Tough Love with openSUSE 11.1

Tough Love with openSUSE 11.1

Summary: openSUSE 11.1 is packed full of features, but a lack of QA and user acceptance testing in this release may cause Linux newbies to seek out other distributions, such as Ubuntu Ibex.

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openSUSE 11.1 is packed full of features, but a lack of QA and user acceptance testing in this release may cause Linux newbies to seek out other distributions, such as Ubuntu Ibex.

I wanted to love openSUSE 11.1. I really did.

Over the years, I've had a love-hate relationship with the SUSE distribution. During its life as SUSE Linux Professional, it was an incredibly polished commercial distribution with a huge amount of built-in software. In many ways, it was the ultimate Linux for those of us who swore by it for its stability and ease of use. When it migrated to an Open Source community project, I had a lot of hope that it would become immensely popular and take its place as the #1 free end-user Linux distribution with a stable support cycle.

Also See: openSUSE 11.1 Gallery

But this was not to happen -- Canonical's Ubuntu, who got extremely organized and banded together thousands of developers, managed to get their act together first, and the rest is history.  openSUSE became relegated to the power users and developers, for people who wanted the "Cadillac" or the "Mercedes" with all the latest, deluxe, cutting edge features, but didn't necessarily want to be babied or have everything handed to them.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Since the 10.x release of openSUSE, this has pretty much been the case. From a pure technical achievement, openSUSE 11.1 is at package parity with the best Linux distributions available -- such as Fedora 10 and Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10. In many ways it's more polished, as clearly it has a lot of customization work that went into it to make it well-integrated, but at the same time, the distribution still feels like it was designed for people who know what they are doing, not for regular end-users. By trying to be a Server, Developer, and end-user Desktop platform at the same time, its target audience remains unfocused and its scope is too big. It's now the Linux equivalent of the Swiss Army knife with 50 separate tools in it.

I expected 11.1 simply to be an evolution or a more polished version of the previous release, openSUSE 11 (click for review).  However, this particular release seems rushed, as if they were trying to accomplish too much in such a short time, and not enough user acceptance testing was performed to ensure that stuff "just worked." What used to be a deluxe over engineered German sedan is now more akin to a quirky European IMSA racing machine or an exotic sports car that needs a pit crew or a skilled mechanic to make it run just right.

The problem is, most end-users want Volkwagens, not Mercedes-Benz or Audi racing cars, and they now expect things to just plain work. Linux no longer needs to be a lifestyle choice. Nobody at this day in age with a modern Linux distribution should be expected to start hacking around in the console or plugging around in admin tools to enable or configure the OS for basic functionality. That was 1999. This is almost 2009, folks.

I was particularly annoyed by the fact that the default firewall, which is enabled out of the box, essentially blocks all incoming and outgoing connections for the most popular networking services, such as SAMBA. I had to completely disable the firewall in order to get a number of connectivity issues resolved. I also had to manually install the samba and samba-client packages, as well as manually start the services from the terminal console prompt, in order to provide SMB/CIFS networking capability so I could access Windows Workgroup shares on my XP, Vista and Windows Server systems. Again, on Ubuntu and Fedora, this stuff just plain works. To those who think that my issues are isolated to some weirdo hardware, here's the link to my system configuration generated by openSUSE's diagnostic tool.

While I wouldn't hesitate to give my 72-year old Father-In-Law Ubuntu 8.10, I'd definitely wouldn't give him openSUSE 11.1 in its current state. Too much stuff out of the box doesn't work without additional tweaking. For example,  if you have an nVidia GeForce card, your compositing window manager (compiz) won't function unless you manually add the nVidia repositories and reconfigure your X11 server. You also might want to consider enabling several other features in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, as discussed on this thread in the Ubuntu support forums site. Did I happen to mention that on Ubuntu Ibex, compiz fusion works out of the box without having to do any of this stuff?

Some of the other advertised features of openSUSE 11.1 don't work out of the box as well -- such the new Nomad remote desktop server -- essentially a native port of Microsoft's Terminal Server for Linux. Novell is targeting this at its virtual desktop and thin client competition, such as Citrix and Red Hat's SolidICE, and odds are good this is going to appear in a future SLES release.

When Nomad is working, it is indeed extremely cool -- it fully supports Microsoft's RDP5 protocol, so you can access a virtual desktop from a Windows or a Linux machine, and it even supports the compiz desktop alpha channel compositing effects on a remote session, provided your local device supports it as well. However, Nomad requires a number of packages to be manually installed on an openSUSE 11.1 server in order to work, and obviously, the firewall port TCP 3389 for RDP also has to be open -- which is closed on openSUSE by default.  Unfortunately, this isn't well documented and you can't just go to the openSUSE's Yast2 control panel to enable Nomad with a few clicks and let the package manager automate the dirtywork. It should "just work" but like many things in this release, it doesn't.

