Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some thoughts on OpenSUSE 11.1 KDE version

Yay! Another OpenSUSE release. And like some dewy-eyed and shameless groupie, I used (or misused?!) the company's fast Internet line to download the latest KDE Live CD.

So far, I have been quite critical of KDE 4.x. Most of its incarnation in other distros were, shall we say, less than usable? Things like moving icons around on the panel were made necessarily difficult and what's with the right justification all the time when adding icons to the panel?

Since Mandriva and SUSE are "KDE Kings" I was really looking forward to running it on my spare lappy, an "ancient" Centrino 1.6GHz with 1GB RAM and Intel 915 display.

For any distro, I always look for the following:
  1. Package Repository - how complete and extensive it is.
  2. Package Management - dependency resolution, how easy to update, patch install new software
  3. Multimedia - I use my lappy and home PCs to work and listen to MP3s, watch movies, trailers and Youtube.
  4. Networking - I am a heavy Internet user, in the office and at home I use Wifi extensively and when on the move, I use Digi's EDGE; thus, if any distro has problem working with them, it will never be considered. NetworkManager 0.7 and above should have that covered well.
Installation
I installed via the KDE Live CD. I usually prefer the Live CD method just to check everything is working before committing it to the hard drive.

Installation was just an icon click away and it took me about 20 minutes or so.

After the initial reboot, the screen flashed a few times with a message telling me that I shouldn't worry too much about it as the OpenSUSE was trying to properly configure my display. As always, it NEVER works and I needed to get to the Graphics Card and Monitor applet in Yast to get it done properly.

The KDE panel was "automagically" shortened to like 3/4 of its original length and I had to right click to configure the panel and lengthen the panel back to its original full length.

This "shortened" KDE panel is not something that happened only on my spare lappy, it also happened on some other machines I tried on as well. I do hope it is a bug and not some "feature" the KDE or OpenSUSE guys thought were cute.

Bootup
OpenSUSE's splash screen is simply awesome. Very elegant. Instant bragging material when showing off to Windows fanboys; and it only took me about 35 seconds from startup to a usable desktop (including keying username and password fairly quickly). Very nice!

Also I could hit the ESC key any time during the splash screen to look at the boot up messages, something I miss sorely when running Ubuntu.

Desktop
Well, it's very green; I was expecting the "normal" KDE 4.x blackness and blue swirl wallpaper, but still better than the orange/brown default of Ubuntu. KDE 4.1.3 is provided as the default. Staple KDE apps, Konqueror, KDE-PIM, Koffice with OO.o 3.0.

Novell's OO.o is known to be really good and in this aspect it doesn't disappoint. It seems snappier and works well even in KDE. Also it comes with extra templates.

I was looking forward to KOffice 2.0, but I guess it's better to iron out the kinks rather than rushing out an unfinished and buggy suite. Koffice is functional but it is simple horrible when working with MS Office docs and it doesn't fully support (or OO.o generated) ODF yet. On a brighter note, Firefox doesn't suck that much as was in Kubuntu or Fedora.

Konversation is not included by default, pity; I like that. Well it's just an installation away. So far Kopete in OpenSUSE seems to give me the least issues. I just can't explain it, maybe there is some special tweak or hidden check box somewhere.

Yast is still as always, dependable and good but looks dated as it is using Qt3 rather than Qt4; but still very usable.

Dolphin is looks like a step backwards. While it looks good, where is the tabbed browsing? Even Nautilus has it now and Dolphin looks so dated compared to the former.

Package Management
Zypper is a very cool tool. While I will not say it is comparable to the venerable apt-get; zypper is at least at the level of yum. Want to install nmap? Just fire away zypper in nmap.

Very nice indeed.

Or you can just launch Software Management applet via Yast. It's just me, I have a soft spot to doing stuff on the CLI sometimes.

Well, a package manager is only as good as the repos that support it. Sadly, the OpenSUSE and 3rd party repos like Packman (with all the multimedia goodies) are simply dreadful to work with. Firstly, to really get stuff configured well, you need to essentially configure the updates via Yast (not a bad thing actually, as it attempts to locate the nearest repo mirror to you) that timed out more times that I can count and in the office I have a dedicated 8Mb line. I finally decided to manually add the nearest mirror (Japan) to via the Software Repository applet. Not very noob friendly at all.

