openSuSE 11.4 Released (Updated)

openSuSE 11.4 Released (Updated)

Summary: As I mentioned a few days ago, this is going to be an interesting and exciting time in Linux distributions, with a lot of new releases in the works. The first of those, openSuSE 11.

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TOPICS: Linux
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As I mentioned a few days ago, this is going to be an interesting and exciting time in Linux distributions, with a lot of new releases in the works. The first of those, openSuSE 11.4 arrived today. I have been watching this one particularly closely, and testing it since the first Milestone release was available, because it is the first of a wave of releases which will properly support some of the newest netbook systems I own. Now that it is out, I am not disappointed. It has handled everything I have tried it on so far with very little trouble, and the few times there was a hiccup, it was easy to find and fix. I have been installing, testing, using and otherwise investigating openSuSE for a pretty long time now, and it just keeps getting better and better.

Check the Release Notes for details about what's new and improved, and get the LiveCD or full DVD images from the Download Page. So, what does it look like? Here is the standard KDE desktop, taken from a 1280x1024 external display connected to my Lifebook S6510:

openSuSE 11.4

At the other extreme, here is the KDE Plasma Netbook desktop, taken from the 1024x600 display of my beloved HP 2133 Mini-Note:

openSuSE 11.4 netbook

I'm going off on a short detour here, but... I really, really like the KDE Netbook desktop. It is just clean and easy to use. I always compare it to the Ubuntu Netbook Edition, which is probably the best known Linux netbook desktop at the moment. The Ubuntu Unity desktop has a vertical bar that contains icons for launching applications and utilities. When there is not enough vertical space to display all of the icons, they are "folded", sort of like an accordion, which makes them harder to see, and much harder to access. On netbook computers, with limited vertical space, a LOT of the icons get folded, and using the bar becomes very tedious, to say the least. Also, I find Unity difficult to modify or customize (well, impossible so far, to be honest, because I haven't figured it out yet). With the KDE Netbook desktop, everything is much more accessible (and much more obvious), and it is very easy to modify things you don't like.

Ok, enough of a detour, back to your regularly scheduled quick first look:

As always, especially with openSuSE, there are lots of updates, improvements and new packages in this release. Starting right at the top with Linux kernel 2.6.37, KDE 4.6, Gnome 2.32, X server 1.9.3. At the application level, the big news is that it has LibreOffice 3.3.1 - this is the first distribution fallout I have seen as a result of the Oracle/OpenOffice furor. It also include Firefox 4.0 Beta 12, which will of course be updated to the final 4.0 release as soon as that is available. There is a lot more new stuff, both at the system and application level, but honestly, is there a point to me sitting here and rambling off a bunch of version numbers? The complete details are in the release notes, linked above.

I have already installed it on six of my laptop/netbook systems, here are a few quick plus and minus notes that I made:

Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S6510 - Intel Core2 Duo cpu, Intel 965 graphics, Intel 5300 WiFi: Absolutely no problems with installation and configuration. All hardware detected and supported.

HP Pavillion dv2-1010ez - AMD Athlon Neo cpu, ATI Radeon HD3410 graphics, Atheros AR9285 WiFi: The KDE Live CD didn't boot properly on this system, it just hung with a blank screen. To get around this you have to press F4 at the openSuSE splash screen, and then enter "nomodeset" in the boot options line. This is only a problem with the LiveCD, the installed image on the system works just fine. This is apparently a known problem with "older" ATI and nVidia graphic controllers. Once I got the LiveCD to boot, there were no other problems with installation and configuration.

Lenovo Ideapad S10-3s - Intel Atom N475 cpu, Intel GMA 3150 graphics, Broadcom 4313 WiFi, Synaptics ClickPad touchpad: No problems with installation and configuration. This is the first distribution that has supported the Broadcom 4313 out of the box with the new brcm80211 driver, and it works great. Likewise, this is the first that I have seen that correctly handles the "buttonless" Synaptics ClickPad, thanks to the latest Synaptics 1.3.0 driver. In fact, this works so well that if it had come along a week or so sooner, I might not have bought the new Samsung NF310... well, no, I probably would have, but I would have felt a lot more guilty about it...

Samsung NF310 - Intel Atom 550 Dual Core cpu, Intel GMA 3150 graphics, Broadcom 4313 WiFi: No problems with installation and configuration - no surprise, as this netbook is nearly identical to the Lenovo above.

Samsung N150 Plus - Intel Atom 450, Intel GMA 3150 graphics, Broadcom 4312 WiFi: What a dream come true. Nothing to do but load and go, everything works. Everything, up to and including the Broadcom 4313 adapter. Welcome to "the nightmare of Linux device drivers", and have a nice day.

