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Distro Review: 60 Days Beating Up openSUSE 13.1

openSUSE fans claim it has the best KDE4 implementation, and is an all-around uber-nice distro. Does it? Is it?

Short story for the impatient: openSUSE is a rock-solid Linux distribution with a nice KDE4 implementation and lots of high-end enterprise goodness.

SUSE tuxMost distro reviews go no deeper than a quick look at a live CD/DVD, or a quick tour in a virtual machine, some commentary on the colors, a few screenshots, and done. Linux distro installers have been the best of any operating system for years now, so there is little point in discussing installation, and colors? Is it a mystery that we can change the colors? openSUSE 13.1 was released in November 2013, and I decided to use it for 30 days before reviewing it. Well, time got away from me and here it is nearly 60 days, so it has had a thorough pummeling at my brutal hands.

Not Too Broken

openSUSE is an independent project that receives support from SUSE. SUSE's development strategy is first stability, then features, then performance. openSUSE is a little different. As Jos Poortvliet (openSUSE's community manager) puts it, it ships when it's not too broken. openSUSE doesn't try to match SUSE's dedication to perfection, but follows a timed release schedule of a new release every eight months, and a version upgrade every two years. So we'll get 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3, and then 14.1.

So what does "not too broken" mean in real life? It translates to a good solid distro that you can use for everything from ARM systems to desktops to notebooks to high-demand high-traffic servers.

Bleeding Edge Goodness

openSUSE is a great distro for trying out new technologies. While everyone else is still telling us that Btrfs is not ready for production systems, SUSE Enterprise Linux has supported it since SLES 11 SP2, and it's also available (though not default) in openSUSE. The Snapper graphical Btrfs manager is a must-have; it works beautifully and makes managing snapshots as easy as falling over. The openQA automated distro build tester is an amazing tool for any distro. This release adds Android device integration in the Dolphin file manager, which is a very cool thing. Because starting with Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, most Android devices use the MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) to transfer files to a PC, instead of appearing as a generic USB mass storage device. This causes trouble for Linux users because MTP is not installed in most distros by default, though it is in repos. openSUSE 13.1 includes it by default so when you plug in your Android gadget (tablet, phone, Kindle) it automatically shows up in Dolphin.

We also get MariaDB in place of MySQL, OpenStack Havana, Samba 4.1, which is the Active Directory replacement, an experimental KWin Wayland backend, and VLC integration with Phonon. VLC may replace gstreamer as the Phonon backend in 13.2. Both VLC and gstreamer are excellent multimedia frameworks, and in my perfect world it is Phonon that would go away, because for me it gets in the way and it cannot be removed or disabled.

Glitchy Audio and Video

Audio and video were a little weird at first. I kept getting odd pops in the audio between tracks on Pandora and on music CDs. Video did not scroll or redraw smoothly, but rather it hung to the point that it was getting in the way of doing work. Both issues were cured after an update or two and are now nice and smooth.

sudo is Different

If you're used to how Ubuntu and its derivatives configure sudo, which is to give the default user full privileges and a locked root user account, openSUSE's handling of sudo might seem a little weird. The openSUSE default is for sudo and su to behave similarly: both need the root password. This is a pointless way to use sudo, so you'll need to run visudo to set it up correctly. You'll still need the root password for YaST.

All Users See Your Stuff

openSUSE uses the ancient convention of stuffing all users into the users group, so everything in all home directories are visible to all users. I've always thought this is weird, and while YaST lets you choose a different default group there is no option for user private groups. In fact the dropdown list to select a different default group merely shows you all existing groups, which doesn't help because you don't want to use any of these as the fig-2-openSUSE-downloadsdefault for a human user. So you'll need to use the useraddcommand to set up new users instead to give your users their own private groups.

KDE4 Updates Fun

I've been a KDE fan since KDE 1.something, way back in the days of pixely graphics. It's always been complex, and the current versions are great steaming masses of complexity. KDE4's configuration options and features are legion, so it's often difficult to tell where a problem originates-- is it KDE wigging out, or the underlying distro? Like notifications.

