OpenSUSE 11: A Feature-Rich Distro in Search of Direction: Page 2

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Before being purchased by Novell in 2003, SuSE was a KDE oriented distribution, and openSUSE was always among the first to package the new beta releases when KDE 4 was under development last fall. Considering these circumstances, it is not surprising that openSUSE 11.0 pays more attention to configuring the KDE 4 desktop than many distributions. Those who have used KDE 4 before will notice that openSUSE's version runs fast and bug-free, with many small touches such as making the small collar of icons around each desktop launcher visible only when the mouse is over it, and removing the option to revert to the classic menu.

In GNOME, the menu is modified to something resembling KDE's, with links to a Control Center window full of configuration tools and an Applications Browser rather than a traditional menu with collapsing sub-menus.

In both desktops, the main administration tool is the latest incarnation of SuSE's venerable YaST. Once you are used to YaST, you can appreciate its thoroughness, but, if you have never tried it, at first it can be disconcerting. For one thing, clicking a category of hardware, you may find yourself suddenly prompted to install the software necessary to support it. Even more disorienting are the number of choices in some sections of YaST, some of which are not particularly well-named, and all of which you must navigate without any in-window help.

For instance, when you select Software from the left hand menu pane, you are faced with eight possible choices. If you are a newcomer, you may wonder what the difference is between Online Update and Automatic Online Update. Nor are you likely to know, except through trial and error, that the basic choice you want is the vaguely-named Software Management. Similarly, only familiarity can let you know that you should look for system logs in the Miscellaneous menu, or that Network Settings are in Network Devices rather Network Services.

Once you know your way around, you can start to appreciate the wealth of options in YaST; the virtualization tools in particular are among the best I've seen in a desktop distribution. However, YaST does make few concessions to a new user. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since ignorant hands can do untold damage with desktop administrations tools, but it is a different perspective from that of Ubuntu and other distributions that have been receiving all the attention in recent years.

Software Installation

Like other recent releases of openSUSE, version 11.0 uses ZYpp to manage software installation. In version 11.0, ZYpp is noticeably faster than in previous releases, but still slower than apt-get, the equivalent tool in Debian-derived distributions like Ubuntu.

The first time you use it, ZYpp also requires some patience. Before you can use it, you have to select Software -> Software Repositories in YaST, and enable all the repositories. Then, when you select Software -> Software Management for the first time, you have to endure a long wait while the repository databases on your system are refreshed. Mercifully, though, a repository refresh takes much less time after the first one, and can be disabled altogether if you choose.

Moreover, once you are ready to install, you will find the ZYpp window an outstanding graphical package interface. The left pane contains drop-boxes and check boxes for about a dozen common searches, while the bottom right pane offers a basic description for casual users, as well as file information, dependencies, version numbers, included files and a change log. Mostly, I'm not a fan of graphical package installers, but ZYpp is the first one that makes me reconsider my position.

Security

openSUSE starts with its firewall enabled by default. Unfortunately, AppArmor, which allows administrators to set up profiles for how individual programs can be used, is not. In the absence of detailed help, this choice makes AppArmor unusable for most uses without considerable research. This situation is especially ironic, since AppArmor is often defended as an easier to understand alternative to Fedora's SELinux, yet, because it is enabled by default and supported by increasingly polished desktop tools, SELinux is actually far easier to use in Fedora than AppArmor is in openSUSE.


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