Hands on with openSuSE 13.1: Another outstanding release

Hands on with openSuSE 13.1: Another outstanding release

Summary: The 13.1 release of openSuSE is here: so how does it work on various systems, with and without UEFI Boot – and when UEFI, with and without Secure Boot


The latest release of openSuSE (13.1) is available from today. 

It seems that they have settled on a numbering system, where each major version (such as 12.x) will get three releases (as we have seen 12.1, 12.2 and 12.3), and then it will step to the next major version number. I guess, it's as a good of a criteria as any. 

I've been following this release since Milestone 1, although there was a long stretch in the middle where the daily builds wouldn't install because of a mistake in the ISO image. But it has all been in order again at least since the beta release, and overall this has looked like it was shaping up to be a very solid and worthwhile release. 

OpenSuSE 12.3: In-depth and hands-on

OpenSuSE 12.3: In-depth and hands-on

OpenSuSE 12.3: In-depth and hands-on

Check the release announcement for the highlights of what is new and improved. I know that I almost always say that for every new release, but in this case the release announcement is pretty special. It gives lots of details and screen shots that save me from wanting to reproduce them here (I'd rather write something original than just parrot a release announcement).

Also noteworthy is the repeated use of words such as "Stabilised" and "Polished", and the phrase "We're proud of this release".  There really has been a lot of effort put into this, and it shows.

The major parts of this release are: Linux kernel 3.11.6, KDE 4.11.2, X.Org X server 1.14.4, LibreOffice, Firefox 25.0, Amarok 2.8.0 and digiKam. Those all look good, pretty much the latest versions of everything - but why does that matter? 

I am particularly interested in the Linux kernel, to be sure that it has the latest drivers to support some of the hardware in my netbooks, and digiKam because I love that photo application, and it seems like every new release just makes it better and better. Beyond that, we make jokes about browser versions (How do you know your internet link is down? Your browser hasn't updated yet today), and the latest X server will have updated and improved graphic drivers, which is always good.

What I really want to write about here, though, is installing this new release on various of my systems. 

I started with the Acer Aspire One 725, which is my most commonly used system. There's nothing like jumping right into the fire — this is a UEFI BIOS system, with a GPT disk partition table. 

openSuSE 12.3 was already able to handle this setup, but there were still a few rough edges, particularly around detecting and installing the correct version of grub. This time it looks much more promising — when I got to the bootloader screen, it had already (correctly) decided that grub2-efi was what it wanted. 

It does not install Secure Boot support by default, so if you want that you have to go into the configuration options and select it, but that only requires clicking one check-box, so it's not a big deal.

With the successful installation on a UEFI system complete, I decided to try a "traditional" (non-UEFI/non-GPT) system next -my recently acquired (refurbished) Lenovo T400

This is a laptop in a docking station, with an external monitor connected.  I got a very pleasant surprise when I booted the Live USB stick and it recognized and optimally configured both displays automatically.  Until now, Fedora had been the only distribution I have used which managed to do this.

Auto-Configured Dual Monitors on openSuSE 13.1

When I started working with it, I realised that it is even better than I had noticed at first. The second display has its own panel at the bottom of the screen, and this panel can be configured and managed independently of the primary display. 

That means each one can be set to auto-hide (or not) and they can have their own widgets. If you look carefully at the screen shot above, you'll see that the laptop display (which is the primary output by default) has all the widgets and icons you expect on openSuSE, while the external display has only weather and logout/shutdown widgets. This is really a really nice feature, I'm quite pleased with it!

The installation process was almost identical to the Aspire One; it should have been slightly easier because this is not a UEFI BIOS system, but there was a small hiccup at the end. When it showed the Installation Summary screen as the final step before starting to actually install, it complained that the bootloader selection was inconsistent. 

It said that it wanted to install grub2-efi, which is obviously not correct for this system. I don't know if this happened because I had already used this USB stick to install on the AO725 with UEFI BIOS.  Anyway, all I had to do was click on the bootloader configuration in the summary page, and then select grub2 for installation, and tell it to boot from the MBR.  From that point the installation ran flawlessly, and was done in less than 15 minutes.

When I rebooted the installed system, the dual monitors were still correctly detected and configured (Whew).  If you aren't happy with the auto-configuration of the displays, you can use the KDE Display Configuration control to adjust them.

KDE Display Configuration Control Module

The two obvious things to do here are drag the monitors around to reposition them, if their physical arrangement on your desk doesn't match this default (mine did, by chance), and click the "star" icon at the bottom of each screen to designate that screen as the primary output, which is where the KDE menu and default workspace will be displayed.