It should be understood that openSUSE 11.1 was as much a re-working of the SUSE community itself as it was a technology and distro release -- and by all accounts, this particular release was rushed  out the door by the developers, prodded by management, in order to match Novell's upcoming SLES 11 product release on the server side.  The 11.1 release certainly could have benefited from an additional two or three months of QA and testing, because it's clear here that in many cases, the developers and the QA team didn't know what the left hand and the right hand were doing.

Unlike previous openSUSE releases, 11.1 was created entirely using the new openSUSE build service, which is intended to streamline future release cycles. Obviously, the transition to this new build method from the traditional multi-platform build processes had some impact on the delivery quality of  this release. In addition to actual development activities with the 11.1 release, the openSUSE community has also elected a new Board of Directors and has released openSUSE under a new EULA, and launched a new software repository for contributed 3rd-party applications --  so I'm willing to toss some of these rough edges to "growing pains".  But not all of them.

Novell and openSUSE seriously needs to concentrate on end-user acceptance testing and QA if the next release -- which is slated to include even more community participation -- is to avoid the problems currently befalling 11.1.

That being said -- had I not cared immensely about the future of openSUSE, I'd probably just format my computers with Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex and say goodbye. But I'm committed to tweaking this release for my own personal use and getting it to work right, because the essentials for a top distribution are all there, and as a "Power User" the raw technology does fit the bill. Watch this space for future developments.

Have you been happy with openSUSE 11.1, or are you encountering issues as well? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Servers, Software

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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97 comments
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  • why do you keep talking about ubuntu

    ...as it was an easy distribution and do not try out linux mint? a far better integrated and just "out of the box functional" distro.
    try it, and you'll see that your father in law doesn't want to go back. Ubuntu, for me still has a lot of rough edges, i've tried and had lots of details to resolve, which in mint never even appeared.
    a long fruitful relation with him now, for over a year. and counting... even suitable for girlfriends! ;)
    lordjeremias
    • Mint is pointless

      Linux Mint is Ubuntu with the multimedia codecs preloaded and a nice wallpaper. That's about all it is.

      Considering how easy it is to add the missing multimedia support in Ubuntu, Linux Mint really has no value at all.
      pjotr123
      • Wrong

        Adding multimedia bits to Ubuntu is easy for you and me but it's not so easy for someone new to Linux who knows nothing.

        Mint is a great distro for the technically challenged and new users.
        Tim Patterson
        • Its as easy as can be....

          When you first try to listen to an mp3 in Ubuntu it will warn you that you need the codecs and give you the option to install them. Thats pretty simple I must say.
          storm14k
        • Adding multimedia to Ubuntu

          For the noobs, and maybe not-so-noobs, here is a link to a site that will help you get your multimedia working in Ubuntu:

          http://ubuntutip.googlepages.com/
          TranMan
      • wrong again

        nops! sorry, Mint is just not the codecs installed. in fact, in linux 6 if you take the universal dvd, with localization support on dvd, it just has a menu item to download and install the codecs.
        what makes linux mint really awesome is mainly these things:
        1 - the mint menu. far more usable and pleasant than the traditional gnome 3 menus. more understadble, more well distributed in categories and with all the small techies options in understandble sites and the control panels it opens, are just easier to use and finde things. all the graphics option are on a simple page, all condensed and just usable. compiz works out of the box, no fuzzy install and config, if you want to change something you know where to go and have nice config pannels.

        2 the install and uninstall support. want to uninstall a program? go to the menu, find the application and right-click it, then click uninstall and that's it! ask for adminstrative pass and just uninstall. no fuzzy syanpptic fouling, no finding the f**king package i want in the middle of dependecies.
        i know i can use the terminal. and i know how, now! but i didn't when i installd linux for the first time.i've spent days trying to use and troubleshoot flash and firefox in ubuntu.
        and my girlfriend still doesn't know the terminal. and probably never will. if it is user friendly distros we're talking, i thing this should be focused don't you?
        My GF loves and uses only mInt now she said. She even made me kill her vista install for space. "I'll never go back" she said! when i showed her ubuntu, the result wasn't the same..

        the install! want to install skype? ok, Mintmenu -> software portal (web page)-> search skype -> skype appears, click install, put admin pass -> click ok to understand you now have skype in your computer! in the right menu subfolder with no fuss no problem no dependancy no sudo apt-get. got it?

