9 Sep 2012

OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e: get trained, if you can

It was long ago when I wrote about OpenSuSE for the last time. It was a version OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE. It does not mean that I have not checked their newer releases. Indeed, I tried Live CDs with OpenSuSE 12.1 GNOME and KDE. They were not too impressive for me to write about, that’s why I skipped that release.

Although, I'd like to come back to OpenSuSE theme today, this time in relation to yet another branch of this family: Educational. They call it Li-f-e: Linux-for-education.

The latest version of OpenSuSE Li-f-e is based on OpenSuSE 12.1, which is not the latest as of early September. I hope the newer OpenSuSE 12.2 Li-f-e will be released soon, but in the meantime let's talk about OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e. You may consider this distribution, if you’re looking for something suitable in the way of a Linux Desktop or Laptop version for pupils, students or teachers in your environment.

The ISO image of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e is 2.9 Gb in size. This is pretty impressive. You can theoretically download it from one of many mirrors or from torrent, although my attempt to use torrent failed: the torrent server did not recognize my requests. I downloaded the ISO image through direct link.

Officially, Unetbootin lists OpenSuSE as one of the possible distributions to work with. In practice, though, Unetbootin did not create a workable Live USB for me, even when I used different versions from different host OSes.

Because of the failure in my usual way to get a Live USB, I reverted to the official documentation page. It recommends you use the dd command for CD images, which may work but also may not, based on my previous experience. As for a DVD image, and this case is a DVD one, of course, it lists a separate set of instructions for Windows and Linux users. Windows instructions are more or less clear. However, if you run Linux, you may be frustrated, as I was. The reason? The instructions are given on the assumption that you create the Live USB for OpenSuSE from an installed OpenSuSE operating system. Is it a vicious circle? Sounds like it!

Finally, I gave up an idea of a Live USB. Instead, I used a DVD-RW disk to burn the ISO image. When the disk was ready, I rebooted my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Choose to boot from the optical drive. Let's go!


Booting the gecko

The initial boot screen of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e was usual for many Live Linux distributions. It allows you to choose a language (the list is rather big), screen resolution, additional kernel parameters, and then to start a Live run, or installation, or memory check, or boot from the hard drive. Of course, my choice was a Live run of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e with English UK as a system language.

There were no additional questions along the boot process.

The booting process was rather long. While the system booted up, it showed me a green splash screen with a gecko laying on top of “Educational openSUSE” logo and wearing a square academic cap.

The boot finished with more or less standard KDE icons appearing in the middle of the screen. Finally, I got to the system desktop.

The first thing that I did on the desktop was adding my favourite KDE widgets: CPU and memory monitors. The latter showed me that OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e used about 352 Mb of memory just to boot itself. That's pretty much impressive in the negative sense of this word: OpenSuSE 12.1 is one of the most resource-hungry OSes of all those I tried in Live runs. Just to compare: Zorin OS 6 Core uses 290 Mb of memory, Ubuntu 12.04 requires 310 Mb and Kubuntu 12.04 needs 280 Mb.
OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e desktop
OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e uses 352 Mb of memory to boot
For the lovers of technical details and long numbers, OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e uses Linux kernel 3.1.9-1.4 with KDE 4.8.

Desktop

The desktop of OpenSuSE 12.1 is a standard KDE desktop with one panel at the bottom of the screen.

The default wallpaper is the same image that I saw on the splash screen. It is in green colours with "Educational openSUSE" text and gecko in the bottom right corner. The only alternative to this wallpaper is a KDE standard picture with blue vertical stripes.

There is one folder on the default desktop. It is filled in with shortcuts like Firefox, OpenSuSE help, Office, OpenSuSE installer, My Computer or italc. The latter is an application for the group broadcasting. This is the first reverence towards the Educational part of the distribution.

The same italc icon is also in the notification area of the panel in OpenSuSE 12.1. Apart from this element, the notification area, which is in the usual bottom-right part of the screen, has a standard set of tools: clocks, network manager, volume control, clipboard monitor, USB devices and so on. There is also a spell-checking applet, the purpose of which I could not properly understand.

The menu button with OpenSuSE's gecko head on it is in the bottom-left part of the screen. Next to it, you can find an activity manager switch, a virtual desktop switch, Firefox browser icon and a file manager icon. There are 2 virtual desktops in the default OpenSuSE 12.1 operating system.

The panel itself was narrower than I am used to seeing it in other distributions, but that did not give me any inconvenience.

Desktop effects worked fine for me out of the box. Shadows in KDE standard blue tones were working from the very start, although they looked slightly strange on the green-themed desktop. I mean, wouldn’t green-ish shadows be more appropriate?

