November 16, 2011

openSUSE 12.1 Arrives: What's New and What Happened to 12.0?

The openSUSE Project has released openSUSE 12.1, eight months after 11.4 and the first release since SUSE officially became a subsidiary of Attachmate. With 12.1, openSUSE brings major improvements to openSUSE tools and users' favorite components like GNOME, KDE, LibreOffice, and DigiKam.

The release is a pretty major update, so much so that they even skipped the 12.0 and went straight to 12.1! OK, not really – here's what really happened.

Seriously, 12.1?

So what's the deal with the version number? openSUSE community manager Jos Poortvliet says that the project had (yet another) discussion about the naming/version number scheme for the next release. At this time, one of the proposals on the table was to skip the .0 release numbering because it produces an expectation of a major update.

Poortvliet says that the new numbering scheme may not have been what he'd have chosen, but it was the winner when the openSUSE community was polled.

Silly as it seems (and is), that's the reason that 12.0 was skipped. But version numbering aside, here's what's really interesting in 12.1.

Desktops and User Software

For a lot of users, openSUSE is the desktop of choice. openSUSE 12.1, as usual, has a full complement of desktop options to suit just about any taste. In fact, it has even more than one might expect.

The default desktop is KDE 4.7, with Plasma Active available as well – though not part of the default release.

openSUSE 12.1 KDE DesktopAfter four releases, KDE 3 also returns to openSUSE. It's not part of the default DVD, but the community has been providing support for KDE 3 via the openSUSE Build Service. So folks who really prefer the old-school KDE can get their fix with openSUSE 12.1.

GNOME users have the latest from the GNOME Project, GNOME 3.2. This is the first official 3.x GNOME in openSUSE, though 11.4 did have a technical preview of GNOME 3.0.

Those are the big two, but of course openSUSE will also have the most recent releases of LXDE and Xfce.

openSUSE has the usual bevy of desktop and productivity software. This includes LibreOffice 3.4.3, Scribus 1.4, Chromium, Firefox, Opera 11.52, and much more. Note that Firefox shipped with openSUSE 12.1 is Firefox 7 rather than the most current release due to Firefox's aggressive release schedule.

For a full list of all the open source goodness with openSUSE 12.1, see the product highlights. There's far too much to list here.

ownCloud and Cloud Technologies

If you're releasing software in 2011, by law you have to have something that satisfies the "cloud" buzzword. OK, maybe it's not really a law, but it seems that way — right? And yes, openSUSE more than satisfies the federal minimum requirements for cloud technologies.

openSUSE 12.1 GNOME DesktopOn the desktop side and server-side, you have ownCloud and Mirall. So what's all that, then?

Basically, ownCloud is a set of web services that provide file sharing/management, music streaming, calendar access, contacts, remote storage, and more. It can be used as a PIM sync by KDE's Akonadi system, or just mirror folders off your desktop.

It's still in heavy development, so it's not quite as seamless as something like Dropbox. The advantage, of course, is that it's fully open source and you can control your data. It's actually not shipped as part of the default openSUSE 12.1 software, though. Because it's still undergoing a lot of work, the openSUSE folks are pointing people at the Open Build Service to get the latest and greatest releases.

Want to use openSUSE to build an Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud? The project has several cloud projects in the build service, including OpenStack and Eucalyptus.

openSUSE Specific and Under the Hood

It's also worth noting some of the technologies specific to openSUSE with 12.1. If you choose the Btrfs filesystem, which isn't the default, you can try out Snapper. What's that? It's a set of tools, including a GUI, for taking advantage of Btrfs snapshots.

Using Snapper, you can see older versions of files, roll back changes, and much more.

SUSE users mourned the departure of Sax2 when dropped the static xorg.conf file. The good news is that openSUSE now has a new tool for managing X, Sax3. It's a project stemming from Google Summer of Code (GSoC) by Manu Gupta.

I might add, it's fairly impressive that such a nifty tool came from the openSUSE community.

openSUSE is also getting smarter about managing kernel upgrades. With 12.1, Poortvliet told me that Zypper now has an option (which isn't yet the default) to keep an older kernel until the system has successfully booted into an upgraded kernel. This solves the problem of systems being rendered unbootable because of a new kernel that has a hardware conflict of some sort.

Right now, it's not the default, but users can enable this so that they can delete the old kernel after a successful boot — or keep up to two old kernels indefinitely.

Speaking of kernels, openSUSE 12.1 comes with Linux 3.1. It also features a new init system pioneered by Fedora, systemd.

Finally, if eight months is too long to wait for the next release, you might consider openSUSE Tumbleweed. This project provides a "rolling release" so you get software right away, as soon as it's stable and relatively well-tested. So, for instance, KDE's next release will likely come out well before the next openSUSE release. If you don't want to wait for that, you can run Tumbleweed and get the next KDE once it's stabilized.

openSUSE has long had a "Factory" release that is a work in progress of packages that will eventually go into openSUSE. But Tumbleweed is stable versions of packages that are not only the stable upstream versions, but also believed to work well with the rest of the system. (Which is not always true in Factory.) Tumbleweed has been around for a while, but it's considered complete with the 12.1 release.

All in all, this looks like one of the most exciting openSUSE releases in some time. If you're interested in trying it out, head to the download page and grab the DVD or live CDs for GNOME or KDE.

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