16 Sep 2012

OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME: a step ahead

None of my previous meetings with different OpenSuSE products finished well. Although I liked OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE more than OpenSuSE 11.4 GNOME, I still was not too happy with it.

OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e, which I reviewed few days ago, did not change my opinion in that area.

In the meantime, I decided to give OpenSuSE 12.2 a go. This release saw the world at the beginning of September 2012.

As you may know, I run my own site Buy Linux CDs, and also list some Linux CDs on eBay. I got some orders for OpenSuSE 12.2 disks. Because of that, I had an option to try the distribution myself: I test each CD before dispatch. These all were KDE versions of OpenSuSE 12.2. If you want to know more about OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE, you can read other reviews, for example the one from Prashanth. I can only say that I was still unimpressed by this release. But my curiosity made me to try yet another version: OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME.
Update 01 October 2012: After some consideration, I wrote a my own review of OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE.

This time round, I decided to follow the steps from the official OpenSuSE manual, and create a LiveUSB from their ISO image. The ISO image size is 671 Mb, which would fit a usual CD. The site’s guidance is very simple: you only need to run a dd command. To be even more pro-OpenSuSE, I ran this dd command from a LiveCD run of OpenSuSE KDE.

So, when the LiveUSB was ready, I rebooted my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 and chose to boot from USB. Let's go!

First boot

If you have followed this blog for some time, you may know that my Fujitsu-Siemens laptop does not have a versatile BIOS. Frankly speaking, hybrid ISOs are no good for this BIOS. That's why my Live USB stick refused to boot. I was not surprised at all.

However, I decided to give OpenSuSE even more chances. To do so, I took yet another laptop available to me: Toshiba Satellite L500-19X. The USB stick was plugged in. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB, yet another time. Let's go again!

Second boot

Taaa-daaa! The Toshiba Satellite laptop decided to boot OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME Live USB. That was a little victory.

The boot screen of OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME is very common to many other Linux distributions. It allows you to choose from a few dozen available languages (English US is default), select screen resolution, additional boot parameters, and then either do a Live run or go straight to installation.

I changed the language to English UK, and selected Live run.

The splash screen of OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME is in light-green pattern with the Gecko head icon on it, which is OpenSuSE’s logo. Some light spots move behind the head, forming some strange figure. I could not understand what this figure was supposed to mean.

The boot time was reasonably short. The operating system did not ask me any additional questions.

Finally, after some time, I was on the default screen.

OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME
OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME took more than 340 Mb of memory
to boot
Once the CD was booted, I ran the System Monitor, which showed me that OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME took more than 340 Mb of memory to boot. That's quite a lot.

Lovers of technical details should know that OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME runs GNOME 3.4.2 with Linux kernel 3.4.6.

Desktop

The desktop in OpenSuSE 12.2 has a standard GNOME 3 layout with one panel at the top.

The default wallpaper is in green colours. There are some bright spots at the top part of it. I think that designers intended them to be the optical artefacts like ones you see on photos taken against the sun. But in my opinion they more look like greasy fingertips on the screen.

There are no additional elements on the desktop, as is always the case in vanilla GNOME 3 implementations.

The panel at the top of OpenSuSE GNOME screen has standard elements. The Activities menu is in the top-left corner. It can be called simply by moving the mouse cursor to that area without clicking, or by hitting the Super (Windows) key on the keyboard.

When the Activities are on the screen, the dock appears at the left part of the screen. By default, this dock has some Favourites, or quick shortcuts, like Install OpenSuSE, Firefox browser, Nautilus file manager, LibreOffice Writer, Shotwell photo manager, and some more.

Another panel appears at the right part of the screen simultaneously with the dock. This is the virtual desktop manager. It is half-hidden until you move the mouse over it. This is the GNOME Shell “anti-feature” that means you need to walk your mouse twice across the screen to switch the desktop. The reasons for this double-walk should be asked to GNOME team, I believe, let’s leave OpenSuSE alone in this case.

Clocks are in the middle part of the top panel. These clocks showed me the correct local time, which is British Summer Time now.

The right part of the panel contains more or less standard set of elements in the notification area: battery monitor, volume control, network manager and user name, which calls up the menu where you can configure system settings, online accounts, or control the current session. I am not sure whether this is a feature of this GNOME release, or if OpenSuSE developers did this themselves, but the Power Off option appears in this menu immediately. You do not need to press the Alt button to switch off your computer, like you need to do, say, in Fedora.

