Hands on with openSuSE 13.1: Another outstanding release

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
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

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

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!

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