        3 yeah, the codecs and media. mopre than just being installed, they just work. i hadnt no problem with flash, i had no problem with compiz and i even discovered i could have cute little effects in pages. in (k)ubuntu i had to do a reinstall cause i messe up the windows upper bar with the minimize(maximize buttons. never had problems in mint.


        and yes, the better looks, the better appearance, the abbility to change it more easy it all adds to a mode user friendly distro. remember that's what we're talking.
        i know i can do a lot more in other systems. (i really like kde distros) but again, for that i need to learn first. and i won't go to school just to learn how to get to the web and install skype in my pc! i learn by using it. and i guess also 99% of the folks out there

        4 the update system. it updates what it haves to update without broking anything. it tests and customizes the udates for the mint distro. it puts priorities 1,2,3, all stable and ready for usertime, 4, 5 non tested, able to screw things up. do you know how many times i had to reconfigure my sound stettings in ubuntu cause it insisted on putting my usb soundcard-webcam-hub on default, after a pulse audio uodate of some sort, even though i specified on previous update that the default would be soundblaster?

        really, try it! then you can compare!
        i did, i tried ubuntu, kubuntu, xubuntu, mandriva, suse, fedora, vectorlinux,even pc-bsd 7.0 and a couple other distros i don't even remember.. i'm just not talking out of "distro passion" here... i was a new user, a power user in windwos,with fair understanding of pcs,and tired of windows. so i tried out a lot! till i found that the only i felt comfortable with and was ready for everyday production use with no fuss and no irritanting glitches was MINT.

        again, for everyday user, non-techie user, mint is the only optiuon for me. Ubuntu is great i admit, but was left behind and still has a lot of small issues.
        lordjeremias
        • Theres still not much difference...

          ...from looking at what you have listed. I may toss it onto a VM to check out the config panels you mention. But after that it sounds like just different ways of doing the same thing. You talk about having to go into synaptic to find packages but for an average user thats normally unnecessary. You can do it all from Add/Remove.

          Now don't get me wrong....I'm all for downstream polishing of distros to make a better user experience. It gives everyone a chance to get in at a level where they feel comfortable and empowered. I just haven't seen that from reading about Mint so far. But I will give it a try.
          storm14k
        • I whole-heartedly agree!

          I went through the same distro-discovery process. When Ubuntu couldn't see my wireless stuff, I researched and found out that LinuxMint worked right out of the box so I fired it up and was thoroughly impressed. Mint is more than wallpaper on Ubuntu! Mint takes the approach that new users will give the OS a spin for a day or 2 and if they can't make decent progress with it they will boot back to Windows.

          While other distros seem to be geared towards those folks who make a living dinking around with computers, Mint developers seem to view the computer as a tool so the users can get their real work done. Other Linux distros remind me of the early days of Windows when users thought a productive day at work was one where they changed their background 3 times and were finally satisfied with the font they chose for their icons! While I understand that this concept is difficult to grasp for those techies living inside their computers, farting around with the OS all day is NOT the goal of most computer users. Is LinuxMint perfect? Far from it but it is the only distro that has stayed on my Linux-dedicated hard drive for more than a week. As a matter of fact, it's been in daily use now for 6 months and only got better with the release of Mint 6 just the other day.

          The main developer's name is Clem and he is accessible to his users on a daily basis and personally answers many of the development issues as he goes along. Hell, I even know that he recently moved to a new house and couldn't make progress until he got his high-speed installed. This is the essence of a great Open Source distro!
          M.W.H.
      • Yeah right! Easy if you've done it before

        It took me hours of tooling around to play DVD's with Ubuntu 10.1. I've been dealing with PC's for 20 years.
        stano360
        • Use Linux Mint...

          ...with the DVD playback codecs built in and you wouldn't have this problem...
          hasta la Vista, bah-bie
    • re: why do you keep talking about ubuntu

      Ubuntu carries a lot of funding, is being actively and with great vigor promoted and advertised. We all have our favorite distros, and as we know, the best product isn't always the one that succeeds. If I had to choose a favorite Debian based distro, it would be Dream Linux, but then, that is just me. I personally think that Pclinuxos 2007 stands at the top of the heap re:home user. Then again, that is just me.
      richdave
      • re: why do you keep talking about ubuntu

        I use either Kiwi, Mint or Ubuntu. Kiwi and Mint both come with all codecs, so it's easier to work with the encrypted media. I stopped using Suse about 3 years ago because of their package manager just wasn't working, and the RPM dependency problem I had. I've found the Debian method much easier, and I'm more productive because I don't have to spend as much time tweaking, etc.
        1djk1
    • Actually - as a non-Linux Poweruser, I Couldn't Figure Mint Out

      Whereas I pretty much stepped right into every Ubuntu distro since Dapper Drake without a problem - and found Xandros which underlies the EEE PC's shell to be just as user-friendly.
      drprodny
  • I thought you had some real issues but...

    it is only a bunch of opinionated garbage.

