Friday, July 25, 2008

Notes from the Field: openSUSE 11.1 Alpha 1

openSUSE officially announced the start of 11.1's development cycle with a drop of alpha 1. What follows are some quick notes taken after booting into the KDE Live CD version. Note that this is indeed an alpha 1.

Booting

Miracle of miracles, openSUSE booted from my NEC DVD R/W ND-2510A drive. Versions from 10.3 and 11.0 have refused to boot from the NEC, forcing me to remember to use the older Lite-On LTC-48161H as the boot device. But this time it booted up to the desktop without a hitch.

Networking

Networking was inoperative. I have two interfaces, an nVidia nForce2 Ethernet controller on the motherboard and an Intel 82541 Gigabit Ethernet controller plugged into a PCI slot. Normally I have my network connected to the Intel card because it's the most widely recognized network interface by every OS I've ever booted on europa, and because it seems the fastest and most rock solid interface on every OS I've ever booted on europa. But this time I struck out with alpha 1. Although both interfaces were recognized, neither would work under alpha 1. Perhaps in the next spin.

Desktop

I booted the KDE version, which means I booted KDE 4.1 RC1 (see My Computer at the bottom).

The latest versions of KDE 4.1 are not quite the horror of KDE 4.0. There's a lot more polish evident in the operation of the applications, and little quality touches are beginning to show. For example, when I went to add the clock widget to the desktop, I noticed that the world view widget is no longer available. It never worked for me, and I'm assuming it probably didn't work for a lot of people. I'm all for removing problematic widgets, especially when they're the first one in the list.

I resized the desktop folder widget on the left to run down the left edge of the desktop, and I ran into a counter-intuitive behavior of the that particular widget. Normally when I resize a file viewer like Dolphin or Nautilus the panel holding file folders and other file objects automatically reflows the contents. The desktop folder widget did not. It resized its contents as if it were a fixed image, distorting the image while the widget was resizing until the mouse button was released, at which time it then reflowed and properly displayed the contents. This is, at best, a poor way to handle resizing (see comments about Dolphin and Nautilus above). What's worse, the widget resizes relative to the center, not the corner it was grabbed from. This behavior might be fine for the clock, but it's very poor for the folder widget.

Dolphin seems to have benefited from further polish. Brief as my inspection was I felt it was a much better file navigator/explorer than Nautilus. Whether it's better than KDE 3's Konqueror I've yet to determine.


An interesting and useful feature (see above) is thumbnail views on the right side when the mouse hovers over an image. I actually liked it, and it was quite quick to render when the mouse hovered over the image. I can see it's utility in a directory full of digital pictures. The thumbnails help you zero into a group while the hover view can give you more detail without having to click or launch a viewer application.

Konqueror's view of my computer (and its resources) is quite interesting. The network is dead (as noted). It sees all my disk devices, but won't allow me to view them or launch something like Dolphin to explore their contents. It also shows that it recognized my ATI X1950, but it's using the radeonhd driver.


Just for grins and giggles I attempted to turn on advanced desktop effects (shadows, translucence, etc). Big mistake. As soon as I enabled those features the desktop went completely white, then completely black. And once set the desktop was completely useless: resetting the desktop and logging back in didn't help. I'd like to make a suggestion to the openSUSE devs: provide a foolproof way to recover from 'advanced' effects from the login screen when we screw up like this. The login screen did come back and that's great. It would be ideal to recover a workable desktop from the login before logging back in again.

Overall

Even though it's an alpha 1 it booted and ran surprisingly well. And KDE 4.1 has shown marked improvement over KDE 4.0. I don't care what anyone says, KDE 4.0 was a disaster that should have never been released for general consumption, let alone incorporated into a regular distribution (*cough* Fedora 9 *cough*). But it is an alpha 1 and should be approached accordingly.

3 comments:

  1. Looking forward to openSuSE 11.1 it will have the polish that I love from suse and all of the 3D effects for my laptop 'out of the box'.

    Have to say that KDE 4.1 is everything I need from a Desktop Environment, and over time will even be stable enough.

    Would be perfect if they had the cube plugin for kwin backported in opensuse but i doubt it. Oh well KDE 4.2 it is for perfection, and some kopete plasmoids...

    Your white and black screen sounds like an Xserver crash to me and considering your using radeonhd on alpha1 I imagine that to be the case, however it would be nice if the list of broken features was disabled with these drivers by the time 11.1 rolls out but for alpha 1 this is a polishing thing that is a bit much to ask imo.

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  2. Great review. I also totally agree that there should be a way to turn off advanced desktop effects and/or restore the computer settings to a previous date from within the login screen. Using virtual machines (with 3D support) I lost the display when enabling desktop effects and had to reinstall. And also using an HP laptop (not virtual machine), when I tried to install graphics drivers, the desktop turned black and I couldn't get it fixed (had to remove it via restoring MBL from an XP disk and deleting the linux partitions from inside of XP.
    Please, please do make a formal bug report for this.

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  3. Looking forward to at least be able to boot OpenSuse :)

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