Review: openSUSE 12.3

People wishing to try the latest version of openSUSE have a number of download options. The project offers a handful of flavours, including a full DVD with a large collection of optional software, a KDE edition, a GNOME edition, a Rescue CD and there is a minimal net-install option. Each of these flavours can be had in 32-bit and 64-bit builds. I opted to download the KDE edition of openSUSE 12.3 and I found the ISO image was about 930 MB in size. Booting from the openSUSE media brings up a boot menu which will let us launch the distribution’s desktop environment from the live media, launch the system installer or perform a media check. Diving into the live environment brings us to a KDE desktop. A window opens which introduces us to the distribution and provides many links to the project’s documentation, help forums and to the KDE project’s user documentation. Dismissing this window we find a collection of icons on the desktop. These icons act as launchers for a web browser, the system installer, the LibreOffice suite and the KInfocenter which provides us with information on our machine’s hardware. At the bottom of the display we find an application menu, task switcher and system tray. I found that desktop effects were enabled by default. These are mostly subtle visual effects and the KDE desktop was quite responsive while these bits of eye-candy were enabled.

The openSUSE installer is a graphical application which has a great many features. Generally speaking each page of the installer gives us a simple question and we can supply answers or take the default settings. Should we wish to look deeper most pages have advanced options which allow us to tunnel further into the configuration details. This makes installing openSUSE fairly straight forward, but it also gives us a great deal of power over our initial setup. The installer walks us through accepting the license agreement and confirming our preferred language and keyboard layout. We select our time zone from a map of the world and we can optionally set the date & time.

The partitioning screen takes a singular approach, letting us check boxes to indicate which features we want for our system and the partition manager will then attempt to match our desires with a partition layout. Alternatively we can manually manage partitions and I found the installer to be very flexible. We can select almost any file system for our partitions, encryption is supported and we can even set mount flags for specific mount points. Both LVM and Btrfs are supported by the partition manager. The next page of the installer asks us to create a user account and set passwords for both our account and the root user. The final screen shows a summary of actions the installer will take and there are links next to these actions. Clicking the links bring up pages where we can alter the pending actions. For example we can swap out GRUB2 for GRUB Legacy or LILO, we can change which partitions will be formatted and other details.

The first couple of times I went through the installer I tried to set up a Btrfs volume as I had the last time I experimented with openSUSE. It was one of the features I enjoyed most when using openSUSE last year, but this time I wasn’t able to get the installer to configure the advanced file system. I tried with a few different layouts and with simply handing the entire free disk space over to the installer’s guided partitioning wizard, but each time I was shown an error saying Btrfs couldn’t be set up. I finally gave in and set up my system using the ext3 file system instead. The installer copied its files to my hard drive quite quickly, only taking a few minutes. When the installer finished it offered to reboot the machine.

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