System Settings is the place to configure desktop wallpapers. Unfortunately, the selection of wallpapers is very limited in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME distribution. Apart from the single default static wallpaper, there are 2 more with similar theme: one in green and one in blue tones. Their difference is that they change brightness throughout the day. Other options to configure your desktop would be to use flat colour or gradient. If you want to enhance your desktop with some custom image, you will need to bring in your own images.

In addition to a usual set of elements in the notification area of the panel, there is also an icon which calls up an accessibility menu. This is a pretty much positive sign of care for disabled people. Not many distributions include this option directly in the panel options.

All-in-all, OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME features an almost vanilla GNOME Shell experience, with some tweaks towards accessibility features and a proper power-off experience.

Network

My Toshiba Satellite L500-19X laptop has wireless network card Realtek 8191SEvB.

I previously complained a lot about the inability of different Linux distributions to work with this network card. Nevertheless, time goes on, and many Linux developers have now included all the necessary drivers and firmware in their distributions. The OpenSuSE team is not an exception here.

When I clicked the Network Manager icon on the panel of OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME, I saw my home wireless network in the list. It means that the operating system automatically configured this network card.

A few usual mouse clicks and key strokes, and I was connected.

Keyboard

Keyboard layouts in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME can be configured in the Region and Language section of the System Settings panel.

The configuration window is very simple and intuitive. It took me almost no time to add Russian to the default English UK layout with Ctrl-Shift as a switch hotkey.

When the configuration was finished, the en/ru indicator appeared on the panel. There's no way to make it look like a flag, similar to all other GNOME3-based distributions.

OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME automatically configured the touchpad to my preference: taps and scrolling behaved themselves exactly as I wanted them to. Here I need to note that many previous Linux distributions did not properly work with the touchpad on my Toshiba laptop: the cursor leaped now and then without any visible reason. OpenSuSE 12.2 does not have this illness.

Applications

If you remember, GNOME Shell does not have menu as such. Instead, the Activities button calls up a two-tab screen, where the first tab lists all existing windows on the desktop, and the second tab allows you to browse the applications. You can browse the list, use a search field, or navigate through the groups listed on the right. These groups assemble something like the orthodox menu we are all used to seeing.

Firefox 14.0.1 is default and the only browser in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME. Other than Firefox, the Internet group includes Empathy instant messenger, Evolution mail, XChat, Transmission torrent client, Liferea news reader, and Desktop Sharing. I'd like to mention that this is an outbound sharing tool. OpenSuSE 12.2 does not include a tool to view remote desktops by default.

There are about a dozen different simple games in OpenSuSE 12.2, like Mines, Sudoku, Chess, Freecell and the like.

The Graphics group includes only 4 applications: Cheese webcam tool, Image viewer, Shotwell photo manager and Simple scan. There is no single image editor in this menu group in the default distribution.

The only image editor, though, is in the Office group of the menu: it is LibreOffice Draw. It accompanies LibreOffice Writer and Impress. Also, there is a Dictionary tool. Strangely, I have not found LibreOffice Calc anywhere in this distribution.

Movie Player and Brasero are the only representatives in the Sound and Video menu group. That's probably enough for a start, because Movie player can also play audio files, like most modern multimedia players.

The Accessories group of the menu in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME includes a standard set of utilities: Contacts, Screenshot, File manager (Nautilus), Help, Main Menu editor, gedit, calculator and so on.

The System Tools section includes file sharing tools (which presumes Samba is already installed in the default distribution), GNOME System Monitor, Disk manager, Network Connections, OpenSuSE's signature YaST system configurator and many others.

There is a section Other, which does not include a single application. What did distribution developers mean by this?

As you can see, OpenSuSE 12.2 has some basic tools to start your work, although it is very likely you'll need more very soon after the installation. For example, many of us may need a proper graphic editor like GIMP, or spreadsheet processor like LibreOffice Calc.

This is the time for the Software Management tool to come on the scene. OpenSuSE has a software manager as a part of the YaST configurator, along with many other utilities like Infrared devices, Sound and Scanner configurators and so on.

When I first started the Software Manager, it began to load the repositories' information. This was not a long process. As a result, I saw a screen that somewhat resembles the Synaptic window, although OpenSuSE uses neither Synaptic nor DEB packages.