For some reason notifications became a great big important deal to some of the major Linux projects such as Ubuntu, GNOME, and KDE, so they've invested a lot of energy into giving every last little process and task a voice. So we get to enjoy all manner of interruptions, rather like baby birds who want something to eat RIGHT NOW. I've given up trying to tame the darned things and just turn them off, which is a long and involved process, and it will give me something to click on when I am too old and senile to do much else. Sort of a forever whack-a-mole game. Occasionally they are a little bit useful, and sometimes they're just plain mystifying, like update notifications (figure 2). The top pane shows progress. Nowhere did it tell me the total size of the downloads, or give an estimated time to completion. Somehow packages are downloaded even though it says 0KB network transfer. It also says I should review the proposed updates, and restart my system now. Magic 8 Ball says just do it and quit bothering me.

Is this a KDE issue? Something weird with openSUSE? Who knows. As long as the updates work I shall content myself with scowling at it occasionally.

The Rest of the Story

There really isn't much to say. openSUSE works. I have no problems with dependency conflicts, installing and removing all kinds of software including source builds, playing with mass widgets, running gobs of VMs, doing multi-channel audio recording, and video editing without drama. It's a nice distro with a good responsive community and good documentation. It's great for KDE fans, and for server admins who want a rich set of advanced enterprise functionality. It is a solid distro that I recommend without reservation.



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  • john Said:

    acutally using it for some time makes for a much better review, thanks

  • Orbmiser Said:

    Yep appreciate the longer term using before typing review. Tho I tried it found it too confusing with multiple update ways. Also tried 12.1 and 13.1 with the same issue of wifi not working out of the box and a need to manually go in and click to get Opensuse to see and enable my wifi. Been a year and they still haven't fix that issue. Couple that with other reasons you mentioned like video,audio issues and the weird sudo and users thing. Makes me look elsewhere. Been using SolydXK KDE version last 6 months as a Debian semi-rolling quarterly based on testing. Zero isssues and everything done right with none of the issues you mentioned. Gone thru 5 updates and problem free and smooth sailing. Also being on Testing branch means the Apps are pretty fresh tho not bleeding edge. Sorry but Opensuse may indeed be an outstanding distro. But as you pointed out some of it's flaws and quirks leaves me as naysay for recommending to other's. .

  • Zubin Singh Parihar Said:

    Agreed SolydK is the New De Facto KDE distribution. Nice article though! Thanks.

  • Rob Said:

    lol. SolydK the 'defacto' KDE distro. Thanks for the laugh.

  • Juanmi Said:

    SolydXK is a distro for babies.... done by babies and baby targeted. To say it "De facto" KDE distro is an stupidity.

  • a linuxer Said:

    I also gave opensuse a try but my experience is a mixed bag. On the positive side, Opensuse 13.1 Kde is indeed a very nice kde implementation, from its theming to selected programs. Everything works very nicely. I also like the fact that Opensuse tries to stay inbetween stability and bleeding edge, thus users can stay with Opensuse without worrying too much about updated software. The only problem with Kde is that it is resource hungry, not just for ram but also for cpu. Thus, I decided to give it another try with opensuse 13.1 gnome, which was not so nice. Immediately after I installed, updated and copied my backup files the gnome indexer started crunching my cpu for a very very long time. I am not using a powerful laptop so I thought Gnome may not be a solution either. As a last option, I tried the lightweight desktops and window managers and all of them gave me headaches. Namely: 1. I tried enlightenment before removing kde on top of kde. Actually, opensuse's enlightenment looks very nice. The problem was that I didn't have a wireless network connection when I logged in, I was not able to fix this. 2. I made a clean install from Xfce. After I updated my system and rebooted, I was not able to reach the login greeter. I bit of google search gave me a few discussions about lightdm manager has a bug in Opensuse and therefore can't start on booting. There were a few dirty workarounds, which I didn't care. 3. As a last try, I made fresh install with Lxde. My problem with Lxde was sound, pulseaudio was not installed by default and alsa was not doing well with my soundcard (I have HDMI as well). The opensuse wiki has troubleshooting but unfortunately, I was not able to fix it up with the info available. So, as a result of this adventure, I decided to go with Fedora 20 Xfce spin, which I am happy with. Fedora will probably be my distro of choice as I have problems with Debian and its derivatives. Although Debian seems to be very friendly, in fact it may give you serious problems. I myself was the victim of Debian and Ubuntu derivatives not being able to handle and park my hard disk properly as a result of which my hard disk ended its life quickly. Summary: Opensuse is good choice if you have a computer resourceful enough to handle KDE or Gnome. Otherwise, another rpm based distro like Fedora, Mageia or Pclinuxos will be a better choice depending on your hardware.