    SuSE is still the most sophisticated distro going and that requires some sophistication from the user. If you want a brain dead OS run Windows or Ubuntu. Ubuntu can't even get their name resolution working properly and it will definitely cause problems when you set up local services. But then again setting up local services is something sophisticated users might do but definitely not the brain dead.

    If the only issues you have are configuration issues, and it seems that is the case, go complain about something else.
    bjbrock
    • Windows > Ubuntu

      No, seriously, it is.

      The time you spend setting Ubuntu up (provided you're
      a linux noob) would be better invested working and
      earning money to buy a copy of Windows.

      And then Windows is just as free as Ubuntu is :p

      Linux is not free, it costs time.
      superhobo
      • If you can't setup Ubuntu...

        ...then you most likely can't set up Windows. No, seriously. Its going to take you more work and time to setup Windows from scratch than it will Ubuntu. Honestly you shouldn't really lose any time setting up Ubuntu to begin with. You pop in the live CD and if everything is working click install. Answer the few questions and then you can continue on web browsing or whatever while the OS installs in the background.

        So then you'd have worked to buy Windows AND spent even more time setting it up. Thats a loss of time AND money there.
        storm14k
        • Not really...

          ..., he'd have bought a 'puter with Windows pre-installed. That's what most Windows users do. I still run my XP drive from time to time, and since I've always built my own computers, I understand all too well how much easier it is to install Linux than to install Windows. But people who buy pre-loaded systems usually have a friend that can re-install their system if they screw it up real bad. Once they've seen the head-shaking and heard the grumbling from their "guru", they presume that ALL systems are that way and Linux must be worse because only those "gurus" seem to be using it.

          Simply Mepis and Mint, have been the easiest installs of all, and the ones that most everything "works right out of the box" for me. But, to be fair, I LIKE trying out all these new distros. How nuts is that?

          Recovering Windows addict.
          cheesyone
          • But that only lasts for 6-12 months

            Then he has to re-install windows (which, over the typical lifetime of a Windows computer, will be the first of many, many times).

            Meanwhile, the typical Linux user never re-installs; subsequent installation experiences tend to be a few years apart, to upgrade to a new installation, and unlike the emergency-driven catastrophy recovery after Windows self-destructs (yet again), the Linux upgrade is carried out at the convenience of the owner.
            akulkis
        • Unless...

          Ubuntu doesn't recognize your hardware and you have to go hunting for the drivers and learning how to complie the onse that have no real install. And before all you fanboys jump in... yes... it does happen. Just because you live in a perfect world where everything works just fine and you never interact with the Windows world, doesn't mean everyone has that kinda luck.

          So you setup Ubuntu with no trouble. Good for you, but reality is that Linux has dozens upon dozens of distros. They are all different in how they install and run. They are all different in how they install and run programs. They all include and not include different software and drivers.

          Linuxes main problem is despite the claim they support all these different standards, the one thing they can't seem to standarize is the OS itself. I have an old laptop, and after installing 8 distros, not a one of them supported all the hardware "out of the box." Some of them refused to install the proprietary drivers, and I was left with a machine that was half functional.

          Granted if i dug hard enough I could have found a solution I'm sure, but the average user wouldn't know how or where to look. Plus, it just shouldn't be that hard.

          It just a fact of life. Linux, while robust, and innovative as it is in some ways, just simply isn't polished enough for a lot of average users. The programmers are excellent, don't get me wrong. But that is the problem in some ways, is they are just that; programmers. They look at it all as a programmer, and never as a designer.

          It's only been recently that UI design has emerged in Linux. Love it or hate it, to each their own, but it does effect how average users look at the OS.

          So for those that love it, then that is your opinion, and it's perfectly acceptable to say you like it. But telling other people it's what is best for them is fundamentally wrong. Suggestions are usually much well recieved then having it shoved down your throat. So in reality, the number one threat to Linux adoptability are the die-hard fanboys that feel they are convincing Windows users to switch by making up Linux is perfect stories and telling them Linux will solve all their problems without creating new ones.

          No OS is perfect. If they were... they would have stopped updating them long ago and all machines would be running that version of that OS... period. But they aren't. Cause there isn't. So instead of arguing which OS has the bigger.... why not admit your OS of choice isn't perfect and actually do something useful, like help them make it better.

          The Shadow
          Knowledge is Power
          Any more questions?
          ShadowGIATL
          • Just like when Windows doesn't support your hardware

            The difference is, with the Windows closed-source , and the planned obsolescence model of most hardware vendors, have fun finding Vista (Windows 6.0) or Windows 6.1 (alias Windows 7) drivers for your perfectly good 4-year old printer--EVER.

            Meanwhile, if a driver isn't available for Linux... it will be available within a few months at most. Brother even provides FULL Linux support for all of their products. No HUNTING for the drivers... drivers for Brother printers and other hardware are on the Brother site... just like the Windows drivers.
            akulkis