What's new in openSUSE 11.3
by Andrea Mueller
openSUSE 11.3 has arrived with heaps of advancements. In this feature we take a look at such features as the newly added lean LXDE desktop, the new package repository functions and the installation option for netbooks.
Don't be deceived by the version number: although the figure doesn't end in a 0, openSUSE 11.3 has a range of new features to offer – improved netbook support, a newly added desktop environment and additional package repository functions are only some of them. Before the official release date, the openSUSE team provided us with the gold master so that we could try out the new functions before the official public release.
The developers have made only few changes to the installer, a user friendly component which copes well installing openSUSE either in parallel with an already existing Windows system or as the only system on an empty hard disk. Follow the installer's suggestions and it won't take an hour until you find yourself on a Linux desktop. However, if openSUSE is installed on a computer whose hard disk contains a couple of other Linux distributions along with some free, un-partitioned disk space, things become a little more complicated. In our test, Ubuntu 10.04 was in /dev/sda1, Mandriva 2010.01 in /dev/sda5, and the swap area was in /dev/sda6. In this instance the installer automatically suggested using the free, un-partitioned area of 117 Gbytes for openSUSE. It allocated 20 Gbytes of disk space to the root partition and the rest of the space to users' home directories. Users who intend to try out lots of software would perhaps want to change this arrangement in favour of the system partition.
Pay attention when installing the boot manager, while it is automatically placed in the MBR if openSUSE lives side by side with Windows, when several Linux systems exist in parallel the installer suggests the root partition's boot sector as the destination for installing GRUB. This is advantageous in so far as the existing boot manager isn't overwritten without asking, but it potentially causes problems for inattentive or inexperienced users, who will need to manually enter openSUSE in the menu of the boot manager in the MBR. Another peculiarity when configuring GRUB: the installer entered Mandriva into the boot menu, blandly calling it "linux", but omitted Ubuntu 10.04.
Incidentally, openSUSE continues to use GRUB 0.97, which has been patched to include Ext4 support, rather than GRUB 2. However, installing the latter is an option. The boot manager's configuration dialogue also offers LILO but, when LILO is selected, it warns that it is not supported by openSUSE 11.3.
openSUSE 11.3 uses the Ext4 file system by default, but it also offers the still experimental Btrfs, although this file system isn't yet supported officially. Btrfs can now also be used for formatting the root partition, although this requires a separate boot partition because GRUB can't start the kernel from a Btrfs partition.
Another option has been added to the desktop selection. In addition to the classical KDE, GNOME and Xfce, the developers have now also integrated the lean LXDE desktop. To ensure optimum integration into openSUSE, the developers extended LXDE's PCManFm file manager to include a waste bin and GVFS support.
All desktop settings can be centrally managed from the LXDE Control Center. Under LXDE, Claws Mail is installed on disk as the mail program, and CDs are burned with Brasero. If a different desktop was selected during installation, LXDE can conveniently be added by installing the – pattern-openSuse-lxde – meta package using Yast, and then switched to via the login manager. However, this will add the "My Computer" and "Office" icons to the desktop, which have no function under LXDE. While the corresponding files in the ~/Desktop folder contain the line
it seems that LXDE ignores this instruction.
Version 4.4.4 of KDE is included and offers Synaptiks, a tool for setting up touch pads, by default. Completely new is the on-demand package installation for adding missing multimedia codecs. For instance, if a user clicks on a MPEG4 video in the Dolphin file manager, Kaffeine will start automatically and offer to download the required codecs. However, this will fail if the appropriate community repositories
haven't been added beforehand. While the error dialogue contains a pointer in the right direction, it doesn't name the required components and only offers to open the program for installing the software sources. Inexperienced openSUSE users will succeed faster if they click on the link in the error dialogue and then follow the "Restricted Formats" link. It leads to an overview page which offers the missing codecs via a one-click install in the browser. Here, the developers didn't fully follow through a good idea. If this was caused by restrictions imposed by the legal department, it might have been better to omit the feature completely. Experienced openSUSE users don't need it because multimedia support is the first thing they will add, and users who install openSUSE for the first time are still likely to fail unless they do their own research. Apart from this annoying glitch, KDE is stable and smooth, and Gtk applications no longer look like foreign objects on the desktop thanks to the new Oxygen-molecule Gtk theme.
Alternatively, openSUSE also offers the GNOME desktop. The version included is 2.30.1, and a preview version of the GNOME shell can be installed to get an impression of GNOME 3.0. The default IM client is now Empathy, but the previous client, Pidgin, can be added manually. Tracker has replaced the previously used Beagle as the desktop search engine. In addition, Evolution offers improved IMAP support, and the Banshee multimedia player has several new functions. For instance, it can display the current artist's Wikipedia page, or YouTube videos that are similar to the current track.