OpenSuSE 11.4 – review

by Neil Rickert

I’ve been busy over the last few days.  Or at least that’s my excuse for not posting anything here.  The new version of openSuSE came out last week, and I have been busy installing it on three systems, and configuring it.  I first installed on an older (circa 2004) computer for testing.  Once I had determined that it was reliable enough, I installed on my newer laptop, then on my desktop.

My overall impressions are good.  For sure, there are some bugs – there always are.  I was previously using version 11.3, which had its share of bugs too.

Installing

There are several ways to install:

  1. you can download a DVD (around 4.5 G of data), burn to a writable DVD and install from there;
  2. you can download the live CD image (around 700M), and either run from the CD or install from there;
  3. you can download the NET install image (around 180M), burn to a CD and install from there.  This CD is minimalist, and you will be downloading most of the software over the network as part of the install process;
  4. you can purchase the DVD.

In the past, I have purchased the DVD.  But that usually takes a while before you receive it, and this time I was anxious to try the new version.  So I downloaded the KDE version of the live CD, with 32 bit software, and I also downloaded the NET install version with 64 bit software.

The live install was rather fast.  I did first boot the CD to test it and be sure that it would run on my test computer.  Then I installed.  The installer just formats the disk partitions you will use, and then copies the version installed on the CD onto your hard drive.  You don’t get to choose what software to install – you get exactly what was on the live CD.  For my use, I found I had to later install a lot of additional software from the repositories, since a lot of what I use was not on that CD.

The NET install, which I used on my newer 64 bit systems, was very similar to the DVD installs that I had used with previous versions, except that it downloaded software from the network as it proceeded.  In particular, the menus were there for software selection allowing me to choose what I wanted.  It is slower than the live install, due to the network speed, but it is more to my liking.  But it isn’t going to work unless you have available a network connection that can be used by the base install software in the CD.

In all cases, I used the KDE desktop (the GUI) for the installed system.  There were some interesting differences between the installs.  The system installed from the live CD came with the sun version of java, though it lacked the browser plugin for using it.  The install from the NET CD defaulted to the openjdk version of java (IcedTea), though I could have chosen to install the sun version.  I am told that people who installed from a downloaded DVD finished up with “knetworkmanager” for managing network connections, while I finished up with the newer plasmoid networkmanager interface in my installs.

With the NET install, my new system finished up with the same SSH host keys as I was using on the previous 11.3 version.  The live CD install, however, did not attempt to preserve the old keys and instead just created new ones.  (I later restored the old ones from a backup).

Some technical details

I use a separate “/boot” partition, of around 100M.  Most of the software goes in the root partition (30G on my desktop computer), and personal files are in a separate partition for “/home”.  The installed system on my desktop is using 40M on the “/boot” partition, and around 8G on the “/” (root) partition.  The installer will reformat the “/” and “/boot” partitions, but leave the “/home” partition without any reformat, thus preserving person files.  On this occasion, I chose to go with an encrypted “/home” (see below), so I had to also reformat that partition.

First impressions

After a few days of use, I do like 11.4.  The KDE version (4.6.0) is more mature than the 4.4 on 11.3.  If you wanted different background images on each virtual desktop, the way to do this with 11.3 was funky and buggy.  This is handled in a far more natural manner in 11.4.  In particular, the image and desktop widgets are now associated with a desktop, rather than with an activity.  You can still have multiple activities if you want them, though I haven’t experimented with that.  There is now an option with the networkmanager plasmoid, to save wifi network details in a file instead of having them encrypted in kdewallet.  The effect is that the network starts on login, without you having to provide a kdewallet password.  Unfortunately, there still does not seem to be a way to define system wide wifi connections that start without any login.

The system comes with firefox 4.  It’s a beta version, but I expect it will be updated to the released version after firefox 4 has been released.  I rather like firefox 4.  I am still getting used to the way it has moved the page reload and homepage button, but I can adapt to that.  Otherwise it has a nice feel.  I haven’t used all of the other software.  But thus far ssh, claws-mail and latex are all behaving as expected.

Disk encryption

I decided that it was time to move to an encrypted disk.  I chose to encrypt the “/home” partition and the swap partition.  I then setup “/tmp” to be mounted from swap.  That way, I protect sensitive personal information in home directories and in temporary memory used while working with that data.  I left the root partition unencrypted.  Setting up the encryption was rather simple with the installer.  However, I did have to backup the “/home” partition before starting, and restore later.  I made a false start in my first try, by giving an encryption key for both “/home” and for swap.  What I should have done (and did on the later installs), is left the key field empty for the swap partition.  That way, I am only prompted for a key for the “/home” partition on boot, and swap is encrypted with a random key that will be different for each boot.  That probably breaks hibernation, but I never did like hibernation anyway

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