It’s been like 4 years since I last tried ‘openSUSE’ and to be honest, I’ve never used it for longer periods either. But then again, the only GNU/Linux distributions that I’ve used in daily basis has always been ‘Fedora’ (started off with ‘Red Hat’) and of course ‘Ubuntu’.
Anyway, openSUSE has an European origin (born in Germany) and like most of these Europe based distributions, it has always been in favor of the KDE desktop rather than Gnome, and their core system components like the installer for instance is also designed using the Qt toolkit (the user interface building toolkit used in KDE).
And from my experience, openSUSE was never known for its speed but it has always been about ease of use and features (lots of them!) plus a bit of eye candy (you know fancy boot screens etc, nothing wrong with that! :D).
I first came around it in 2004-2005 and even at that time openSUSE had their famous ‘YaST’ control center which let the users configure their system extremely easy. At that time, it was a ‘rare’ tool (it still kinda is) because most other distributions didn’t have such powerful features.
This control center made it really easy for system administrators to configure their system without having to worry much about the command-line and thus, it has become one of their main ‘identities’ as well.
But apart from all of its ease of use features, one thing that has always bugged me about this distro is the partition setup of the installer as it always seemed a bit confusing, at first (I’ll come to that later). So in this review, I’ll talk a little about the installer, boot speed, the desktop (including their ‘YaST’ control center, their new command-line package manager ‘zypper’ etc) and lastly any issues that I had with my hardware.
As mentioned above, openSUSE loves KDE so to be fare, I decided to use the KDE version (LiveCD) for the review. So here it goes …
The installation …
When you boot using the LiveCD, you can either choose a live desktop session or can directly run the installation without booting into the Live desktop session. The installer is pretty much what you’ll get from any other GNU/Linux distribution, and it first greeted me with a ‘Welcome’ message and let me choose the language and the keyboard layout, where distributions like Ubuntu lets you do that few more steps into the installation (I like the openSUSE’s approach).
In the next step I chose my timezone (which again is pretty easy thanks to the standard visual world map) and then you’re directly taken into the disk or the partition setup.
I had Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.04 LTS installed in my HDD prior to this and if you’re familiar with Ubuntu, then you might recognize that, with Ubuntu, if you had any other OS installed (specially Windows) then at its partition setup it clearly displays what each option does for you.
For instance, take a look at the below screenshot that I took after installing both openSUSE and Windows 7 on the same HDD.
The first option basically says that you have multiple operating systems and it’ll install Ubuntu alongside them. If you had only Windows, then the first option even displays the OS name if I’m not mistaken. The other two options also clearly denote what they’ll do, again, I love this simple and user friendly approach of Ubuntu.
Now take a look at the below screenshot that opeSUSE gives you.
Now an experienced user can guess what the top output says but even for an experienced dude it not that clear. So since I’m a bit dumb I hesitated by thinking thinking that perhaps SUSE haven’t detect my Windows 7. But because I have a reasonable amount of experience I understood that SUSE is going to delete my Ubuntu partition and create its own partition table for installing it (including few other things).
However, even that doesn’t tell that whether my Windows is recognized and will be listed in the GRUB menu later. Now I’ve installed it and so I know SUSE did detect it and has included a menu for accessing Windows 7 (ahh what a relief ;-)) but I think something like the approach that Ubuntu has taken would’ve been really better from a newbie point of view (what you guys think?).
In below, first one is the partition manager in Ubuntu 12.04 and the next one is the one that you get in openSUSE 12.2. They both do the same thing, but I like the one that comes with Ubuntu … a few progress-bars and different colors and a different UI design go a long way (sometimes you gotta give it to the Gnome team, they’re pretty good at designing software UI, except their arrogance comes along and jeopardize everything).
Anyway, other than that, the rest of the installation took place pretty nice and other things like User account creation, bootloader installation etc went without any issues. So no complaints there.
The boot-up & the desktop …
Now I knew that the first time booting is gonna few more seconds as it has to configure the desktop and other settings. Then I booted into the desktop and greeted with a simple KDE desktop (4.8.4) with a single widget to the upper right corner that consisted of icons of ‘Firefox’, ‘My Computer’, ‘Office’ (libreOffice), ‘OnlineHelp’ and ‘openSUSE’ (official documentation) as shown in the below screenshot.
As usual, though I don’t find it extremely useful, when you click on the ‘My Computer’ icon, you’ll be taken into a window that shows a basic overview of you computer (HDD usage, basic hardware details, network info, OS details etc). SUSE used to come with it as long as I can remember but I think this is a feature of ‘Konqueror’ (KDE’s old file manager) rather than openSUSE’s.
The default file manage in KDE is called ‘Dolphin’ (shown below) and I really like it over the previous KDE 3+ one (Konqueror). It’s pretty good mix up between simplicity and features. Again, I’m not going to say much about its features because it’s a very popular KDE app and most know about it. When it comes to managing files (creating, deleting, adding shortcuts, thumbnails/previews, change permissions, few built in ‘views’ etc) it rocks.
