Monday, November 28, 2011

openSUSE 12.1 - Good Enough to Blog About

I've been away from the blogging scene for over eight months now. My language skills have languished likewise. It seems only fitting that my return to posting is launched on the same topic I departed with.

For too long it seems like openSUSE has been stuck within an odd, "uncanny valley" of user experience and desktop usability. It did so much well that the stuff that worked poorly really stuck out like a sore thumb. I've never really had the problems with YaST that others of my kin seem to decry ("Omigosh, you use SuSE? Ugh, is YaST any better?"), but other issues like poor integration points (e.g. Eclipse) and the banishment of SCPM and SaX2 were frustrating.

openSUSE 11.4 ended up looking okay however had issues with wireless, the noveau driver wasn't ready for prime time and LibreOffice ended up being crashtastic. Luckily (I guess?) I had a hard drive crash right before openSUSE 12.1 launch and was able to start clean when the mirrors sync'd on November 16th. As soon as openSUSE 12.1 launched I grabbed an ISO and began installing on my ThinkPad W510.

Man, what a difference.

First off, the noveau driver is still a bit buggy but has nearly reached parity with the proprietary NVIDIA driver on desktop compositing and UI effects like wobbly windows. I can't tell you how jazzed I was about this lil' facet. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore NVIDIA and the work they've done to bring driver support to the Linux desktop. Still, an OSS solution that has native integration into XOrg provides a seamless experience - especially with xrandr and KDE 4. Now KDE (and to a lesser extent, the bootloader) can natively manage resolution, orientation and multiple desktops. I was a bit apprehensive given I frequently switch between projectors, dual-screen setups with larger monitors and road-warrior setups with just the laptop display however noveau and KDE 4 are able to switch between these environments without so much as a mouse click. Plug in a VGA cable and boom - I'm broadcasting a second desktop over the monitor. Sweet.

LibreOffice is much more stable. No huge features I've been able to discern, but then again I'd likely not even notice them given my superficial use of any office suite. Evolution seems a bit smoother and more responsive - hopefully someday soon my office can switch to Exchange 2008 so I can leverage its new SOAP API via Evolution. That should make a big difference over the webdav connectors currently being used.

I've been trying out new features such as brtfs on alternate workstations, since encrypted brtfs partitions are not supported yet. So far it has been quite nice having snapshot capability and b-tree balancing to a file system, especially given how many crazy files I generate or move around.

Still very happy with Digikam; it has become my mainstay for post-production of RAW photos. It somewhat softens the harsh reality that my wife's iPhone 4S take better photos than my Canon DSLR.

All in all, a major tip o' the hat to the openSUSE team on all fronts. Very happy with the usability of the latest release.