Network

OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e was good at configuration of my Wireless network card Intel 3945 ABG. My home network was listed when I clicked the network manager icon in the notification area. A few clicks and keyboard strokes, and I was connected to the wireless network and Internet.

Keyboard layout

Keyboard layouts in OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e can be configured in the Input Devices section of the System Settings panel, as in any other KDE-based operating system.

I added Russian to the default English UK, which was determined from the initial parameters on the boot screen. Setting up a flag as an icon, plus Ctrl-Shift as a switch hotkey - all these steps did not take me much time.

Applications

I'd like to note that soon after boot, I found an icon on the panel of OpenSuSE 12.1, which stated that 3 packages were waiting for an update in my Live run. That would be a nice result, if not for one consequence: these were actually "software packages", not small updates. Apper, the installation program, did not show me any sizes for the packages. I may be wrong, by from my understanding, these were the likes of "Service packs" in the Windows world. They mean to be big updates. Anyway, trying to install these updates in my Live DVD run of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e, I got an error "A package dependency could not be found". Eeek?

Firefox 10.0.2 is the default and the only browser in OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e. When I tried to run it for the first time, it threw me a crash error. Even though I voted to restart the browser in the error message, this did not happen. I had to click the panel icon again.

As you can imagine, 2.9 Gb of ISO image means lots of applications in the default distribution of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e. I will not list all the available packages. Let's do a whistle stop at some of the most widely used.

LibreOffice appears in its full set, including Base. In addition, OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e includes Gnumeric, the spreadsheet tool from GNOME Office. Strangely, the second part of that productivity suite, namely Abiword, is not listed in the menu. There may be a compatibility issue between LibreOffice and GNOME Office applications, but then, why include Gnumeric?

Remote connection tools are present in good selection, either for incoming or for outgoing connections: Desktop viewer KRDC, Desktop Sharing Krfb, Terminal server.

Several multimedia players are included in OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e distro: Amarok, Banshee, Audacious, MPlayer.

GIMP, MtPaing, myPaint are the graphical editors, if LibreOffice Draw is not enough for you.

OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e comes with Wine installed and preconfigured. It means you have an option to run Windows applications from your Linux computer.

I think that's enough for now. You can see that KDE-based distribution actually includes tools from both the KDE and GNOME worlds. That would not be bad, if the system were not so cluttered. In OpenSuSE's KDE menu I actually felt like I was in a labyrinth, where each menu has half a dozen submenus, which in turn split into even more sub-submenus. It is too much of a bush to even be called a tree, from my point of view.

Of course, we should not forget that OpenSuSE Li-f-e is a distribution for educational purposes. What's in it for the education then? There is a special menu section Edutainment, which splits into several subsections: Chemical, Languages, Mathematics, Teaching. In addition, there are some applications in the "root" of this menu section: Marble, Tux Paint, QCAD, the astronomy tool Stellarium. Each of the listed subsections have a good selection of educational tools. I won’t list them all because you can get an excellent overview on the official page.

I would like to talk separately about the "Teaching" section, however. You might think that there should be special tools in that section for the teachers or lectors. If you do think so, you're wrong. There are tools for students, maybe little bit more advanced than in other sections, like Digital Circuit modelling tool, Bible Study, or the typing tutor Klavaro. From my point of view, most of these applications have nothing to do with teaching.

Actual tools for teachers are located in the System section, where you can also find LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) and its configuration utilities, GCompris administrator, Desktop profiler Smolt and so on.

In other words, the menu and the distribution of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e is impressive in two ways. First of all, it is rich and powerful. You can find tools for almost all your needs there. Second, it is very tangled. You can spend lots of time finding the applications you need. Ambiguous names of menu sections do not help here.

Network partition

Unfortunately, I could not connect to a remote partition of my home fileserver running a LiveDVD of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e. When I tried to do this, I found that the local addresses could not be resolved. This is a similar issue with Zorin OS and Mint 13 Cinnamon. Although, this time round neither Ubuntu nor GNOME 3 packages were involved.

In addition to problems with mounting of network partitions, I could not even mount local partitions: Dolphin gave me an error "Authentication is required". I am not sure what it may mean in the Live session.

I should be honest here. I actually booted OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e Live DVD not once, but twice. And the error with local partitions only appeared in my second boot. I was able to mount the same partitions fine during the first run. It is even more confusing, isn’t it?

Multimedia

Because neither local nor remote partitions were accessible, I could not run a test of MP3 files playback in OpenSuSE 12.1. I leave it for you to explore.
Flash Player works in OpenSuSE Li-f-e out of the box

What I can tell you for sure is that Flash is included in the default distribution.

Conclusion

Disclaimer: I have never liked the OpenSuSE distribution, but that's just my personal position.

