openSUSE 11.2 on the test bench
by Andrea Müller
A whole series of changes awaits users in openSUSE 11.2, including Ext4 as the default file system, boot loader Grub2 and a big move towards the KDE 4 desktop.
openSUSE 11.2 is now the second version running to break the tradition of introducing few changes beyond updated packages into minor releases. Like Ubuntu 9.10 in late October, openSUSE has now made the leap to using Ext4 as its default file system and includes changes to the system administration tools and the desktop. Alongside all the major changes, the development team have not forgotten the desirability factor provided by including the latest software.
DVD images for 32 and 64 bit systems are available for installation. Alternatively, two installable Live CDs (with either KDE or GNOME desktops) are also available. The Live CD image can also be used to run and install from a USB flash drive – especially useful for netbooks with no inbuilt optical drive. A network installation image is also available. This loads the installation system and all packages from the online repository.
There is a chic, new, dark-green/grey installer which guides newcomers to Linux through the installation process. After setting the language, keyboard layout and time zone, the user is asked to select a desktop environment.
Following heated debate in the wake of a feature request, KDE is now once again selected by default – according to a survey, it is the most popular desktop among openSUSE users. Users can still select GNOME from the main screen. Desktops listed under 'Other' include XFCE and a text mode system. openSUSE 11.2 finally takes its leave of KDE 3, with the older version, preferred by many users for its stability, no longer officially supported. A repository containing the current version of KDE 3 for openSUSE is available, but is no longer being actively maintained and can't be relied on to include all bug fixes.
The next noticeable change appears when it comes to partitioning. By default openSUSE 11.2 uses the Ext4 file system, with Btrfs available as an alternative. Selecting Btrfs does, however, cause the installer to display a warning that it is not officially supported and that users should not submit Btrfs-related bug reports.
As in previous versions, after setting the root password, openSUSE displays an installation summary screen. Some care is needed here, however – if a Windows installation is present on the hard drive, openSUSE installs the Grub2 boot manager in the hard drive's master boot record (MBR), whereas if there are only other Linux systems, Grub ends up in the boot sector of the root partition.
This is a smart move, in that an existing, configured Grub will not be overwritten, but is fatal where openSUSE is installed in the sole Linux partition on the system overwriting the existing system. The Grub instance which remains in the MBR from the previous installation fails to find both stage and configuration files and the user is left with an unbootable system requiring a rescue disc. Once this hurdle has been overcome, the installer copies the system to the hard drive. Where KDE is selected, the installation occupies around 2.5 GB of hard drive space.