The default repositories include only 4 records, all of them being OpenSuSE's native repositories: OSS (open source software), Non-OSS, Updates and Non-OSS updates. A quick search for available applications in the default repositories gave me the following results:

  • VLC - no
  • Pidgin - yes
  • Skype - only Pidgin's plugins
  • Qutim - yes
  • Calligra Suite - yes
  • smbfs - yes, as samba-client, and it is already installed
  • Gnumeric - yes
  • Abiword - yes
  • Xfce - yes
  • Flash player - yes

As you can see, almost all the necessary applications are there. The only critical issue for me would be an absence of VLC. Of course, this problem can be easily solved. VLC’s site has good page for this.

To try the installation process in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME, I installed the Flash player. It was not in the default distribution, as you can understand. The process was quick and painless. The installer asked me to confirm the Licence agreement for this non-free software, and then did everything automatically. The only "but" is that the Software Management tool closed after the installation without any positive or negative feedback. I would definitely prefer it to stay open, for example to install something else.

Network Partition

Nautilus file manager has an option to connect to a remote partition through the menu File - Connect to Server. This option worked well in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME. It was a simple task to specify my fileserver's name and shared folder on it. However, I would prefer to see a list of folders, like Gigolo does it. But generally speaking, the connection was established quickly and painlessly. I was able to navigate my remote partition without any issues.

Multimedia

As you can see above, Flash player was not installed in the default distribution of OpenSuSE GNOME, but I installed it manually from the Software Management tool. That's why I had no issues with playing of on-line videos from YouTube and other resources. I'd like to mention, though, that the performance of this playback was far from ideal. Flash player took ages to start and to cache the video.

Flash player is available in the OpenSuSE repository
Flash player is available in the OpenSuSE repository
Although this could be an issue with the network card: when I moved the laptop closer to the wireless router, the video started to play normally. That's not good, because my Fujitsu-Siemens laptop works well at the same place where the Toshiba lagged.

Similar to Flash videos, MP3 files did not play straight away in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME. Movie Player showed me an error message about the missing plugin. The option to search for this plugin was not useful as it returned an error too. To solve this, I downloaded and installed Gstreamer MP3 plugin by the Fluendo team using the same YaST Software Management tool. Unfortunately, this did not solve the problem in full. Movie Player no longer threw me an error, but refused to play files from the remote partition, although files on the local partition worked fine. Again, this may be a problem with the network connection.

Alternatively to installation from YaST, you can go to the OpenSuSE page where you have a choice to follow guidance from either Fluendo or Community projects for MP3 and other multimedia support.

The sound control, which is a wheel on the front panel of the laptop, worked well in OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME.

Conclusion

If you remember my review of OpenSuSE 11.4 GNOME, I named it "4 disappointments".

This time round, I have no right to call the article this way. I honestly liked the way in which OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME worked for me. During my relatively short acquaintance with this operating system, I found myself quite comfortable, apart from usual GNOME Shell related annoyances.

Yes, there are some minor issues in the set of applications, in graphical design, here and there. But they're not that significant and can be fixed easily. What's more important, I can imagine myself working in OpenSuSE normally and doing my routine operations. That's a very good sign for me.

Do you want to try OpenSuSE yourself? Then why not order a CD with this distribution from the Buy Linux CDs site? The disk will be delivered straight into your mailbox anywhere in the world.

If you already have tried OpenSuSE 12.2 GNOME, what is your opinion about it?


Video used in the screenshot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2AitTPI5U0


8 comments:

  1. The best Linux is Red OS :)

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, never heard of this one. Will you share a link?

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  2. The 4 lines above the first screen shot are out of sequence and don't read correctly. :)

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  3. If you would have run an online update at the end of install, Flashplayer would have installed automatically....

    Plus, like with all previous openSUSE releases, a full multimedia experience is available after adding the Packman repo, and making a vendor change to it.

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    1. Sorry, what did make you to understand that this was a review of an installed system? :-?

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  4. I am using opensuse as my work computer from Jan 2012 onwards. I run the windows 7 as virtual pc for some applications like lync etc for sharing desktop etc.
    I started with 12.1 and now recently upgraded to 12.2 with gnome. I would say I am pretty much satisfied with it over all. There is no issues in day to day work and since our work applications run on java, I could install all work related applications. I tried KDE but it seemed to me to much 'show off' and not so 'professional'. May be KDE is good for home computer but for work in my opinion, gnome is just perfect.

    I saw the release of 3.6 gnome and tried it few times to upgrade. although it was success but it soon lead to some 'degrade' of kernel in online update section so I reverted back to default. May be I will just wait for it to mature before upgrading.

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