15 Aug 2011

OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE: Where Desktop Environment Matters

Nothing is stationary in our world. Everything flows and changes. You can never predict what happens next.

I have already reviewed OpenSuSE 11.4. That was review of GNOME version in Live run. I was not much happy about this system. That time I decided myself: enough for OpenSuSE until next release.
I got lots of critic for that review. In general, they all came to 2 main points:
  1. Live run is not decisive for system selection. I wrote about this point already, and won't repeat my reasons again.
  2. GNOME implementation in SuSE s***cks and I should try KDE version. Maybe, but... GNOME is still a version available for everyone, why shouldn't I review it?
If you read my blog from time to time, you should be aware that I also run site buylinuxcds.co.uk, which is commercial part of this blog. You can order your own CD with Linux there. But I also put my items on eBay site sometimes. This time surprise came from that direction. A person bought a CD on eBay asking me to ship OpenSuSE 11.4 with KDE desktop environment. Could I miss such an opportunity to peek and create my own opinion? Of course not! Moreover, I have to test the disk before handing it down to buyer.
So, CD is recorded. It is in the CD-ROM of my Compaq C300 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from optical drive. Let's go!

Hello, world!

OpenSuSE met me with boot screen where I could select boot options, including language. Default language is English (US), but selection options include English (UK) – this one was selected, and Russian - that is nice to see it available.
After I changed language and started Live run, it took quite significant time for OpenSuSE to actually boot itself. Of course, there is splash screen most of the time, but Esc key helps to see what is happening. I noticed something interesting there: message about Broadcom 4311 driver activation.
If you let me to come back for few seconds, I'd like to mention that splash screen itself is very similar to GNOME edition. But there is very small difference: Klogo is in the right top corner. That tells you from very beginning: you're running KDE. Actually, OpenSuSE 11.4 ships KDE 4.6.0.
Finally, I got my system booted and ready for use. First of all, I added my favourite widgets to desktop to see resources usage. That's why I can tell you that freshly booted OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE uses about 185 Mb of memory.

Network connection

Even though driver activation was visible during the boot, WiFi card was not activated straight away. Indicator on the laptop panel was off.
I decided to do all the possible to activate my Broadcom 4311 WiFi card in this Live run of OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE. To do so, I plugged in LAN wire.
First link which I clicked on Google offered me “one-click installation” of necessary drivers. If something looks too good to be true, most likely it is. Actually this was not one click even to download the file and start it. Then, once file is downloaded and YaST2 is started, it tried to update whole system, about 770 Mb in size. I suppose these megabytes were for dependencies to activate new driver. But volume is impressive, isn't it?!
This is more(!) than distribution iso image itself! If update for the system takes more resources than system itself, why would not developers release patched ready-to-use system, like SP1, SP2 etc? Why do they expect users to download 700 Mb of initial image and then more than that in patches? That is simple waste of resources! I can more or less understand this approach in rolling releases, like Linux Mint XFCE. But OpenSuSE is not rolling release!
Ok, first attempt failed. Another try was to follow advice from OpenSuSE forum. This try gave me positive result. Indicator fired up, and I was able to connect to my network. Hurray!

What is included into OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE?

KMenu in OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE by default has Launcher style. It has several levels of menu, i.e. items in each section are grouped into sub-sections. That is little bit different from other KDE-based distributions, and I can say this is rational from one side. But it would better fit Classical style of KMenu. Launcher style from my perspective is easier to navigate through with flatter menu structure.
As in GNOME version, KDE release includes LibreOffice 3.3.1. Interesting enough that it comes with OpenSuSE branded splash screen. I am not sure if this is the case for GNOME version, but probably it is. This is not full version of LibreOffice, for example Database and Math applications are not included. I assume they are not the most used, and people who need these applications can download them from repository. Another interesting point is that LibreOffice Draw can only be found in Graphics section, not in Office menu. It is quite logical, isn't it?
Other than LibreOffice, OpenSuSE includes KDE-specific office applications like KOrganizer.
OpenSuSE comes with two browsers: Firefox 4.0 (beta) is default, and Konqueror is for adepts of KDE software. Of course, these KDE adepts would find use for lots of other KDE-based Internet tools like KMail, Choqok, Konversation, KTorrent etc.
Amarok is default music player. But MP3 support is not included out of the box. Amarok suggested to install additional software for MP3 files, but after approval it could not find necessary components. Even refresh of default repositories in YaST did not help. Did OpenSuSE developers forget to include restricted repositories into the list? If this was done intentionally, this should be mentioned in Amarok message.
I am not sure about sequence of operations, but after some time message to look for MP3 support files came from KPackageKit, not from YaST. KPackageKit did the job! At least, it found the package to be installed. Unfortunately, it also found ~150 dependent packages to install, similar to “one click” WiFi card firmware installer. I even did not try to do this in my Live run. You can understand why.
Just to check that music players actually work, I played included .ogg music file in Amarok. Of course, no issues with it.
I'd like to mention that Kaffeine is also included in OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE.
YouTube did not play out of the box. It required Flash to be installed from Adobe site. That is quite normal for many Open Source Software distributions. I decided not to install Flash this time. I trust people who say it works.
OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE comes with 4 virtual desktops by default. Quite usual configuration for KDE-based system. When playing with MP3 support, YaST, Amarok and company, I noticed that sometimes right border of the new window is out of visible desktop area. It means that if I need to scroll through that window I first need to move it. Is it bug or feature of OpenSuSE 11.4?
Dophin is default file manager in OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE, as it is in many other KDE-based distributions. It managed to mount NTFS partition on my hard drive without any issue. Russian characters in names of files and folders were OK. Obviously I could not check if Russian characters were visible in music players, because of MP3 issue I mentioned above.
Add Network Folder utility worked fine and mounted my network drive in few clicks. Russian characters were recognised OK. Starting MP3 file from remote partition in Amarok requred copying of file to local drive. Kaffeine tried to start the file without copying, right from remote location. I have noticed similar behaviour in other distributions already, but up until this point I had no chance to compare behaviour of library-based application like Amarok with behaviour of simple player like Kaffeine. OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE gave me an opportunity. I assume Amarok tries to include file into local library when played from remote location. That's why copying step is involved.
Generally speaking, I don't like and don't use tools like Amarok. I find them too difficult to navigate and use, with overcomplicated interface. That's why I would not complain much about this "copying" issue. I strongly prefer tools like VLC or Kaffeine. Their behaviour is more predictable.
Let me finish my description of software included onto OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE with mentioning of several games included by default.