  • akaper Said:

    If you don' t like bloated ui's than just choose lxde, xfce or enlightnment. Since OpenSUSE is like every good distro all about choice, you van simply choose during installation or even after installation using standardized install patterns in YAST.

  • Niklas Said:

    Instead of changing how openSuse manages user groups, use permissions if you want to have private files. Change the umask to a 7 for groups and others (umask is in reverse) and any new file created will be invisible and inaccessible to anyone but the file owner.

  • a linuxer Said:

    No, I didn't bloated ui's. All of Kde, Gnome, LXDE and Xfce were clean installs from dvd. I never mixed and matched each other. In case of Enlightenment, you have to use one of Kde, Gnome as a base since Enlightenment is not an option in the install dvd. I chose the enlightenment as the installation pattern from Yast on top of Kde. I agree that Opensuse 13.1 is a very good distribution but unfortunately, it seems like they do not value lightweight desktops and window managers as much as the heavy Kde and Gnome. Just to support my argument, if you go to opensuse's website, you will see only kde and gnome livecd's with just a rescue cd being based on Xfce (which is not installable). You can't try a lightweight desktop or window manager in a medium but only install using the opensuse install dvd.

  • Leslie Satenstein Said:

    My one and only attempt with suse13.1 was unsuccessful. I worked through the setup options, ran the installation, but then got stuck on trying to setup the wireless networking. I only had a wireless access, and there was no sniffer or ability to detect ssids and to move forward. If one cannot connect to a network, and if one wants to use SUSE for more than just some coding, what to do. I could not find the wireless network setup panel and that ended my trial. By the way, with an earlier version some three years ago, I did have wired access, and that use was excellent. If someone tells me that this wireless list problem is resolved, I'll be back.

  • Tachyon Said:

    The wireless problem is you. Your wireless card must have a chipset the requires proprietary firmware otherwise it would be supported out of the box. You need to pay attention during the install and during the package selection phase choose custom and add the firmware for your chipset from the non-free package repository. As for not being able to find the wireless control panel, OpenSUSE uses network manager, just like everyone else.

  • pressanykey Said:

    Actually, by default, OpenSUSE 13.1 uses "Traditional Method with ifup" by default (on the Global Options tab). So Leslie, Open YaST and click "Network Settings"(in Network Devices section of panel) to setup your wireless access..

  • a linuxer Said:

    @Leslie Satenstein: Which installation media are you using? I suggest downloading one of live kde or gnome from opensuse website, burn it to a dvd/usb and boot it to see if your hardware is working. Opensuse is generally good at detecting wireless cards but if you can't setup your network from the livecd, chances are that your card is not supported. But you may still be able to find the firmware from opensuse build service perhaps. If you decide on using opensuse I strongly recommend Kde and if not Gnome. The other options are really not very well thought of and you need to make extra effort to make them working.

  • Justin Said:

    I have to put in, I use openSUSE 13.1 with XFCE. I have experienced pops in the sound, but, have absolutely no problems with any of my DE experiences. The underlying distro seems pretty solid to me.

  • a linuxer Said:

    Actually, I was checking the websites of lightweight linux desktops and window managers and just figured out that most of them are not actively developed. The only exception is Enlightenment. Desktops like Xfce, Lxde, Razor-qt are either lagging their release cycles by year or on the process of merging and thus they are becoming older. Openbox is in a similar situation as well, I guess. Although I would like to see an Openbox implementation like #! or that of Manjaro in Opensuse, I can see why they don't give a priority. These desktops and window managers may be preferable in some aspects as a stable environment. However, with laptops changing very rapidly, I doubt that they would be a convenient option for a new laptop as they may have dated desktop management tools. Thus, Opensuse may be right in not considering them as a first choice.