Adding to its issues, is OpenSUSE's insistence of refreshing all the repos every time you launch the Package Management applet or zypper to add/remove stuff. Although you can easily turn the refresh off, it is still annoying, especially so since the repos are so slow and time out so often.

I suggest turning off auto refresh to gain any sanity in working with package management utilities in OpenSUSE.

Multimedia
I watch a lot of AVIs for entertainement and listen to MP3s when I work and/or surf the web. So having a relatively good multimedia playback capability is a pre-requisite for me.

So far even the trouble-some RMVB files that I have seems to play seemlessly via kmplayer and kaffeine. I realy don't care much for Dragon Media player and Amarok seems bloated. For simple MP3 playback I prefer to use Audacious or XMMP.

Networking
NetworkManager is one of those gems that just work. While the GNOME version of NetworkManager is just one dialog box and a field to enter the key by comparison KNetworkManager is simply bad. Too many dialog boxes for something as trivial associating to a hotspot. And by default KNetworkManager doesn't even connect to a previously associated hotspot automatically, you'll have to start it automatically by ticking a check box. While some might call Wifi auto connection bad, I feel that I should not be bothered with so many details just to get work done; after all, would you like to re-tune all your favourite channels whenever you fire up your radio?

Not necessarily a feature stopper but begs the question, "WTF"?

As mentioned I am a heavy Internet user. Even when I am on the move I often bring along my trusty nc2400, especially when out for shopping with the wife. So connecting to Digi's EDGE service is important for me.

Well, when I attach my E71 (via a USB cable) to the lappy, I see an option to connect via /dev/ttyACM0 (I can almost hear a noob screaming WTF?!). Okay, bad label but should work right? When I clicked on it, it was dead in the water. A tail -f /var/log/messages said it had connecting /dev/ttyACM0 and error message 15.

Urgghh.....WTF!?

It worked with Fedora and Ubuntu and they were released before OpenSUSE 11.1. Well, I finally got connected by configuring a connection via kinternet. On the other hand, when I tried using my wife's Maxis 3G USB dongle (Huawei E220), it got connected KNetworkManager and without resorting to kinternet.

I had the same issue with OpenSUSE 11.0, and so I was looking forward to some sort of improvement.

Overall
I would say that OpenSUSE 11.1 is a solid distro. KDE 4.1.3 still feels like unfinished but the OpenSUSE guys managed to tame it to the point it is somewhat usable.

I still think having a single pane only view for Dolphin is a bad choice. Konqueror is doing a wonderful job and sometimes I feel that some stuff are just "upgraded" and "improved" for its own sake.

Also, KNetworkManager simply has one too many dialog boxes. While I understand that KDE != GNOME, there are some cool features in GNOME that perhaps the KDE hackers can use and vice-versa.

I might just make OpenSUSE permanent on my home PC on the account of its excellent multimedia capabilities.

4 comments:

Miguel said...

Dolphin has tabs since 4.1.x. Go File> New Tab (If I recall correctly)

msian_tux_lover said...

Hi Miguel,

Hmm, possibly so. How could I miss that? Darn, thanks for the info. I will check it out.

Fabrice said...

Indeed, Dolphin have tab since a long time, way before Nautilus : CTRL+SHIFT+N

Now, you just need to check Mandriva 2009.0 or the new Mandriva 2009.1 Alpha 1 :) You'd better try the One edition
Mandriva official doc : http://doc.mandriva.com/

Download : http://www.mandriva.com/en/download/free

Visual tour of features : http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.0_Tour

For Mandriva 2009.1 Alpha : http://wiki.mandriva.com/en/2009.1_Alpha_1

msian_tux_lover said...

Hi Fabrice,

I used to pay for Mandrake's (now Mandriva) membership. Sadly they lost me as a paying customer when they decided to change the download repos indiscriminately. When I emailed them, the tone was in a word, "disrespectful".

Perhaps they have changed, I cannot be sure as I have essentially stopped using Mandrake/Mandriva for over 4 years now.