There is also a new update status icon on the panel. It has been interesting to watch this develop and improve through the Milestone releases. When it first appeared it seemed very confusing to me, it wasn't clear how it was supposed to work and it didn't seem to work very well whatever I tried to do with it. But it has gotten slowly better, and in this final release it seems to work very well, and it is quite simple. First, it pops up and informs you that updates are available. Click on it, and it shows a list of updates, with an "install" button, like this:

Software Updater in Panel

Click the "install" button, and it runs a dependency check, prompts for confirmation, and then starts downloading and installing the updates. If you click the icon again while that is running, it dynamically displays the update status, like this:

Updating in progress on openSuSE 13.1

That is very cool, informative and useful.  Very nice.

Other notes and observations from the desktop system: Everything works, as usual. I have come to expect this from openSuSE, and I was not disappointed. 

Wired and Wireless networking, Bluetooth (with an HP  H470 Bluetooth printer), sound (through speakers connected to the audio jack on the docking station), and of course USB keyboard and mouse (including one-click install of the wonderful solaar package to manage the Logitech Unifying receiver). Very, very impressive — it just doesn't get much better than this.

With the desktop system working so well, I decided to go to the other extreme — my Samsung N150 Plus netbook. I booted from the same Live USB stick. The installation process was the same as it had been on the desktop - including the incorrect selection of grub2-efi by default. Correct that again, and then install, it all takes about 15 minutes. Of course everything works again, as above, wired and wireless networking and everything else...

Finally, the last up for this installation was another UEFI system, my HP Pavilion dm1-4310ez. The installation process was the same as for the Aspire One with UEFI, but this system is a lot more difficult in managing the UEFI boot configuration, so I had to adjust that after the installation finished.

I won't go into the gory details; those who are interested can refer to my previous post detailing Experiments with UEFI Boot and Linux. In the end, I got it configured and working. I was particularly interested in the wireless networking on this system, because there have been some problems with the connection being unstable (Fedora has fixed this already, but Ubuntu had not the last time I checked).

Unfortunately, this still seems to be a problem with openSuSE 13.1 as well, it dropped the connection while downloading updates. I have it updating using a wired connection at the moment, perhaps a fix for the wireless driver will come in with that.

So, that's it for now.  Another outstanding release from openSuSE — definitely worth a look!

Futher reading

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Reviews

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • What is particularly appealing about this?

    I ask that in an honest way really? I have been using Windows 8.1 since August and its stable, compatible and meets all my needs plus I am able to tap into a new set of applications that make my computing across devices and services seamless. Yet, I have powerful apps I can still use from the desktop without any problems.
    • What is particularly appealing about this?

      It's free
      It's not as bloated as Windows
      The NSA hasn't bugged the kernel (not yet anyway)
      It's more secure
      It's faster
      It's not a resource hog
      Did I mention it's FREE
      • You forgot to mention the FREE software

        You bobo head. How can you forget to mention all the free software that comes with OpenSuse? A lot of software comes with the default install, but there's a lot lot more that can be added from the DVD too during the install. There's also a HUGE amount of free software available on the internet for Linux. It's mind boggeling how much free software is available. Excellent software. Once a person gets into the open source world, there's no turning back.
        • You forgot to mention the FREE software

          I could have kept going but got tired. Linux is superior to Windows. And the software is FREE.
          • Yes but

            A lot of the more popular libraries and programs are also available in windows, including many of the compilers. Most software for windows is also free, but you also have access to a great deal of excellent paid software.

            With that said KDE is definitely my second most popular desktop environment. I'll have to fire up a VM and test this release of openSuSU out.
            Sam Wagner
          • is that it????

            and I say this as a user who for last 40 years has used ALL he range of OS, emulatsors etc etc....
            Free... compelling... costs nothing... vast array of support globally (IF they have time, understand the problem and can fix things quickly...) usually poor response, busy trying to earn a living... mmm did I mention buggy... not much time testing

            great idea... poor business model - cant make money reliant on slow help indifferent quality build and design

            Linux is superior to Windows.... that is such a totally subjective viewpoint backed upwith absolutely total quantity of your brain... nothing... nil... null ... empty.

            put some facts down and discuss...

            and no i am not an MS lover.... just think you need to engage brain
          • Put some down yourself.

            Slow? MS still hasn't patched bugs from years ago.

            Poor response? Try getting anything out of Microsoft. Now if you can swing a large enough contract at them...

            And since you mentioned buggy - try getting Microsoft applications to read files from 3 years ago... Or even their own current files. When they corrupt their own files, you have to resort to third party applications (even free ones) to repair them.

            poor business model - cant make money reliant on slow help indifferent quality build and design-- yeah better stay away from Microsoft. You also left out the virus haven it is.

