openSUSE 11.3: The Linux Lizard Lives

Novell's openSUSE 11.3 community Linux OS brings stability with KDE 4.4.4, a fresh 2.6.34 kernel and support for the new BTRFS file system.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Novell's openSUSE 11.3 community Linux OS brings stability with KDE 4.4.4, a fresh 2.6.34 kernel and support for the new BTRFS file system.

The last time we looked at openSUSE was back in October of last year. It's been a long haul for the SUSE community between versions, not just in terms of the effort to do the coding, but also in terms of the way the openSUSE community has been handling itself in general in relation to its peers.

Also Read: openSUSE 11.2 M8, What a Fine Lookin' Lizard

Also See: openSUSE 11.2 M8 Gallery

openSUSE 11.3, the latest version of Novell's community Linux OS was released on July 15th. I've put the OS through its paces for the last several days and I have to say that while I continue to be impressed with the functionality of openSUSE, I'm not seeing a huge amount of sexy in the latest release.

At best, I'd call openSUSE 11.3 a bug fix/service pack for 11.2 and 11.1. There are a few new features, most of which are under the hood, but from an end-user perspective there isn't a heck of a lot of new stuff to see here.

I'd liken openSUSE 11.3 to the "Windows 7" of openSUSE releases, where 11.1 and 11.2 were more "Vista". Most of this can be attributed to the fact that KDE 4.x prior to the most recent 4.3 and 4.4.x builds was horrendously unstable.

In terms of aesthetic improvements, If you look at the openSUSE 11.2 M8 gallery from last year, it's pretty much a good representation of what the latest version still looks like, almost a year later. I didn't bother with creating a new gallery for that exact reason.

This is not to say that KDE 4.4.4 looks dated -- in fact, it's one of the most attractive and modern UI's I've ever seen on an operating system. But it's clear that rather than introduce new functionality with this release, the openSUSE as well as the KDE 4 teams focused on stability and performance. The openSUSE product highlights page details some of the more gearhead incremental changes and improvements to this release, if you want to dive in.

Under the hood, openSUSE supports the 2.6.34 Linux kernel, the latest ALSA 1.0.23 and X.org 7.5. As with Ubuntu, 10.04 LTS, the "nouveau" open source nVidia driver is now the default for graphics cards with that chipset. Kernel mode-Setting (KMS) is now enabled by default, and the ATI Radeon driver has now replaced "radeonhd". The Zypper command-line package manager has had some re-work and handles dependencies in a cleaner fashion.

There are a few legitimately new things of note in 11.3 -- one of which is the introduction of the high-performance and ultra-scalable Btrfs file system in experimental mode. In addition to the command-line tools for Btrfs the Yast2 GUI partitioner in openSUSE 11.3 can build and mount a Btrfs without much fuss.

Additionally, openSUSE can run with Btrfs as its root filesystem, but this is not a default configuration and the new filesystem has to be picked during Expert install. As of this time Btrfs cannot be used for /boot -- that still has to be a traditional stable filesystem such as ext4.

In addition to Btrfs, openSUSE now has a lighter UI for netbooks called the Plasma Netbook Workspace, for those of you that want to try this power-users OS on a light system. Syncing movies and music with Smartphones such as the iPhone and Android devices are now supported with the Banshee Media Player which is built upon the Open Source implementation of the Mono .NET framework, Mono.

With 11.3, openSUSE also introduces a partnership with SpiderOak, a cloud-based storage system. This feature is similar to the UbuntuOne cloud that was introduced with Lucid Lynx 10.04 LTS.

While I am happy the openSUSE community has been able to give the distribution a fine sheen of polish since the last release, I do have some legitimate concerns about the project's ongoing viability and identity.

With Novell putting itself on the market -- calling into question the eventual fate of the distribution should the company and its assets be acquired by a larger, healthier entity -- and with the increasing popularity of Ubuntu for end-users and enterprise use and Fedora continuing to break the leading edge for developers, openSUSE runs the risk of becoming a "second system" or a 3rd-place status.

This fate of marginalization is virtually guaranteed unless it figures out how to distinguish itself from all the rest of the distributions out there or gains greater independence from Novell, whose objectives for the distribution have often come into conflict with the desires of the community-at-large.

Is openSUSE it a power-user's OS? Is it developer-centric? Is it for regular end-users like Ubuntu? Is it a desktop or a server? It also doesn't help that the distribution no longer has a community leader and Novell has yet to announce a replacement, as Joe "Zonker" Brockmeier resigned from Novell some months ago.

I've also been observing the discussions on the openSUSE developer lists and to say that the community is undergoing something of an identity crisis and lacking a clearly defined mission and organization would be an understatement.

Despite the distribution's political and organizational problems -- ones which admittedly, I know these folks are trying very hard to address -- openSUSE is still a very solid Linux distribution, albeit one which is more for the experienced user than the newbie. KDE 4.4.4 appears to be maturing nicely and now that it is finally stable, may now actually get some significant adoption.

Have you had a chance to install openSUSE 11.3 yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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