HP 2133 Mini-Note - Via C7-M cpu, Via Chrome9 graphics, Broadcom 4312 WiFi: This one was the "most trouble", which it always has been because of the unusual chips used in it. But it is still one of my favorites, and I am still impressed by how well it works. Being "the most trouble" means that it took me about 30-45 minutes to set it up, rather than just the 10-15 minutes it took to install openSuSE 11.4. The problem(s), of course, were the Chrome9 graphic adapter and the Broadcom WiFi adapter. When you boot the LiveCD, it doesn't have a driver for the Chrome9, so it falls back to VESA in 800x600 resolution - pretty awful looking! But no worries, don't panic, just persevere and get the installation done. It looks bad, but it is the same old installation, and it takes 10-15 minutes, like all the others. Once it is installed and you have booted it, make sure you have a wired ethernet connection, and then start Firefox. Go to openSuSE Software Download, and enter openchrome in the Package Search box. When the result comes back with one package found, click "1-click install" at the right of the window. Follow the procedure as it is presented to you, clicking "Yes", "Next" or whatever as necessary. This will take about 10-15 minutes, because not only will it install the openchrome driver, it will also install all of the other packages that have been pre-selected for addition to the LiveCD distribution. Once that is done, all you need to do is restart the X server (use whatever way you know how - kill the running server, logout, reboot, whatever). When the server restarts, it will be in 1024x600 mode, as shown in the screen shot above! Hooray! Next, the firmware for the Broadcom 4312 needs to be installed. Once again, no worries. Start a terminal (Konsole), su to root, and run /usr/sbin/install_bcm43xx_firmware. This one will only take about a minute. When it is done, reboot and the WiFi will be working. Hooray again!

All in all, this is an excellent release, and I am very impressed with it. Whether you're new to Linux or an experienced user, it is definitely worth a try. As I said in the beginning, I'm amazed and impressed that the openSuSE developers keep making this distribution so much better with every new release.

jw 10/3/2011

Topic: Linux

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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  • I tried it last night - I am very impressed with how fast the full-blown KDE desktop is. I also like the new openSUSE theme for Xfce. Also, I played around with Tumbleweed, and got a nice, easy start to my first time using openSUSE as a "rolling update" distribution. Nice work!
    andyprough@...
  • What I have noticed about these Linux distributions and KDE in general, they lack a certain finesse that they are trying attain. There is no attention to aesthetics and detail you see in the user experience on platforms such as Windows and Mac OS X. Aero Glass features a lot of thoughtfulness and subtlety that you can see KDE obviously wants to be but keeps failing at time and time again. In addition to that, its the lack in functionality that makes KDE even more embarrassing and you have to wonder what the user experience designers for this technology are thinking. Its a very illogical environment that seems to focus on change for change sake instead of providing a elegant productive experience like Aero Glass. If you fail to agree with me, you fail to understand good UI. The again, design has never been one Linux strong points.
    Mr. Dee
  • KDE4 has yet to reach the finesse of KDE3.5 and distros are releasing very poor themes. With Mandriva 2010.2 every application has a childish looking Egyptian theme as default. The designers are probably very proud of this theme, but the design is really is nasty. The infamous cashew is a problem; it is supposed to make customising the desktop easy, but we don't need it. You can still change the desktop by right-clicking it. Many of the widgets are bug ridden. Yesterday I installed a weather widget and I could not move it to where I wanted it on the panel. Two years ago when I built my last PC, I decided KDE4 wasn't ready and installed 3.5. Last week I installed my new PC, with KDE4 and I'm very probably going to replace it with 3.5 or perhaps Icewm.
    openhgs
  • The above comment is full of generalized negative comments with absolutely no substance or specifics, and as such adds nothing of value to the discussion. What, exactly, constitutes a "certain finesse" that is supposedly lacking, especially when compared to Windows? Would that "finesse" be the tendency to corrupt its own disk, slowly degrading performance until the system becomes so tedious to use that the only solution is "install Windows from scratch"? Or would the "finesse" be the "White Window of Death", when something simply stops responding, the window is overlaid with a white curtain, and the user is left wondering what to do?

    In the same sense, what exactly is the "lack of functionality" that makes KDE "embarassing", and what exactly is "illogical" about it? I would content that the fact that the KDE netbook desktop could be created using the basic building blocks that KDE 4 was created to provide is clear evidence that there is no lack of functionality, flexibility, logic or finesse in the KDE design or implementation.

    On the other hand I find Areo Glass to be a tedious, distracting and overall poorly designed and even more poorly implemented user interface, which requires far too much from the computer in terms of resources and processing load, while in the end providing nothing more than the same old tired Windows user interface with a lot of cosmetics pasted onto it.

