Friday, April 5, 2013

Initial Review of OpenSuSE 12.03 KDE

I recently installed OpenSuSE 12.3 KDE on my two desktops and my laptop, in an effort to branch out from my long-running usage of Ubuntu.  This is an initial review, because I have not spent very much time actually using the distro.  I am so far dissuaded from using the distro for any daily purpose, because it is acts as an non-intuitive power-user experience.

Note: I am purposely avoiding reading any documentation beyond what is necessary to get the system up and running.  If I have to read a man-page or search google to gain normal desktop functionality from the OS, then the OS is for power-users with time to spare configuring their OS.  I would prefer to avoid using an OS that is a project dedicated to eventually attaining normal desktop functionality.

Starting with a serious downside: I have yet to get wireless working on my laptop in OpenSuSE.  What is odd is that it was easier to connect to my home wireless network during net-install than once OpenSuSE was installed.  Yes, after OpenSuSE was fully installed, I could not figure out how to get it to use the wireless device in my laptop.  Despite YaST's power (see below), I cannot for the life of me figure out how to properly configure wireless usage.  The network program in the lower-right-hand corner (too lazy to find the name) provides plenty of tabs and text entry fields, but they are all greyed out, as though my account, an administrator account, has no privileges to modify the network configuration.  I went into YaST, yet that said that another program was managing the laptop's network connections.  I don't recall the name of the program, but that program was nowhere to be found in any menu.  There are two programs that appear to handle network configuration, one being YaST and the other being the program contained in the lower-right-hand menu of the desktop.  Neither offered any obvious means to use my wireless hardware.

I see no justification for wireless to trivially work during the non-gui installation, but simply isn't intuitive enough for me to figure out how to enable it in the main desktop gui.  I would rather use the net-install menu system, because at least I could connect to the internet on my laptop without taking the ethernet cable from my main desktop.

(By comparison, Ubuntu 12.04 made it trivially easy to enable wireless functionality on my laptop.)

A trivial positive side of OpenSuSe is YaST.  Yast is by far the most powerful bit of software that I have seen used on Linux.  It seems that you could control nearly every bit of OpenSuSE just from YaST's gui menu.  While that is a nice feature set for power users, it is a very mild feature for all other users.  Thus, this positive side is effectively orthogonal to normal desktop functionality, meeting the latter at only very rare points and departing for the Lands of Too-Dense-for-Noobs.

KDE on OpenSuSE was a nice experience.  Even on my old laptop, its still is able to handle all the nice visual features that KDE has to offer.  Having poked around at various bits of the gui, I noticed that it provides some sort of management of activities (the name escapes me), which leads me to believe that KDE is one of those desktop environments that takes its job seriously without coming off as pompous.  Depth of functionality does appear to be the point of KDE.

My laptop has remained unused, because of the irritating wireless issue in OpenSuSE.  I intend to install another distro on it, so that it can return to usefulness.

I have also installed OpenSuSE on my two available desktops (names: Main and Pentium).  Both installation processes were relatively intuitive and deep.  What I don't recall seeing in the net-install on my laptop, yet was obviously present in the Live-KDE install, was the ability to choose various alternative options for the OS.  The most welcome option was encryption, which appears to be a partition-level encryption, though that was definitely not stated anywhere.

Pentium has done well with OpenSuSE, especially considering the hdd being used is a 10k rpm SCSI drive.  (The desktop was a throw-away, so I have no answers.)  OpenSuSE acted as though the drive were a totally normal drive.  (Note: this is the first time I have had the opportunity to use a SCSI drive in my own PC, so I am more curious than surprised.)  I recall no problems on Pentium, so I will probably leave OpenSuSE installed.  This is at least an improvement upon the non-bootable installation of Windows XP that was previously installed.

Main, the computer which I am using to type this post, went as well as Pentium in general, but a more serious issue seems to be present.  I could not tell whether or not OpenSuSE was using any sort of proprietary video card drivers.  In Main, I have an AMD card, which is very capable of handling Arma 2, thus I prefer to use an OS that takes advantage of its power.  I honestly could not tell whether or not drivers for said card were in use.  Further, OpenSuSE did not automatically announce whether or not such drivers were available.  Maybe I am just spoiled by Ubuntu, but I do like to be notified of the ability to install said drivers.  I might try to search through YaST to see if it provides such drivers, but I am uninterested to do so, since I have better things to do than toy with YaST.

KDE is a fine desktop environment, but I have been heavily spoiled by Unity in Ubuntu 12.04.  As I have been writing this, I have been flying from workspace to workspace, handling various programs, as I wind down for bed.  I determined a few months ago that I could increase the workspace amount from 2x2 to 5x5 (any higher would have been pointless).  Thus, I have 25 workspaces, most of which go unused; I will occasionally fill a column of workspaces with a set of windows associated with one task. For instance, I am preparing a bootable USB thumb-stick for my laptop in one column, while I have a set of terminals open for handling Minecraft-related stuff.  This habit of spreading windows across multiple workspaces is has lead me to strongly dislike any having to minimize programs.  The workspaces are navigable via Super+S; you zoom out to see all the workspaces in real-time, similar to compiz.  One workspace has a YouTube video running, while another has an ssh session cruising along, thus allowing me to visually identify where and what is happening on this multi-tasking machine.

Why am I explaining this?  Because Unity has spoiled me, thus making me dislike KDE for not having this.  I know, I am being stupid about this.  I do not blame KDE for not mimicking Unity in this one small way.  Further, my modification to Unity requires searching through the Ubuntu documentation.  Maybe I will find a similar feature in KDE and use it on Pentium.  Otherwise, KDE is smooth in appearance and seems to function as a high-class desktop environment.

There is one odd thing that OpenSuSE did during the installation process on Main that may require more effort to fix than I like.  OpenSuSE modified grub on my main hdd on Main, such that I now have to deal with OpenSuSE's grub menu during boot up.  Grub now automatically boots into OpenSuSE.  At no point did I tell OpenSuSE to make such a change.  Now I have a legitimate dual-boot machine, when I wanted two isolated hard-drives, between which I could boot without either be affected.  I have learned my lesson: do not install OpenSuSE unless you have unplugged all other bootable hard drives.  If I were paranoid, I would question what else OpenSuSE might have changed.  Alas, I am too lazy to care.

Overall, OpenSuSE proves to me to be less than acceptable for my everyday needs.  I will leave it on Pentium for further testing, though I cannot use it on Main nor on my laptop, because it does not allow the normal functionality that I demand for each machine.  Main needs the workspace management that Unity provides (with a minor configuration change), whereas my laptop needs wireless functionality.  I am uninterested in wasting time on either, though I may attempt to get both features working on Pentium when I have the time.  YaST is a welcome tool, though its largely irrelevant to my needs.  KDE is nice, but limited for my user-style.

I give OpenSuSE a score of 5/10.  More intuitive configuration of wireless connections (post-installation) would bump that score up to a 6/10, while obvious provision of proprietary video card drivers would bump it to a 6.5/10.  If OpenSuSE had not modified my grub configuration, then it would get a 7/10.  Out-of-the-box partition-level encryption, YaST, and easy-on-the-eyes KDE are its major upsides in my mind.  If I understood its security features better, then it might earn an 8/10 or 9/10.  However, I'd have to read the documentation to gain such understanding; I may do so in the future, but not now.

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