As usual, the default background is a Green looking one (I love it, for now :D), but it only has two wallpapers. You can easily change the desktop using ‘Desktop Settings’ window. However, sometimes when you enter the desktop, for like 3-4 seconds the desktop seems to be stuck and then you hear tho login sound and everything starts to work as usual.
I think this issue is because of ‘Nepomuk’, the desktop search indexer that comes with KDE. It might help you find things faster but if you don’t like or need these desktop searching indexers, then I highly recommend that you disable it. So I just went ahead and disabled it and then rebooted the computer and those stuck (s) came no more :).
The KDE desktop has fancy 3D effects, drop shadows, minimizing/maximizing effects, transparency effects etc as well.
Then everything was over, I rebooted it and from the time I choose the ‘openSUSE 12.2′ at the GRUB bootloader list till it booted to the desktop I measured the seconds it took (few times) and it was about 36-38 seconds.
When comparing with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS’ 17-18 seconds of boot-time, this was not that impressive. Still, it was one of the fastest KDE desktop loading times (without tweaking) that I’ve seen so far.
The initial memory usage was around 430-445MB (for the record, I have an Intel Core i3 processor with 4GB of RAM), and when comparing, Ubuntu usually takes about 340-350MB at its desktop login.
Few issues that might cause these boot-up delays and system resources usage…
1. These slightly higher memory usages are something that has always been there with distributions that use KDE as the default desktop. When comparing with other desktops, KDE offers a lot more features and configuration options thus their applications consume more memory and takes more time to load.
2. And also by default, KDE loads few unnecessary system services and applications into the system tray area (to your RAM), SUSE has managed to keep those to a minimum but still, it loads that above mentioned ‘Nepomuk’ desktop search tool which slows down the loading times plus needs a reasonable amount of system resources to run.
3. Not only KDE but openSUSE itself comes with two rarely used (by most end users) system services related to virtualization technology which should also slow down the boot-up process.
4. The openSUSE uses an animated boot logo which might also slightly slow down the process (not by much I suppose).
So other than the animated logo (I like it) I disabled some of those KDE start-up applications and few system service used by KDE, 2 openSUSE virtualization related system services and also got rid of the ‘Nepomuk’ search tool and ended up having a 28-29 seconds of boot-up time and the memory usage was reduced to about 370MB which was pretty excellent for a KDE distro.
Multimedia and codecs …
Like most other distributions, openSUSE too doesn’t come with proprietary multimedia codecs and before you can enjoy openSUSE, you have to install them manually ;-). And the default multimedia player is ‘Kaffiene’ and the audio player is the famous ‘Amarok’.
The installation of the codecs is pretty easy (only takes 3 commands!) but finding them commands can be a little bit difficult for the new users. Then again, when trying to play a proprietary codec SUSE asks you whether you’d like to install the proper codecs or not and as long as you’ve enabled the required repositories (has to be done manually), you can install them without touching the command-line.
Or, you can also use the ’1-click’ installer feature that will automatically enable the proper repository and installs the codecs for you too.
After installing the codecs I was able to play my audio & video files without any difficulty nonetheless.
The ‘YaST’ control center …
The ‘YaST’ control center looks good as always. You can use this to fine tune your system with ease (if you know what you’re doing).
From checking for system updates to package management, configuring new hardware (TV cards, Infrared devices, scanner, sound card, joystick … heck it now even has a fingerprint device configuration tool!), editing the bootloader settings, take and restore backups, edit system services, change security setting (firewall configuration, user account management) virtualization management … it’s a treat :).
The ‘zypper’ (command-line package management tool) …
This was the first time I ever used ‘zypper’ (it was first introduced in openSUSE 10.1 according to Wikipedia) and because I’m an Ubuntu user, I’m a bit addicted to the command-line package managers (all hail to ‘apt-get’ ;-)). I didn’t know the first thing about it but within like 10-15 minutes (after quickly going through its man page) I was able to use it and do basic things such as adding/removing software etc.
I don’t know if it was the repository or ‘zypper’, but on few occasions the download rate was a bit low. Nevertheless, it’s a more than satisfying tool, especially considering its age.
The basic usage of this app is pretty simple. Say that I wanted to install ‘mplayer’, then I’d simply enter the below commands.
sudo zypper install mplayer
To search for a package, I’ll use the below command.
sudo zypper search package-name
To remove a package, use the below one.
sudo zypper remove package-name
To add a new repository use the below command.
sudo zypper addrepo repository-url
To update the repositories, just enter the below command.
sudo zypper refresh
It has daunting amount of other features, but for most of us these basic commands are all we need, and if you’re familiar with ‘apt-get’ or ‘yum’ it’s gonna be fun learning ‘zypper’. But of course, if you don’t like command-line tools, then you can always use the ‘YaST package manager’ (GUI) as well.
Applications included in the KDE edition …
The default web browser is Firefox and the version in 14.0 (not the latest 15.0). By the time of writing this, openSUSE hadn’t still received the update but it should come in the following days.
Comes with the LibreOffice (3.5 built 403) and in the future there’s a good chance of seeing the awesome Caligra instead of Libre when considering the fact that it’s a native Qt office suite. Anyway, unlike previous versions, LibreOffice 3.5 opens up pretty quickly too.