    I believe that I do understand user interface design fairly well, as I have some 30 years of experience in various aspects of it. I also believe that design, and even more importantly INNOVATION have always been strong points for Linux. So I am quite pleased to fail to agree with you.

    jw
    j.a.watson@...
  • A Linux user will always go off topic and start talking about stuff that does even relate to what was discussed. I didn't mention anything about stability or reliability. I was talking about user experience specifically the GUI.

    Considering that KDE is trying to "look" like Windows 7/Vista with the same semi-transparent windows which you say you have a hard time using. The only different with KDE it does a bad implementation of what AERO looks like on Windows 7. Aero Glass is not distracting or hard to use, in fact, its easy on the eyes and makes it easier to spend a longer period of time in front of the PC because its less distracting allowing you to focus on the window and its contents.

    If you had said it requires too much computing resources in 2004, you would have a viable argument, but this is 2011 where even shared graphics setups are more than enough to power Aero. Considering that most $600 and above PC's come with discrete graphics which are usually idly used unless for gaming, its nice to know what Windows can take advantage of it to produce a immersive and compelling user experience. Look at Internet Explorer 9 as another example of utilizing the GPU for accelerated graphics task, all of this goes back to capabilities up on which the AERO user experience is based which part of the Desktop Windows Manager: Direct3D, Direct X 11. So Aero is more than just aesthetics, its actually in the OS for a reason, producing smooth video, crisper text, images on screen and compelling applications that third party devs are able to create.

    As for tired Windows user interface, Windows 7 offers a lot of exciting features that make it even more compelling such as: Aero Peek, Live Thumbnail Previews, key animations that make it easier to focus on what is happening, Taskbar Jump List, Instant Search. So, I find it hard that you can actually call Windows 7 a tired interface. If it was so, I guess over 300 million persons would not be using it.

    After reading your GNOME 3 expose, I don't think you have a clue about good UI considering that most persons think its a useless change again for change sake remove common functionality that makes a standard desktop productive: inability to close apps, switch between apps, no way to find running apps.
    Mr. Dee
  • Broadcom 4313 WiFi adapter: /usr/sbin/install_bcm43xx_firmware is not to be found on my 64 bit installation of SUSE 11.4 on my new Samsung N150 n550 netbook and I can find it nowhere on the Internet including the SUSE repositories, notwithstanding their own instructions. I'm confused. So I have reverted to the untidy solution of using the Realtek USB WiFi adapter.

    Another problem I've had with SUSE is that it has not detected my other Linux distributions on the computer, namely Pinguy, Ununtu and Debian. I'm not familiar with the SUSE Grub configuration, so I'm stumped. This situation appears to stem from a deliberate SUSE policy to mount and recognise only the Windows partitions during installation.

    To make a further generalisation, I do find the SUSE desktop to be unnecessarily complex, and less intuitive, compared to the straight forward and simple logic of (vanilla) Gnome but I imagine that is all to change with the advent of Gnome 3. It take *4* mouse selections to shut down, or hibernate etc., the computer, by way of example. I remember when Windows was much criticised for having 3 mouse selections.

    In conclusion,I would like to succeed in setting up the Broadcom wireless adapter, and I would like to sort out Grub to recognise the other Linux installations, but I doubt that I will persist with SUSE as my principle distro. Nevertheless, SUSE's Grub interface is very attractive and I like the softer greens. Perhaps this is all summed by the higher level of technical challenge in SUSE.
    The Former Moley
  • Hi Moley, Sorry to hear that you are having so many problems. I can probably help with at least a few of them:

    - The Broadcom 4313 doesn't work with the b43 driver and firmware, which is what gets installed by the bcm43xx script you are looking for. It actually works with either the new brcm80211 driver, or the older broadcom-wl driver. The situation with the brcm80211 is essentially the same as it was with the b43 - the driver is included in the base distribution, but the necessary firmware files are not. If you can get on a wired connection at least temporarily, the simple solution is to install the "firmware-brcm80211" package. However you get them, what you are looking for is /lib/firmware/brcm/.

    - Grub and other distributions. Of the other distributions you mentioned, Ubuntu and Pinguy use Grub2, as does the latest Debian distribution. I don't know if openSuSE is intentionally ignoring other Linux distributions, or if it is just a bit too messy to multi-boot Grub2 from a Legacy Grub installation for them to undertake setting it up automatically. It is more than I can explain in a comment, so I will write up a blog entry about it this weekend.

    - I stick to the KDE desktop on openSuSE, so I don't know how easy it might be (or not). But I always add a "Shutdown" control to the panel, in either KDE or Gnome, to make it as easy and as few mouse clicks as possible.

    In general I agree with your conclusion - I don't expect to be using openSuSE as my primary distribution anytime soon. But it is nice enough to keep around, and I particularly like their Grub customizations.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw
    j.a.watson@...