  • Waleed Said:

    i tried opensuse for one week it's really stable but i faced a problems with video player even vlc can't play videos even after installing multimedia codecs i searched the internet and i found it a general problem and must users faced it after one week of fighting i gave up and return back to my lovely fedora

  • Tachyon Said:

    It's not SUSE that handles sudo and su weird, it's Ubuntu that does it in a non standard way. It's just that Ubuntu think has so polluted people that they now consider IT the norm when it is not. The same goes for the group handling. putting everyone in users is standard behaviour. So standard that this is the first time I've ever even heard this complaint. As for notifications, well that's a personal preference thing, but that's become a must have feature on nearly every OS these days and I think most people are fine with it. Besides that it's not an OpenSUSE exclusive feature so it's not something that makes it either better or worse than anything else. As for people in the comments talking about various hardware issues etc, I have found OpenSUSE to have some of the best hardware support of any distro. Most often the problem stems from people coming from other distros that fail to RTFM and then expect OpenSUSE to behave the same as their previous distro. This is strictly the user's fault, not OpenSUSE's. For example, with WiFi. If you have a chipset that requires firmware support, OpenSUSE will not install that firmware by default. Thank the F/OSS Nazi Icewasels for this. However the fix is simple. Either during install from the package selection screen, or later from YaST 2, browse to the NON OSS repo and click on the firmware for your device to install it. The same goes for nVidia drivers. Instead of RTFM'ing the OpenSUSE install guide or searching the knowledge base, many people go download the driver from the nVidia site and try and install it manually and end up making a mess of the system which they blame on OpenSUSE. The correct way to install nVidia drivers is to run YaST 2, click on Software Repositories, click on add. Choose community repositories and click on the nVidia repository. The from the YaST 2 Software Management menu, click on view and choose repositories. Then click on nvidia. Now choose the drivers for your card and install. YaST2 will not only install the correct drivers, and compile the kernel module for you. It can also install the OpenCL drivers and it will also automatically manage the nVidia drivers in the future so that any time there is a kernel update it will rebuild the nVidia kernel module for you and the initrd too. In fact I have to say that it's rare that I see an OpenSUSE problem posted online that isn't actually user error and a general failure to RTFM. OpenSUSE has extensive and well written install, user and administration manuals that are online, and downloadable in PDF. The PDF versions are also on the install DVD's so there's no excuse for skipping them. To install third party packages like Chrome, copy and paste the RPM URL and use zypper to install it from a root shell. ie open a terminal, type su, enter the root password and then type # zypper install pasting the URL from the application's website. This way OpenSUSE will manage update to that package as well. One final tip. Make sure to add the Packman repository for access to an even wider variety of packages and for packages you can't find built for OpenSUSE, go find them on the OpenSUSE Build Service at their website.

  • Tachyon Said:

    Sorry for the mess in the previous comment. This blog does not respect any formatting used in the comment editor.

  • Daniel Said:

    "su" means "switch user (to root)". "sudo" means "switch user (to root) and then do the next command". Both of these involve switching to root user and so it's right for openSUSE to ask for root's password with either command. Ubuntu is the one doing it in a non-standard, shortcutty way.

  • spencer Said:

    I'm a 12.3 user on my system 76 laptop. changing from ubuntu was great. I adore the right to easily customize my system and YAST is easier than ever to fetch new applications. My "policy" is to upgrade only once a year at the spring version.

  • Mike Roffone Said:

    When creating users with Yast, you can select a more restrictive permission model for the users' home directory, it sets the permissions bit to 0700 instead of 0755, but you can always create the unique group before creating the user.

  • Linux Said:

    There can be so much information available that you can’t even decide where to start. I visit this website and it's very good website

  • pressanykey Said:

    I like OpenSUSE Gnome 3 / Xfce / openbox. I guess my real question is, which distro / DE / WM could you shrink wrap and sell retail? Could the average computer user install it? Set it up to receive updates? Install and remove software? Figure out how to log into Gnome or Xfce from the login manager? After installing it, on the first boot, would you be able to use it, especially with an nVidia card? Would wireless access already be setup? What's a repository or PPA to the average non *nix user? Su, sudo, gksu, what? Can you at least watch an mp4 video or listen to mp3 out of the box? I guess, in short, could you retail OpenSUSE?? If not, what would the effort be?

  • pressanykey Said:

    Oh, yeah, most importantly - Great review! :)

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