New Linux Releases from Ubuntu and SuSE

Ubuntu LogoIn the same way as you wait ages for a bus only for two to come along at once, it’s the season for new Linux releases. Today Canonical released Ubuntu 14.10, aka Utopic Unicorn, and in less than two weeks OpenSuSE will push out 13.2. I’m a SuSE user so I’ll be downloading that over the weekend and getting stuck in.

openSUSEIt’s good to see such a flurry of activity. The new releases all have a plethora of new features. Interestingly, Ubuntu is going after the Android developers with the new Ubuntu Developer Tools Centre which helps coders develop apps. The new Centre downloads the Android toolkits along with libraries and dependencies, bringing them into the launcher. Although first available for Android, the plan is to extend this to other platforms such as Go and Dart. A big win too is that Netflix now plays in Chrome without any trickery!

From OpenSuSE, the new release focuses on the much-improved Gnome desktop (3.14), though KDE users aren’t forgotten either with plenty of improvements there too. I think it would be fair to say that it’s an incremental release but there’s still plenty to look forward to – more will be revealed as the release gets closer.

Reflecting on recent use, I don’t get to use my desktop as much as I used to. Like many other people have found, tablets have taken over for day-to-day computing and the desktop has been relegated to occasional use. Between a Nexus 7, a Chromebook, a local NAS and the cloud, my big box is heading for extinction. Much as I love tinkering with Linux and RAID, I really don’t know if I’ll replace the PC when the time comes. It is undoubtedly a post-PC era.

OpenSUSE 12.2 Out Now

OpenSuSE logoFor Linux fans, there’s a new version of OpenSUSE out today, bringing the version number to 12.2. Albeit a little late, this new version sees some significant upgrades and changes which improve performance and reliability. OpenSUSE is one of the big 5 Linux distributions so it’ll be a solid release.

In additional to the 3.4 kernel, KDE is bumped to 4.8.4 and Gnome to 3.4. SuSE has always been a strong proponent of the KDE desktop (my personal favourite) so I’ll be checking that out later. LibreOffice 3.5 brings word processing and spreadsheets to the party and Gimp 2.8 is on hand for image editing.

“We are proud of this release, maintaining the usual high openSUSE quality standards.” said Andrew Wafaa from the openSUSE Board. “The delay in the schedule caused by our growth in the last two years means we have to work on scaling our processes. Now this release is out and with the upcoming openSUSE conference in October in Prague, the community has time and opportunity to work on that.”

I run OpenSUSE on my main PC so I’ll be upgrading soon – the distro is downloading via BitTorrent as we speak – but live upgrades are also now supported so I might investigate that for the first time.

The full press release is here.

The Best Ever SuSE Linux – v11.4

OpenSuSE 11.4 was released back on 11 March so this weekend I took the plunge and upgraded my main PC from 11.3 to 11.4. And less than two hours later, I had the best ever SuSE running on my PC.  Here’s how I got on…

SuSE offer two methods of upgrading, the first being an on-line update and the second being the more traditional iso image download, burn and boot. I chose the latter as the guidance on SuSE’s website suggested that this would be more reliable. It also means that if the upgrade does fail and I needed to carry out a complete install from scratch, I already had the media to hand. Before booting from the DVD to upgrade, I backed up all the user files from the home partition and made copies of the important files – fstab, hosts, passwd, groups, auto.nas and so on.

Booting from the DVD, the installer goes through the usual licensing screen before analysing the existing system. As I had 11.3 previously installed, the installer gave me the option to upgrade, which I choose. After more analysis, it gives a summary of the changes required before asking permission to proceed – which I gave.

About 35 minutes and 250-odd packages later, the PC rebooted, loaded Linux and displayed the login screen. I entered my username and password, and the screen faded to the X desktop, with all my icons and widgets still there. Sweet!

Even more surprisingly, all the 3D window effects worked out of the box. That’s never happened before – normally you have to download drivers from nVidia or ATi before all the graphic goodness works smoothly. To be fair 11.3 was a “nearly” release. While the applications and tools worked, the 3D effects were a bit hit or miss. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. But 11.4 hits it on the head.

The 3D eye candy is very slick. I run a 3 x 2 virtual desktop and the scrolling between the desktops is super-smooth, making it feel like one giant desktop. Windows glide in and out as they open and close. But by far my favourite effect is when you have overlapping windows and you want to bring one to the foreground. The upper window slides down the screen and then slips behind the lower window, bringing it to the front. Think of taking off the top sheet from a pile of paper and putting it to the back. So cool.

I’ve taken a couple of screenshots but (a) it’s really hard to catch the window closing when pressing the PrtScn button and (b) there’s no sense of the animation.

