Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Complete OpenSUSE Desktop Setup

DISCLAIMER: This is not a review of OpenSUSE. Just my experiences in making SUSE work for me. This is just on the line of my previous similar article about Ubuntu setup.

The Live CD:
The biggest gripe about OpenSUSE is that it does not have a LiveD, a la Ubuntu, so that users can test their hardware compatibility and get a feel of the distribution before installing it. SUSE developers took the task and came out with OpenSUSE LiveCDs both for KDE and GNOME and when SUSE devs get to work, they create a marvel. I downloaded the KDE version of LiveCD and here are my experiences with it.

I have a Nvidia 6200 256 MB card, which no LiveCD seems to like; I have tried (k)Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, PCLinuxOS and Mint. If I select normal boot option on the Live CD, then the boot "hangs" after some time. Its like the screen goes black and the indicator on the monitor goes from Green to Amber. This is due to incorrect xorg.conf generated by the LiveCDs. On OpenSUSE 10.3 KDE LiveCD, I had to enter "3" in the normal boot options so that LiveCD boots into init 3 more ( a non-graphical mode). I then logged in as "root" with no password and ran "sax2-vesa". This created a generic xorg.conf with "vesa" drivers and enabled me to start the graphical mode with command "init 5 ".

I was greeted with a beautiful green OpenSUSE default desktop. This was the first time I was looking at an OpenSUSE LiveCD, and boy I was impressed. In my previous experience in installing SUSE I had to wait for 6 long hours before install completed, so this time I wanted to prepare myself before that. I had installed scibefire in Firefox and started writing the install experience. Having set that, I tried the hard disk install. For the first time OpenSUSE LiveCD has and install option. I always believe in LiveCD install and happily clicked the icon. The install was very similar to a normal SUSE KDE install.
The installer asked em to reboot after 10-15 minutes. What ? a reboot ! Is the install over ?
The answer was NO, OpenSUSE does a minimal install of kernel and required softwares and then reboots to finish the remaining configurations. After reboot I was brought to a normal SUSE installer with no Firefox or other applications. It was going to be the repeat of last experience; I was expecting OpenSUSE to download loads of packages and take 6-7 hours, however, SUSE installer gave me a pleasant surprise and after around 10 or 15 minutes announced that the install is over. Well if OpenSUSE can do a seemingly full system install with a LiveCD, without requiring much downloads from internet, then why can't it do so with a dedicated install CD ? One notable good thing here is that during User Addition OopenSUSE by default enabled auto-login for my single user.
This is a nice feature. On a personal computer, normally we have only one user using it and I always enable auto-login in KDE preferences; it was nice to see the installer do it for me.
The security conscious people can disable auto-login and can also set a grub password using YAST2.

Intial Impressions on hard disk boot:
SUSE exhibits style and elegance and its even pronounced in KDE; KDE being their preferred area. The default desktop is simply beautiful and elegant. The applications open fairly fast, are well integrated into green desktop theme and are very stable. First thing to do was to enable playing mp3 and videos, I just clicked a link and it started the YAST2 package manger and installed the following software.
  1. Flash
  2. Java
  3. Latest Amarok (with MP3 Support) for KDE, or Helix-Banshee for GNOME users
  4. Encrypted DVD (libdvdcss)
  5. Extra xine codecs, for MPEG-4 etc. (libxine1)
  6. K3b with MP3 Support (k3b-codecs)
  7. Win 32 Codecs (w32codec-all)

..as well as the option of installing many more applications (select Advanced mode at the screen), including:


  • Opera
  • KMPlayer
  • Kplayer
  • MPlayer
  • Azureus
  • VLC
  • Codeine
  • ..and more
Now I had most of my video and mp3 playing, added to it I have my Firefox capable of playing flash video. I like Firefox customized to my specific needs so I went ahead and installed some of my favourites add-ons like scribeFire, Gmail Manager, PDF Download and Answers.

Search: OpenSUSE comes pre-installed with kerry which has proved itself as a very competent front end to the Beagle desktop Search daemon.

Media & Internet :OpenSUSE has one of the best selected media software which are well suited to the task. To list a few
  1. Amarok
  2. Digikam
  3. Kaffeine
  4. Kopete etc
  5. Krita Image Editor
  6. KTorrent - Arguably the best torrent client we have today.

OpenSUSE has NTFS write support by default and the best part is the SUSE auto-mounts all the windows partitions, enabling them in the konqueror Storage Devices area. This is a very nice feature allowing me to keep common data between Windows and Linux on my Fat32 Data Partition. All my photos, mp3 and Videos reside in this partition.
I also got a huge list of KDE3 and KDE4 games installed on my system which are good enough for me to while away my time.

Now here comes the best ( or the worst, depending upon perception ) aspect of OpenSUSE 10.3 - YAST2.
YAST2 is a one stop application for full system configuration. It can mange hardware, set screen resolution, change grub settings, manage software repositories, configure printer, configure network, set login properties ..... and yet YAST2 can also install/remove software.
Though I did not like YAST2 as a package manager, due to the fact that it refreshes the repositories each time it is envoked. This results in a long time gap between YAST2 invocation and it being usable. Why can't YAST2 keep a cache of packages in repositories, a la Synaptic ?

Some Additional Softwares:
OpenSUSE comes preloaded with a huge list of usable software, however, many still remain. Here is a list of the extra softwares that are
essential for normal usage of my desktop.
  1. Skype 2 ( Beta). With the addition of Video in Skype 2 for Linux, even a Beta should not
    deter most of us from installing this exceptional application. Skype2 has a version for OpenSUSE 10+ and when clicked it starts the YAST2 package manger.
  2. Realplayer and Firefox plugins
  3. Latest version of GIMP using 1-Click install.
As you can see that total extra softwares are negligible when compared to Ubuntu. OpenSUSE simply comes preloaded with most of the required softwawres.

Having installed all this, I had a fully functional Desktop. However, I wanted eyecandy too.
For this I had to install the latest Nvidia drivers and the Compiz Fusion packages. With 1-Click install it was all very simple, Please check my earlier article about it. All it took was 3 clicks and I had my video driver setup and compiz enabled. Now the default configurations lead to borderless windows so I used Emeral Manager instead of the default kde-window-manager as Display manager.
Best thing is that even after all the desktop effects enabled, I always have a snappy system with very good performance.

I would say that OpenSUSE is a desktop oriented distribution and makes life simple for its users. It detected all my hardware by default and installed correct open source drivers for them. The default applications are very good and the system appears very responsive, specially applications like OpenOffice and GIMP open very quickly -- much faster as compared to Ubuntu. The best thing about the SUSE desktop is good aesthetics and a very stable system. Despite the fact that I have installed some bleeding edge applications like Compiz-Fusion and latest GIMP, I am yet to receive a single application crash/freeze. Kudos to OpenSUSE devs for delivering such a good distribution.

Please check some eye-candy screenshots of OpenSUSE 10.3 at their official website.


NOTE: In my earlier install of OpenSUSE 10.3 I had faced some stability issues, running a video in full screen mode used to crash XServer, however, with my new Nvidia 6200 card I have never faced the same issue. Actually I am yet to get any application crash in this install. The system looks rock solid and responsive. I think earlier it was an issue with my unichrome/openchrome graphics drivers for my VIA KM400 card.

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