June 15, 2010

Seven Reasons to Upgrade to openSUSE 11.3

Lizard lovers, get ready. The next openSUSE release is heading your way very soon. After eight months of development, the green team will launch 11.3 in mid-July. Let's take a look at the new and improved openSUSE.

The last openSUSE release came out in November of 2009. It was the last openSUSE release before the project went onto a fixed eight-month release cycle. It's a bit slower than the Ubuntu and Fedora projects but gives a bit more time to work on the release. Lots of good stuff has been developed since 11.2.

Also, quick disclaimer: I used to work for Novell as the openSUSE Community Manager. But I'm not trying to convince anyone to convert to openSUSE 11.3 that isn't already using openSUSE. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone either; we just want to give a good look at some of the new and useful features in major distributions as they get ready for release. It's good to know what's in a new release before installing it in order to decide whether or not the pain of upgrade is worth it.

A Cast of Thousands

One of the best reasons to upgrade is all the upstream software that has come out since the 11.2 release. openSUSE has Perl 5.12, Mono 2.6.4, OpenOffice.org 3.2.1, Firefox 3.6.4, the 2.6.34 Linux kernel, and hundreds of other updated packages.

This sort of goes without saying, since most distros include the latest upstream packages. But upstreams are the primary reason to use any given distro.

openSUSE Build Service Improvements

Technically, this isn't so much about 11.3, but it is worth mentioning since the openSUSE Build Service is very important to the openSUSE development process. Actually, the openSUSE Build Service is important to a fair number of projects, including MeeGo and quite a few others.

The latest release of the openSUSE Build Service includes a refreshed user interface on the Web site that's much cleaner and easier to use. It also sports review handling so teams can better work on packages together. The 2.0 release of the openSUSE Build Service also features Access Control Lists, so projects and packages can be worked on privately. Previously all packages were visible and searchable via the build service, which was a problem if a user or group didn't want a package out in the wild right away. Release early and often is a good way to do development but shouldn't be mandatory.

Finally, and users will appreciate this one, anonymous users can browse and access public packages and source on the build service. Prior releases required a login, which was not optimal for users who just wanted to see one release.

In short, developers will want to check openSUSE 11.3 and the openSUSE Build Service out. It's an amazing piece of work and ought to be used much more widely than it already is.

I Can't Believe It's...

If you're a filesystem geek (and who isn't), openSUSE 11.3 is the first major distro to let you choose btrfs in the installer by default. Fedora 13 has btrfs but requires users to slip in an extra parameter when booting the CD/DVD for install.

What's nifty about btrfs? It has a lot of really interesting features but the most compelling is snapshots. This makes it possible to create a "snapshot" of a filesystem at a given point in time and revert to it later if you need or want to.

It shouldn't be used on production systems yet, though. In fact the installer gives a hefty warning about the state of btrfs. If you're feeling experimental, though, this makes it easy to test out btrfs. Look for a using btrfs feature soon.

LXDE on the DVD

The openSUSE Project has added the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) to the list of available desktops on the DVD, which is new since 11.2. LXDE is fast and light desktop environment, and it's good for users with resource-constrained (read: old) systems and netbooks. It's fine for Intel i7 machines with 16GB of RAM, too, but any desktop can be speedy on that system. Rumor has it even Emacs runs less slowly on those machines.

The nice thing about LXDE is that lightweight doesn't mean less filling, er, features. It's easy to customize, has a pleasant interface, and follows freedesktop.org standards.

KDE Goodness

When users think KDE, openSUSE is one of the first distros they look to. And openSUSE 11.3 will be no different. The July release date means that 11.3 isn't going to ship with KDE 4.5, but it will include the latest and greatest from the KDE 4.4x series.

openSUSE 11.3 includes a new "packages on demand" feature for KDE that lets users easily install software to handle new filetypes. So if you need to install a package to open a document or media, KSuseInstall (not exactly the most exciting name...) will help you out.

The KUpdateApplet (detecting a theme in names here?) will also support dist-upgrade in 11.3, so future upgrades will be even easier. You may never need a CD/DVD drive again.

GNOME Shell Preview

GNOME fans are not out in the cold. As always, openSUSE 11.3 has a great GNOME desktop experience. But if you have been hearing all this talk about GNOME Shell and want to get a hands-on look at it, openSUSE 11.3 ships a preview of the GNOME Shell that will let you start right away.

Technically, GNOME Shell is not yet ready for prime time. In practice, I've used GNOME Shell a bit and it does just fine for day to day use. It's not full-featured yet, but it's stable enough for daily use and you might like the interface more than the GNOME 2.x series. Note that you'll need 3D support for GNOME Shell to work.

Upstart Optional

The openSUSE Project tends not to adopt the new shiny just because it's the new shiny. Case in point? openSUSE hasn't jumped on the Upstart bandwagon just because it was new and spiffy. Upstart was interesting when it was developed and pushed into Ubuntu but initially didn't show a lot of benefit over the standard System V init system.

Now that Upstart is maturing and showing benefits over the traditional init system, openSUSE has taken it and made it an optional part of openSUSE 11.3. If you're ready to switch, openSUSE gives the option. Users who are still not ready to switch for one reason or another, no problem.

Upstart is likely to be the default, eventually, but it's good to have a gradual migration when possible.

And Much More...

Of course, that's just the features that are certain to show up in 11.3 and most noticeable. There's also KVM support in this release, and VirtualBox, Nouveau 3D support in 11.3, and lots more.

The final release of 11.3 is scheduled for July 15. The first release candidate is scheduled for Thursday, June 17. If you need something to do over summer vacation, openSUSE 11.3 will fit right in. Have a lot of fun!

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