OpenSuSE 12.3: In-depth and hands-on

A look at the latest release of openSuSE, which is so good I have installed it as the default boot on all of my computers.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The leading edge of the deluge of new Linux releases has reached us, in the form of openSuSE 12.3. 

The news is good - in fact, it's very good. 

I said when openSuSE 12.2 was released that I really liked it, and I feel even more strongly so now with 12.3. So strongly, in fact, that I already have 12.3 installed as the default boot on all of my computers. 

That covers a very wide range of hardware, with CPUs from Intel (Core2Duo, various Atom versions and Core i3/i5) and AMD (C50/C60/C70 and E350/E450); with memory from as little as 1GB to as much as 6GB, graphic controllers from Intel (965) and AMD (various Radeon models); Wi-Fi adapters from Broadcom, Atheros, Intel and Ralink; wired network adapters from Marvell, Broadcom, Realtek and Intel; Bluetooth adapters; audio controllers; and whatever else this variety of notebooks and netbooks have in them. 

I haven't had a single device that didn't work, and I didn't have to do any special adjustment, configuration, driver download, compiling or anything else.

A release recap

The release announcement gives a quick look at the highlights, and is well worth the couple of minutes it takes to read it.  The release notes give much more in-depth information about this release, including known bugs, quirks, limitations and workarounds for a few things.

Even if you're familiar with installing Linux in general or openSuSE in particular, it's worthwhile at least scanning through these notes. On the downloads page you can get either KDE or Gnome 3 Live ISO images, and a complete DVD Installer image.  Oh, and the Rescue image on that page is actually an Xfce Live image as well. 

If you prefer the cinnamon or MATE desktops, those can be added to the Gnome 3 version after installation, via the GUI add/remove software utility or directly from the CLI using zypper. 

The Live images are smaller and thus faster to download than the DVD image (Duh), and faster and easier to copy to a USB stick or burn to a disk, so if you don't specifically need something from the DVD I recommend using the live media. 

If you already have a running Linux system, you can dd the ISO image to a USB stick and be ready to install in just a couple of minutes.

Also, the DVD ISO is not a live image, it is only an installer, so you can't boot it to try out the operating system, and you can't jump out of the installation procedure and run some other program during installation.

The DVD image can also be used to upgrade and existing openSuSE installation, which the Live images can not do.

Installation is exceptionally easy - those who are unhappy with Fedora's latest anaconda installer might be happy with the openSuSE installer, as it is clear and easy to use, and doesn't try to do any of the fancy footwork that anaconda does (personally I like the new anaconda, but that's not important right now).

I was very surprised, pleased and impressed to find that the openSuSE installer handles UEFI, including Secure Boot, with no trouble at all, including detecting and mounting the EFI boot partition.

EFI Boot Partition
Installer shows the EFI boot partition

 There is one catch, though, which is mentioned in the release notes — even when it detects UEFI boot and gets the disk configuration right, when you get to the final summary screen it will have the wrong bootloader selected - it tries to install normal (non-EFI) Grub2.

The wrong bootloader

You have to select the boot configuration item from the summary list and change that selection to grub2-efi.  This is also where you can specify that you want Secure Boot support.

Select the grub2-efi bootloader

Of course, if you are not installing on a UEFI BIOS system, you don't need to worry about any of this, the installation will be the same as it always has been. 

In either case, installation on all of my systems has taken less than 15 minutes. The first boot after the installation has completed will perform an 'automatic configuration', for which the Network Manager is disabled. If you're installing on a system with a wired network connection, you might not even notice the difference — but if you have wireless connection, you are likely to see that the Network Manager icon is missing from the panel, and even if you manage to find and click it there will be no wireless networks listed and it will inform you that Network Manager is not running.

No worries, don't panic, just reboot one more time and all will be well.

So, once you have it installed, what makes it so great that I was raving about it at the beginning of this post? 

What makes 12.3 a winner?

First, it works without any extra effort or special installation on all of the systems I have tried so far - every network adapter, every graphic controller, and every other device I've tried. 

This is in large part because it is running Linux kernel 3.7, and there has been a lot of activity over the past couple of kernel releases in keeping up with new device drivers. 

It also has the latest release of KDE (4.10); LibreOffice 3.6 including Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation and Database; Mozilla Firefox 19.0.2 and Konqueror 4.10 for web browsing; Amarok 2.7, GIMP 2.8.2  and digiKam 3.0. 

I'm particularly pleased with that last one, because I really like digiKam and I use it a lot, so I like to keep up with the latest versions. 

All of the kipi utilities are included for photo processing - one of my favorites in this group is hugin for stitching multiple images into a panorama.  Of course, there is a lot more included, even in the Live versions, but if one of your favorites isn't there, you can always add it after installation. 

I did this with kMyMoney, which I use quite a lot, and although the FOSS Radeon graphic display drivers work very well for ordinary use, I decided to try out the proprietary AMD Catalyst drivers as well. 

The openSuSE Wiki has a page about the AMD Catalyst package, with an overview of supported hardware, links and instructions for 1-click install, GUI/Yast install and command line/zypper install. I used 1-click install, and it worked perfectly and couldn't have been easier.

Another positive aspect of this release is that the laptop Fn-keys work on every system I have tried so far, too, at least for volume up/down/mute, brightness up/down and touchpad off/on. Wi-Fi off/on and Suspend/Sleep work on some systems but not on others, but that is typical of those keys anyway.  Multiple monitor support works well, just use the KDE Display control to set up the screens the way you want.

One last note, again about EFI Boot systems. The openSuSE 12.3 grub is capable of booting other operating systems, including Windows as well as other Linux distributions, either by directly loading their kernel or by chainloading their EFI boot image. 

This means that if you want a boot selection process that is more user-friendly than sitting pressing F-whatever over and over again, and better looking than a plain text list, you can substitute openSuSE for Windows in the initial boot sequence. Of course, I would still choose to install the wonderful rEFInd boot manager, but that's another issue.

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