            Fortunately, Linux is better designed than Windows. It runs faster, is more customizable, scales better, has better security... All are reasons supercomputers use it instead. Even NASA has been phasing Windows out as "not fit for purpose", they needed better everything.
    • One Big Thing

      Can you connect directly to an FTP site? As in, can you connect using ONLY the Windows File Explorer and manipulate the files on that FTP site as though they are on a network drive? (Here's a hint: the answer is NO). I can use the Dolphin file explorer (or other file explorers) that is the default file explorer in OpenSUSE to connect to my clients' websites and drop files there as though they are on my network. Easy to update images, add new PDFs for download, etc. In any version of Windows I'd have to install some FTP software to do that. Much more productive right out of the box.

      And there's nothing that's built into Windows with the power of Kate. You could download and install (and pay for) UltraEdit, but Kate has those features built in and comes with the KDE desktop that is OpenSUSE's default. Again, more productive right out of the box.

      That's just a couple of things. There are many others in OpenSUSE.
      • Actually

        you can do FTP from the command prompt in Windows.
      • ftp directly from Windows Explorer

        Actually you can ftp right in regular explorer (not just ie). Just type the ftp address into the file URL textbox, as in "ftp://etc". You the are accessing the ftp site just like a drive. Been working like that since the XP days.
        • Been able to do that for ever on Linux.

          Even the old Mosaic allowed that. WAY before IE.
      • samba is better.. MUCH better

        You can in fact hookup ftp mapped directory points in windows explorer, works pretty well, subject to the limits of the underlying ftp protocol not liking being interupted, etc.

        That said, using network locations like \\servername\sambashare not tied to a drive letter works MUCH MUCH better. Takes a bit more configuration, but in the end is safer than ftp and more stable than ftp.
    • Well then...

      Go back to Windows 8.1 and stay there, because you loved it so much, and I don't. Plain and simple.

      I loved Windows Vista and 7 with a beautiful Aero Glass that I cannot get in Windows 8 out of the box, so it is time to move in to something different. Windows 8 opened up my door to so many Linux distributions out there and I chose Kubuntu and later Ubuntu because I loved the Unity interface. The Unity interface does not look like a smartphone or tablet interface to me, because I use it in my desktop. Windows 8.1 is a-okay--maybe..., but aesthetics is king and Windows 8's modern interface don't fit with me.

      So what I'm saying is, too each their own. My path has been chosen to go with Linux, so I currently run Ubuntu. My life is great without Windows since last November of 2012. Living my life without Windows is not easy, but it worked.
      Grayson Peddie
      • Same here

        I've used SuSE on and off over the years, but Windows 8 has driven in me the need to use it more often.
    • Today's Anagram

      Fart Routers

      Answers on a postcard please.
      Alan Smithie
      • And The Anagram winner is............


        Who correctly got it as Astroturfer.
        Alan Smithie
    • Who Cares

      This is a review of the newest release of openSUSE. Like many, I pay attention to the major releases of important software whether I ever plan or need to use it. It is called keeping current.

      Tell your incompetent bosses in Redmond to stop wasting their money.
    • Freedom

      Yang worship word. If you love Win8.1, you must not SPEAK it.
    • You will need to install

      your copy of Windows 8.1 on four different platforms as diverse and complex as what is described in this article before you can really see what is so appealing about this release. For good measure, go ahead and do the same thing with Opensuse. License issues aside, you will start to see the appeal even before you get to installing all those powerful desktop apps.

      I'm sure Windows works well enough for you and came "free" with your new PC, but if yours is truly a honest question you'll have to keep an open mind that not everyone has you're same needs or wants in an OS and a well designed OS like this can be very appealing for many reasons besides being free.
    • What is particularly appealing about this?

      Being honest, Windows is still the best OS for about 90% of desktop users. Unless you custom build your computer, it probably comes with the latest Windows edition already installed, so the cost of the OS isn't really an issue. Driver support for some wireless cards and video cards are lacking with Linux. If you play PC games, even if your doing graphic design or photography, Windows is still the better choice. I use both Linux and Windows, my desktop is dual boot and my laptop runs Ubuntu 12.04, so I'm not bashing Linux or anything, its just the way it is. Linux works fine for a lot of task exp on the server end, like web servers, though MS Active Directory is more flexible and robust then OpenLDAP so Windows still has some advantages even on the server end of things.

      The largest problem with Linux is we have to many versions. Packet managers are different, development teams are smaller then they should be, I could go on. If Linux where to ever make a serious run in the OS market Red Hat, Ubuntu, Debian, Arch etc would have to come together and at least agree on certain standards if not merge into one unified company.
      Brandon Evans