What’s New in openSUSE 11.2

After nearly a year in development, openSUSE 11.2 is ready to be unleashed! A peek under the hood shows a lot of new and interesting changes since 11.1, including updated desktops and a preview of WebYaST.

openSUSE 11.2 is finally out after 11 months of development. The openSUSE Project released openSUSE 11.2 with a bevy of updates and improvements over last year’s 11.1 release, including KDE 4.3, GNOME 2.28, a new Linux kernel, as well as the latest and greatest of your favorite open source applications. What’s in this release? Let’s take a look at the highlights.

Let me point out the obvious: This isn’t a review. Since I work with the openSUSE community, I wanted to take a bit to introduce some of the new and interesting features that show up in openSUSE 11.2. In my opinion, this is the best openSUSE (or SUSE) release yet, and I’ve been running SUSE and openSUSE systems off and on for 10 years. But don’t take my word for it! Grab right now and take it for a spin. The live CDs are excellent if you want to try openSUSE without taking the full plunge, and they’re installable to boot. (Pun intended. Sorry.)

Upgrade with Ease

“But I’m already running the last version of openSUSE and don’t want to re-install!” We’ve heard that a lot over the years. While upgrade options have existed, they haven’t been as seamless as the ever-popular “dist-upgrade” our friends on Debian-based systems have. Until now. With 11.2 using Zypper to do an in-place upgrade is an officially supported method. (Brave users have done it in the past, but it hasn’t received widespread testing or been a recommended method of upgrade previously.)

The basic steps are outlined in this post by Andreas Jaeger. Note that the zypper dup method might not work as well if you have a lot of third-party repositories enabled.

WebYaST

SUSE systems have long boasted a comprehensive system management tool called YaST, which stands for “Yet another Setup Tool,” among other things. It allows you to configure system settings, manage users, install software, and much more. It is the Swiss Army Knife of system configuration in one handy package. For the last few years, YaST has been available with a Qt interface for KDE, GTK+ for GNOME, and an ncurses interface for the console.

But YaST has been missing a Web-based interface until recently. WebYaST is web-frontend to provide the same kind of configurability via the Web that users of SUSE systems have been able to get at the local system for years.

WebYaST is still in the “technology preview” stage with openSUSE 11.2, but it’s maturing rapidly. If you’re interested in seeing tomorrow’s remote configuration tool today, follow the installation instructions and give it a try.

KDE on openSUSE

openSUSE has long been known for its KDE implementation. This summer, the project decided to go with KDE as its “default” desktop — which means, basically, if you install openSUSE from the DVD media without making any changes, you’ll wind up with a KDE desktop by default. GNOME hasn’t gone anywhere, though — it’s still as well-supported as ever. (More on that in a bit.)

What’s new in 4.3? A couple of nifty features. You’ll note a new look and feel in 11.2 with KDE, but that’s just the surface.

You might notice that Firefox is the default browser for KDE in this release. In the past, we’ve defaulted to Konqueror, but it was felt that Firefox is what most users want and expect on a Linux desktop — and that Konqueror isn’t the best choice. However, Konq is pretty well integrated into KDE, so what to do? Simple, add some integration features to Firefox to make it more a part of the environment. This includes support for KDE file dialogs, using KDE applications to open files, and using KDE apps for IRC URLs, mailto:, etc.

The YaST control center has been ported to Qt4, so it is now consistent with the KDE Configure Desktop system settings.

And, of course, users get the benefits of all the improvements in KDE 4.3. If you’ve been waiting for KDE 4 to reach parity with the legacy KDE 3.5 series, you should be quite happy with KDE 4.3.

GNOME on openSUSE

GNOME hasn’t been overlooked, either. This release includes a lot of improvements to GNOME — both from upstream, and in terms of polishing the GNOME desktop for openSUSE. openSUSE 11.2 includes a new theme for GNOME called Sonar. It’s dark and elegant, and very usable.

While GNOME upstream has switched to Empathy for its Instant Messaging application, openSUSE has stuck with Pidgin for 11.2 because it was felt that Pidgin is still more capable than Empathy at this stage — though if you want to check out Empathy, it’s available in the repositories, just not installed by default.

Speaking of Empathy and Pidgin, you can now use them not only for text IMs, but for VoIP and video chat as well. Now you can waste time at the computer in a variety of ways!

Even though GNOME 3.0 won’t be out until September 2010, you can find a preview of 3.0 with GNOME Shell in openSUSE 11.2 for an idea of what the future of GNOME will look like. To get this, you’ll need to install the gnome-shell package and dependencies.

One of my favorite apps in GNOME 2.28 is actually an applet. The Time Tracker applet is not installed by default, but if you install “hamster-applet” you’ll have a really convenient time tracking application. This is useful in a number of scenarios — for example, for consultants who bill by time, or for folks like me who want to track how their time is spent. If you’re obssessive about it, you can keep time down to the minute and Time Tracker will keep gathering data and show you exactly where your time is spent if you keep up with it.

Let’s get Social

Social media is all the rage these days. In 11.2 you have two options for keeping track of your social networks: Choqok and Gwibber. Don’t let the strange names fool you — these are top-notch microblogging tools that handle multiple networks. Choqok is installed with KDE, and Gwibber is installed iwth GNOME, but you’re free to mix and match.

I have been running GNOME on my main workstation lately and using Choqok as my go-to application for checking Identi.ca and Twitter. I like Gwibber, but (despite the name) Choqok has just been working out better for me lately.

If you want a wider range of protocols, though, Gwibber’s your app. It supports not only Twitter and Identi.ca, but Ping.fm, Facebook, and many others. It’s truly a master of all protocols.

KDE also includes “Plasmoids” for updating Twitter, though I find them a bit constrained for heavy use. If you’re a casual Tweep, though, they should be fine — if you follow hundreds of folks, you probably want to explore the full-blown microblogging apps.

And much more…

That is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. See DistroWatch for a fairly full list of updated packages in 11.2 as compared to 11.1 and previous releases. Ready to take openSUSE for a spin? You can grab an installable DVD with a wide range of software for 32-bit and 64-bit machines, or the GNOME and KDE live CDs for 32 and 64-bit machines. The GNOME and KDE live CDs can also be copied to USB keys for installation on Netbooks.

With this release, openSUSE will be on a regular eight-month release cycle. The next openSUSE release will be available in July, 2010. But don’t wait until then, give it a try today!

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