Practical Technology

for practical people.

New openSUSE arrives


On Oct. 4, Novell released openSUSE 10.3, the newest version of its popular community Linux distribution. This version of openSUSE includes a flexible Linux-Windows dual-boot configuration, improved user interface, Microsoft Office file compatibility with the latest office productivity suite and enhanced multimedia support.

“The openSUSE community continues to deliver innovations and has created a new version of openSUSE that will excite a wide range of computer users,” said Andreas Jaeger, director of the openSUSE project, in a statement. “OpenSUSE 10.3 provides a stable and state-of-the-art operating system based on Linux kernel 2.6.22, and it contains a large variety of the latest open-source applications for desktops, servers and application development.”

At openSUSE 10.3’s core, you’ll find the Linux kernel. This supports the newest versions of the GNOME and KDE desktop environments, including a KDE 4 preview, for the desktop interface. Specifically, openSUSE comes with GNOME 2.20 and KDE 3.5.7.

GNOME users, who’ve had to put up with a YaST system management tool that didn’t look or feel like a GNOME application, will be pleased by the new GTK version of YaST. Now all of openSUSE’s GNOME controls will have the same look.

If you have a graphics card with some 3-D power in it, you can also install the Compiz 0.54 3-D desktop. And you can download and install Compiz Fusion, a program that adds extra features from the now deceased Beryl project, and Compiz Extras, a set of additional features, to Compiz.

Historically, the SUSE distributions have included everything including the kitchen sink when it comes to the latest Linux software. This distribution continues that tradition. If it happens that the program you want somehow isn’t already in the distribution, with openSUSE’s new One Click Install, you can quickly grab it.

The name, One Click Install, is a bit misleading. What it really is, is one click to a wizard that automatically finds the program you want on the Web-based file repositories and guides you through its installation. It is, however, still a great help.

With One Click Install, you no longer need to jump through the hoops of finding a program and then adding such repositories as the Packman project, Guru’s RPM site and of openSUSE’s own Build Service to install less common programs. While not as easy to use as Freespire or as Linspire’s still-alpha CNR service will be in the future, it’s certainly a giant step forward in software installation for openSUSE users.

OpenSUSE 10.3 also now includes MP3 support out of the box for Banshee and Amarok, which are the default media players in openSUSE. Since Freespire broke the unspoken Linux distribution rule of not including proprietary software, or easy access to such programs, other distributions have been making it easy to get to proprietary device drivers and media codices. Now, openSUSE is joining the practical over idealistic distributions.

With One Click Install, openSUSE users can choose to install what Novell calls Restricted Format software. These proprietary programs and drivers include Adobe Flash, Sun Java, MP3 support, the ability to play encrypted DVD, and codex for DivX, Xvid and the WMP (Windows Media Codices).

For desktop users, openSUSE is one of the first distributions to include the latest 2.3 office suite. This Novell version includes Novell and Microsoft work toward making it easier for OpenOffice users to share files with Microsoft Office users.

OpenSUSE 10.3 also now includes MP3 support out of the box for Banshee 0.13.1 and Amarok 1.4.7, which are openSUSE’s default media players.

For instant messaging, openSUSE includes Pidgin. This renamed version of the Gaim IM client has been troubled by memory leaks, but recent versions, such as the one used in openSUSE, Pidgin 2.2.1, have addressed many of these memory issues.

OpenSUSE has also moved its default e-mail and groupware client, Evolution, up to the latest version, Evolution 2.12. This is a significant upgrade to an already excellent e-mail program. For example, it includes a new bogofilter spam plug-in that works with SpamAssassin for improved spam detection and destruction and stunning performance improvements to the Exchange Connector. This program enables you to use Evolution as a Microsoft Exchange client. While it’s worked decently for some time, no one would ever mistake it for a fast program, until now. Exchange file folder loading has gone from minutes to microseconds.

If you’re an Evolution user, like I am, this feature alone is enough reason to upgrade or switch to openSUSE 10.3.

OpenSUSE includes the newest version of Novell AppArmor. This program protects your Linux operating system and applications from attacks and malicious applications. While other programs, such as SELinux, provide essentially the same functionality, I’ve found AppArmor to be far easier to administer.

The distribution also includes the latest virtualization programs such as Xen 3.1, KVM and the increasingly popular VirtualBox 1.5. If you have the RAM for virtualization, openSUSE has the tools you need to give it a try.

For server users, openSUSE includes all the usual LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl) servers and tools you’ll need. Another small, but nice, addition is that you can now use YaST You to configure disk quotas and rules for user accounts from within YaST.

OpenSUSE 10.3 is now available for free download from the openSUSE download site. The distribution is available for 32-bit, PowerPC and most 64-bit CPU-powered computers.

You can download openSUSE in several ways. For those with broadband, there’s a 4.1GB DVD ISO image. You can also download it as a CD with the base operating system for either GNOME or KDE. After that, you then add additional software using One Click Install. You can also download a mini-CD (73MB). With this option, which is recommended for experts, you boot your system with the CD and then download everything else you need piecemeal off the Net. You can use BitTorrent, ftp or HTTP for your downloads.

You can also get the distribution on DVDs along with a comprehensive user manual and 90 days of installation support for a $59.95 retail edition at the Novell sales site. In addition, it will be available soon from retail outlets and Novell resellers.

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