Package Managers

While looking into YaST, I found another issue with it. Sometimes scrolling through the sections caused lines of text to overlay one above another. Hm... I would not expect such a silly error from respectable distribution.
If I talk about YaST itself, I found its structure very confusing. Having all the sections listed on one single page with large space intervals in between... Somebody should be quite masochistic to invent this.
I was very much relieved when I saw that YaST is not the only package management tool in OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE. It also includes KPackageManager, which I have already mentioned above. As you can guess, it comes with KDE. I have already mentioned that KPackageManager was more successful in finding packages for MP3 support. I'd like to add here that KPackageManager is hands down better tool compared to OpenSuSE-native YaST in my opinion in terms of user-friendliness and ease of navigation.

Keyboard layouts

One of the strangest issues I faced in OpenSuSE 11.4 with GNOME was inability to configure multi-language system with several keyboard layouts. Was it still a problem in KDE version? Of course not! KDE takes care of this. Keyboard configuration could be found in its usual place: System Settings – Input devices. Few clicks and problem was solved! I can now type in both English (UK) and Russian layouts!


Finally, I'd like to talk about system performance. Of course, it is quite silly to talk about "performance" for Live CD runs. But still...
OpenSuSE was slow for me. It was much slower than Aptosid in my recent review which also ran from CD. And OpenSuSE was running from brand-new high quality CD-R while Aptosid was running from badly scratched CD-RW. The reason for general slowness of OpenSuSE, in my opinion - too much recursive reading from CD. Can it be fixed in next releases?

To be or not to be?

What is my opinion about OpenSuSE 11.4 KDE? Is it better than GNOME version? I definitely say yes, it is. It has some features which GNOME version lacks: multi-language support, KPackageKit, etc. They all brought in by KDE.
But... would this change my general opinion about OpenSuSE? I am afraid not. If I ever wanted to replace my existing "boots" to something new, OpenSuSE would not be in the list. It still has too many troubles for me compared to other systems.

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  1. I agree with your assessment of OpenSUSE. Yast2 needs to be more navigation friendly. I found it to be confusing when searching for apps.

    I remember when I first tried it a few years ago and had trouble getting a network connection...even in a live boot. At least they solved this and was pleasantly surprised.

    IMO, .rpm distro's are a dying breed. ( Let the flaming begin! ) ;-)

  2. @Anonymous:
    I am not sure that RPM (which stands for RedHat Package Manager) is dying breed since RedHat itself feels itself very well.
    But I agree that DEB is more convenient tool for package distribution.

  3. lol...I just added that last line with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Redhat will defintely cling to .rpm packaging till the end.

    Great article and I have bookmarked your blog for future reading.

  4. Yes, a major issue with openSUSE is the first time a users tries to install or remove packages, it tries to install 100s of MB of new "suggested" programs like Java, Flash, virtual machine support, etc. So the 700+ MB you found are not just updates, but rather new software that openSUSE wants to force on you. It is a very irritating practice that I hope they change in future releases.

  5. @Anonymous:
    You should expect next episode of holy was when you post comment like this. 8-)

    Great you bookmarked the site. You can also subscribe it via RSS or e-mail.

  6. @Ankleface Wroughtlandmire:
    I did not check myself what was in those 700Mb in details. You maybe right. But anyway I'd rather see that in initial image than in additional download.

  7. Thats great DarkDuck and I will be looking forward to this.

    One thing that I love about using Linux is the freedom to choose whatever software I want to use. If I find the software inferior, its just a simple uninstall and try another. Ubuntu's USC (Ubuntu Software Center) makes this a simple and elegant thing to do.

    Another thing I wish to mention is an article that I read on tuxmachines.org about "OnLive", the online gaming service, finally deciding to create a Linux client. With so much advancements with WebGL this may be a all for naught. I would highly advise anyone to checkout Mozilla's site, https://demos.mozilla.org/en-US/ and watch some of the demos. Simplely amazing!

    Oh, I've included my user name, "dogbert0360".