Micro-blogging client (twitter, Identi.ca …)
The micro-blogging client is ‘Choqok’ and because I don’t use any of the services that it’s built for, I cannot say much about it. Oh I can tell you its version though ;-), it’s 1.3.
KMail of KDE desktop is the default e-mail handler (4.8.4).
Comes with the KBittorrent utility for supporting the bittorrent protocol and its version is 4.2.
Multimedia (CD/DVD burning, audio/video playback)
As mentioned above, unlike with Kubuntu etc openSUSE uses the ‘Kaffeine’ media player (1.2.2) and for audio playback we have ‘Amarok’ (2.5.0). k3b is there for the optical disc burning purposes (2.0.2).
Hardware, software issues …
Well, I’m having a strange issue with my integrated Intel Wi-Fi card. The hardware is recognized and works fine (or so it seems) and sometimes the ‘KnetworkManager’ automatically identifies the Wi-Fi router and connects to it. But other times, it fails to connect and I cannot see the router’s signal being detected. Sometimes the router’s is being detected but it still fails to connect.
I’m using an encrypted Wi-Fi setup and I remember that the first time KDE asked me to setup ‘KWallet’ while entering the Wi-Fi password but I skipped it. So I’m hoping it has something to do with ‘KWallet’ password manager.
Update: This in fact seems to have something to do with ‘KWallet’. I setup ‘KWallet’ again and now the encrypted Wi-Fi connection seems to be working well. However, I still have to click on its icon on the notification area and manually disable the Wireless services and re-enable it again (every time) and then ‘KWallet’ opens up and ask for the password. After that, everything works okay. Not the most acceptable answer, but it’s an okay for me.
I don’t know if it’s a hardware bug …
I usually move reasonably big files (400/1000MB) in my HDD and when I’m doing something like that in Ubuntu, it handles it well. What I meant by that is, while copying a file if I tried to open an application or two then sure they open a bit later than usual, but the responsiveness of the OS (specially in 12.04 LTS) is not lost in the process.
But in the recent past it wasn’t so good under GNU/Linux in my experience and sadly though I tried to copy a file about (2GB) in openSUSE and the file copying went very fast (on the positive side) but until it was copied I couldn’t do anything and the OS (openSUSE) seemed like stuck (extremely low responsiveness) … forget about opening files, I couldn’t even right click sometimes.
I tried this several times and the results were always the same.
When I clicked sometimes I could open the start menu (after a long delay) but still, while copying a big file the system’s response seemed horrible. I don’t know if it has something to do with my hardware (Toshiba SATA disk 7200 RPM) or if it has something to do with improper Kernel tuning or the KDE desktop itself … man I was really starting to like SUSE errrr!.
I don’t know why this happened and after seeing what a wonderful distro this is, I’m not gonna give up, I’ll try reinstalling it to see if it fixes that.
Update: This seems to have something to do with ‘KIO’ API (a set of tools in KDE that handle input/output operations) and recent versions of KDE seems to have had some bugs that made having high CPU usage and slow HDD responsiveness during file copy & move operations. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this is a KDE related storage device I/O bug (because when copying I could see a utility called ‘kio_file…’ that is always busy which has to be the one that’s in control of these processes).
But now that I’ve used openSUSE for a like a day or so, it’s not completely horrible as sometimes I could open other programs while copying files but most of the time, the OS responsiveness is not that good.
Anyway, other than that, all of my hardware is recognized and works really well. As I’ve said in my Gnome vs KDE article, KDE applications are quite efficient these days and doesn’t woke up the CPU unnecessarily and as a result, at idle (when I’m not doing anything) the CPU usage usually drops to zero or around 1% which is nice to see.
Oh just say it Gayan!, what do you think about openSUSE 12.2?
Well, I haven’t used a lot of GNU/Linux distributions that come with KDE lately, but among them, openSUSE 12.2 is at the top because even though it took about 36-38 seconds to boot (the memory usage was also low for KDE session) but that was still about 9 seconds faster than how KDE did under Ubuntu.
And when I use KDE apps, they usually crash, but other than once with ‘KWallet’, openSUSE 12.2 was impressively robust.
And thanks to the power of both KDE and openSUSE, as said, I was able to cut down another 8-9 seconds from the boot-up times after removing few unnecessary applications too. So I would like to make few suggestions to the developers that perhaps you could remove some of these applications, few not frequently used KDE services and those two virtualization related system services etc and if you can make the partition setup a bit more user friendly (as said above) … that would be great!.
So as a final verdict, for a features rich easy to use, fast loading (comparing with other KDE based distros) KDE oriented GNU/Linux distribution then openSUSE 12.2 looks really good. Except for that horrible OS responsiveness while copying large files (which is a major issue, but perhaps it’s specific to my HDD), I would’ve highly recommended it.
But still, it’s well worth trying because if that doesn’t occur in your hardware, then this is a fantastic release.
And if you’re an experienced user, then you can customize the hell out of it too! ;-). To download the latest version of openSUSE please visit this page. Good luck.