Hands on with openSuSE 13.2

It has been a year since the last openSuSE release. Has it been worth the wait?
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

Well, sometimes when it rains, it pours: today we got the final release of the long-awaited openSuSE 13.2 distribution and the scheduled beta release of Fedora 21. I have been following the development of both of these distributions, so I am quite pleased to get my hands on them. Both support UEFI and Legacy (MBR) boot, so I will be loading them on pretty much everything I have around here.

I will start with openSuSE since it has just become officially available. The release announcement describes this as a "green light to freedom". Rather than repeat the list of changes and improvements here, I will simply refer you to that announcement. If you are at all interested in openSuSE, it is well worth the few minutes it takes to read it and look at the sample screenshots included in it. You'll gain a lot more information than I could give you here.

The ISO images can be obtained from the openSuSE download page. On this page you initially only see the Full DVD (4.4GB) and Network Install (80MB) images. There is a text block which explains that the "alternative media" (live images and rescue versions) are less tested and recommended only for "limited use". Hmmm. Well, I can vouch for the fact that throughout the development cycle the Live images have been broken much more often than the full installer has, but I hope that by this time they are complete and stable.

Anyway, once you click to display the alternative versions, you will see Live images for KDE and Gnome desktops, a Rescue image that can be booted from USB stick or CD but cannot be used to install to disk, and a link to the 'openSuSE Derivatives'. For this post I will install from the KDE Live image, but while I am doing that I will be downloading the full installer, which I will generally use for future installations.

The Live image is 909MB, and as usual it is a hybrid image, so you can either burn it to a disk or copy it directly to a USB stick using dd or the equivalent Windows utility. The Live image will boot on either Legacy (MBR) or UEFI firmware systems, and on UEFI it will even boot with Secure Boot enabled (yes, I have tried it).

openSuSE Live
openSuSE 13.2 Live KDE

That is the openSuSE Live desktop (KDE). You can use this to determine the compatibility of your hardware. Take a few minutes to check the obvious things, such as network connectivity (wired and wireless), keyboard and mouse/touchpad/whatever, display resolution and quality, and whatever USB/VGA/HDMI/SD ports you might have. If you are satisfied with that, you can click the Install icon on the desktop to start the installation.

The openSuSE installer is not my favorite (Anaconda is), but it is very easy to use and gets the job done with minimum fuss. It includes the following steps:

  • Language and Keyboard
  • Location and Time Zone
  • Disk Partitioning
  • User Account
  • Summary/Confirmation

The default filesystem type is Btrfs, but you can still change that to ext4 (or others) in the Disk Partitioning step if you want. Also, on UEFI systems the installer will recognize the first EFI Boot partition, and will configure it to mount on /boot/efi, but you can also change that if you want to use a different partition.

Booting will be configured for GRUB2 or GRUB2-EFI as appropriate, and on UEFI systems Secure Boot will be configured. This release is the first time I have seen openSuSE get the boot configuration right without manual intervention — with previous releases it frequently chose the Legacy/EFI boot incorrectly.

From the time you click 'Install' (and confirm it), the installation process takes about 10 minutes. That's really quite snappy. Once the installation is complete, you can reboot to the installed system. If you have a UEFI firmware system, your success as this point will depend a lot more on the UEFI implementation than it does on openSuSE. I can only say that if it fails to boot, or boots Windows instead of openSuSE, refer to my previous posts about UEFI and Linux, where I describe some of the common problems and solutions.

openSuSE 13.2 KDE Desktop

 OK, so there's the desktop, what's in the base distribution?

  • Linux Kernel 3.16.6
  • KDE 4.14.2
  • X.Org X Server 1.16.1
  • LibreOffice (Write, Calc, Impress, Draw, Base and Math)
  • Firefox 33.0
  • digiKam 4.3.0
  • gwenview (KDE image viewer)
  • Amarok 2.8.0 (music player)
  • openH264 video codec
  • YaST2 (management control center)

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There are a few things that a lot of people consider missing from that list - Java and Flash, for example, or the VLC media player, or various proprietary or non-FOSS drivers. To get those, you can use the third-party repositories, the best known of which is Packman. Check the openSuSE wiki  for details about how to use them.

I think that is enough for now. My intention here is not to sell anyone on openSuSE but simply to say that it is out, and I have loaded it on a couple of systems without problems. 

If you are interested in personal opinion and experience, openSuSE is one of the distributions that I always keep on every computer that I own (Fedora is the other). Most of those - perhaps all, I'm not entirely sure - are booting openSuSE by default, and then have the other distributions (and occasionally Windows) in the Grub boot menu. It all works very well.

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