What's new in openSUSE 11.0

Working with openSUSE

The first thing that struck me was that there is no obvious way of running updates automatically. Instead, if you open yast2, the install manager, you can choose the updates pane. However, you physically must select all packages. No Update All button is provided and I couldn't find an appropriate command-line option; nor did I see a tray icon or other indication that updates were needed.

On the other hand, installing updates via yast2 is straightforward. To help you find your package, there's a search box, or you can browse through the various package sections, as shown in Figure 2. Dependencies are downloaded automatically; however, the install manager does take quite some time – several seconds on my machine – to start up. I have quite a few old and fairly slow machines, but this delay is more than I've seen when checking for updates in other distributions.

The menu in the bottom left-hand side of the screen resembles the Windows XP Start menu, showing often-used and recently used applications (Figure 3). I can't find any option to change the layout or setup of this menu, and opening applications not in the default menu is quite slow. Buttons, however, are easy to create on the taskbar by drag-and-drop.

I liked the "connection information" option in the menu, but it gave the wrong IP address. The right address was set and networking was working fine, so I'm not sure what the problem was.

A selection of programs are set to start automatically, which you can change from the Control Center. By default, programs include the touchpad manager, which seems odd if you don't have a touchpad (I didn't). Although this is intended to help with laptops, I'm surprised that it didn't detect the presence or absence of a touchpad and run setup accordingly during install.

The default browser, Firefox 3 (beta 5), seems like a reasonable decision, considering it's pretty stable already and Firefox 2 is starting to look a bit old.

The Tomboy Notes program, which I hadn't used before, is a default install with a shortcut button in the menu bar at the bottom of the screen. Tomboy lets you create new notes, access them with keyboard shortcuts, and link them to each other, similar to a personal wiki-lite. Figure 4 shows multiple linked notes and the search dialog.

Also, Tomboy can be sychronized to a local folder or off-site via SSH or WebDAV.

The Control Center provides a graphical interface for managing various settings, creating new users, and so on (see Figure 5). In the Control Center (as root), you can launch YaST, which controls non-user system basics such as mail, LDAP, NIS, firewalling, and so on (see Figure 6).

One significant problem I encountered was that the default firewall rules block SSH into the machine. Nowhere on the firewall interface did I see where this could be resolved readily, without turning the firewall of completely.

Media Player

Banshee, the default media player, handles both video and music and includes a Last.FM default option in the sidebar (Figure 7). Initially, I wasn't able to get this working and was given no error messages.

When I installed Rhythmbox and tried again, I discovered that the problem was that the MP3 codecs aren't installed by default. Rhythmbox alerted me and opened an openSUSE web page from which I could install the codec package (Figure 8). With a single click, I installed the package and then restarted Rhythmbox.

After this, Banshee worked fine and I liked the Last.FM interface, but it's too bad that the program wasn't able to launch the same process that Rhythmbox did.

Flash isn't included by default, but a Flash Player package is available and, once installed, it works automatically with Firefox.

Conclusions

Overall, openSUSE 11.0 strikes a balance between accommodating new users and experts. Under the hood, there's a lot of power while also keeping ease of use in mind. I was impressed by the extent to which many things, such as Flash with Firefox, simply worked. Even as someone who has spent years Linux-wrangling, I much prefer it when wrangling is minimal! Also, YaST is reminiscent of the well-done Mac System Preferences.

However, there are some odd choices, such as the inability to change the main menu layout and the apparent lack of ease of running security updates. Also, I was disappointed that MP3 codecs weren't included by default, or, if this wasn't possible for legal reasons, that the built-in media player couldn't alert users to that problem. This could baffle a novice user and turn people away from trying – or sticking with – Linux.

Overall, 11.0 is a nice effort from the openSUSE team, with just a few niggles that hopefully will be fixed in the next release.

The Author

Juliet Kemp has been playing around with Linux ever since she found out that it was more fun than Finals revision, and she has been a sys admin for about five years. Although she's been a Debian user more recently, Juliet used SUSE Linux first and she was interested to see how it has progressed in the past few years.

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