This approach to Educational edition OpenSuSE12.1 Li-f-e left me in the same place.

From one point of view, this distribution is really education-oriented. It aims to be targeted to both pupils, students and teachers. Similar to Edubuntu, actually.

The set of applications for both educational and everyday needs is rather rich.

Nevertheless, at the same time, this distribution is quite resource-hungry. In all the time when I drafted this review, and I did this in Blogger interface right from the Live DVD run, the optical drive almost never stopped. Launching or closing an application meant lots of disc scrambling. The performance was very bad, if not say painful. Of course, I may write something off to the fact that this was a Live DVD run, but this will not excuse all the painfulness of that run. I had a better experience with other Live DVDs.

In addition, the clutter in the menu of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e does not give you a slick and useful system. You may need to remove many applications and restructure the menu to take the system to a more usable state for your particular needs.

Many times during the Live DVD run of OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e my face was very similar to one you see on the screenshot above. The choice of video and the screen capture is not random this time. It clearly shows my opinion, although the opinion is not linked to the plot of the video.

Do you actually need this pain? Do you like this approach? Do you use openSuSE Li-f-e in your environment? I would like to hear your opinion too.

13 comments:

  1. Not to detract from your review, but just a note:
    Like Fedora, Opensuse has a huge number of services running by default. This means that the RAM profile is fairly heavy because a lot of monitoring is taking place in the background constantly. Obviously, this is to improve the experience, but it does tend to burden the system if you have a limited RAM capacity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do I need this services? Did anyone ask me if I do?

      Delete
    2. Well, you know the type - Checking for network printers, NTP, Cron, supporting infrared devices and Bluetooth and all that. Nice if you have it, messy if you don't.

      Delete
  2. Knew there was something I forgot:
    Speaking of these distributions for students and academics, did you ever look into Uberstudent?
    => http://uberstudent.org/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting me know. Uberstudent is based on Ubuntu 10.04 with development of 12.04-based version only at initial stage.

      Delete
  3. I have never liked your blog, but that's just my personal position :-) . Anyways...

    I don't have a clue what Li-f-e is abut. Is that an official openSUSE/SUSE release? Or is it some sort of fan spin-off? Is it like Ubutnu has Edubuntu, so we need an EDU release too? Well, don't know. In any case, the whole project seems like a stupidity not worth bothering to me.

    But when it comes to openSUSE, give a try to 12.2. I admit that 12.1 had some issues (that were solved by updates, but anyways...) and 12.2 got delayed for several months , but it was worth it. And don't start with that 'it doesn't include KDE 4.9' argument, it's rubbish anyway :-) . 4.8.4 is sufficiently stable and feature complete for a solid release.

    P.S. Fix resizing of "Post a Comment" window in Chrome, it's pain to use :-).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OpenSuSE Li-f-e is a product of OpenSuSE team.

      I have tried OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE already. Not that impressed, I need to admit. Although, I may have a look at either KDE or GNOME version some time soon.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Before giving recommendations to other people, please consider whether you want to do it yourself.
      Extremism is not acceptable here, neither offence to authors/publishers.

      Delete
  5. I am actually an arch linux type of guy, and i always have a second partition for open suse (for work related stuff)
    amazingly, in my case, 12.2 uses less ram and cpu than arch. i never thought that could be possible, but that's just how it s.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. This post is not about OpenSuSE 12.1, not 12.2. Moreover, it is about specific spin of OpenSuSE for educational purposes. Not sure how your comment is relevant. :)

      PS. OpenSuSE 12.2 review will be published some time soon. Stay tuned!

      Delete
  6. Hi,

    Well the release you reviewed was a year old, Li-f-e 12.2 is released last week, few days after this review.

    Li-f-e gives option of booting in gnome, kde or cinnamon so you can try them all, you may prefer the menu layout of gnome/cinnamon. There is also Sugar desktop available.

    To make creating USB stick easier there is: https://github.com/cyberorg/live-fat-stick

    The script should run on any linux distro to create live USB from ubuntu/openSUSE isos, you need syslinux and parted installed.

    dd command runs on any *nix so creating live USB on PC other than openSUSE is possible as well.

    I would recommend booting iso image directly in a virtual machine than to create DVD as it is the slowest medium.

    http://news.opensuse.org/2012/09/14/opensuse-edu-li-f-e-12-2-out-now/

    Do get in touch(cyberorg opensuse.org) if you have any queries.

    -J

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for suggestion of another script. I'll try it and check whether my laptop will like it or not. 8-)

      As for VM, I don't run it basically because my laptop is more of low-end. It won't be much faster in VM compared to Live DVD. 8-) Then, Live DVD is closer to first-time-user experience, which I try to describe in my reviews.

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