linux distro I’ve ever used — To me, openSUSE 11.4 KDE is the BMW of the Linux distros ;-)

    • rainbowsally

      I’m very disappointed in SuSE 11.4. I have dialup so the “rolling updates” is not an option.

      I had 8.1 and was well pleased. I had (and still have) 10.0 and have no complaints. But I got 11.0, 11.1, 11.3, and then hoping things were finalaized in their “finalized” release, I also got the 11.4 DVD.

      This is a long rant, so I’ll just post a link to what I wrote tonight, uninspired to even boot into my Linux partitions, it’s so depressing.

      The bottom line is that I don’t think it’s remotely possible that the developers develop on the system they are developing, and as a result crazy little details got overlooked and remain now cast in stone. (fsck on the wrong partition set to run every 21 reboots AND every 60 days, for example).

      Here’s the rant. Click on the screenshots, you developers, and ask yourselves how anyone could have missed that stuff. (KDE can’t fix bugs they don’t know about, people! And not all of those are KDE’s bugs.)

      YaST is still a great application, but that’s where the good news for SuSE ends, as far as I’m concerned.