To finish off the installation, I added the ubiquitous Packman repository to load up all the unofficial multimedia goodies, such as DVD playing and video encoders.

Although it’s only been a few days, I’ve not encountered any problems at all with 11.4 and I’ve discovered that several of 11.3’s bugs have been fixed. Most of the major packages have been updated and has been replaced by LibreOffice (which is a whole sorry story in itself). Everything seems to be working fine.

If you want to try SuSE without messing with your current setup, there are live DVDs available for download. I run the KDE desktop rather than Gnome.

While it may be a little premature, I think this is the best SuSE ever.

Goodbye Ubuntu, Welcome Back SuSE

Some of you may recall that early last summer, I left my long-term Linux partner OpenSuSE for Canonical’s Ubuntu – the post is here. I thought it was going to be forever but I’m afraid it hasn’t worked out and SuSE has taken me back.

The original problem was that I couldn’t get SuSE 11.2 to install on new hardware and while Ubuntu 10.04 happily installed onto the new motherboard and harddrives, it’s been the legacy hardware that has been the root of the problem. Specifically, applications that wanted to access my SCSI scanner had to run as root, I completely failed to pull DV video from a video camera over Firewire and I couldn’t configure, never mind watch, my TV card. Scouring the newsgroups, I wasn’t alone. Perhaps naively, I thought that these problems would be fixed with Ubuntu 10.10 but alas, they persisted.

During the Christmas holidays I’d finally had enough – I can’t remember what finally caused me to snap but I downloaded OpenSuSE 11.3, burnt the DVD and rebooted. This time I didn’t encounter any of the previous problems from 11.2 and the installation went smoothly. It was like coming home – everything worked. Scanner – check, DV – check, TV – check.  And although returning to KDE desktop from Gnome, I have decided to keep some of the Gnome-based apps in preference to the KDE equivalents. gPodder is now my default podcatcher and Amarok has been replaced by RhythmBox.

It’s interesting times for OpenSuSE. In November, parent company Novell was sold to Attachmate but allegedly it’s business as usual. Version 11.4 will be out in a few weeks too.

There’s no doubt that some parts of Ubuntu were very seductive, such as package management, but I’m sorry Ubuntu…you’ve been dumped.

Amarok & KDE Crash Reporting – FAIL

Sigh. I love Linux but there are times when you realise it’s never going to take over the world…

I was working with Amarok, but the program crashed completely every time it hit a certain file in my audio library. This wasn’t a big deal but being a helpful soul, when I was presented with the option to send crash information back to the coders, I clicked on “Ok.”  And this is where it all went wrong.

First of all, after showing the stack trace (whatever that is), the crash handling dialog tells me that it’s not much use without the debug symbols, but the package to do that isn’t installed.  Did I want to install the necessary package?  So I said, “Yes,” still being a helpful soul.

Next, an error pops up saying that it can’t find the package and could I add a repository via the package manager?  Of course, the error message doesn’t tell me either the package that’s needed or the name of the repository needed. Being an ever-helpful soul, I figured out by myself that I need to enable the debug repository in the package manager, after which the crash handler was able to load the package and add the debug symbols. Hurrah!

So I hit  “Next” and I get presented with a username and password dialog for the KDE bug database. Apparently I can only log crashes if I’ve registered with the bug database. At this point I gave up being a helpful soul and closed the dialog.

So, for Amarok and KDE developers, here’s a clue. If you want feedback from your users on what’s going wrong with your applications, don’t make it so hard to give the information. Having agreed to give the feedback, that should be it, job done. I should not have to install a package, configure a repository and get a username for some website I’m never going to visit.

Even Dr Watson wasn’t this stupid.

Goodbye SuSE, Hello Ubuntu

Some of you will know that I’m a Linux user from my previous posts.  I’m not a distro-tart: I tend to stick with a particular Linux distribution rather than swap between the different flavours.  I started out over 15 years ago with an early Slackware release before moving to Red Hat around version 5 (1998?).  I then hopped over to SuSE for 7.3 (2001?) and have been with SuSE ever since.  After I moved to SuSE Linux, I ditched Ms Windows and never looked back.

A few weeks ago, I decided to upgrade my PC for a bit more oomph.  It was basically a complete rebuild as my motherboard was still AGP graphics, so everything’s new – new ASUS mobo, AMD AM3 processor, DDR3 memory,  all SATA drives, ATI (PCI-e) graphics, the works.  None of this stuff was cutting-edge but none of it was complete rubbish either.  All the gear had arrived in the post and Sunday afternoon was free – I was ready to go.

New drives meant new install of SuSE 11.2….or not.  First of all, I couldn’t get SuSE to see the SATA drives until I changed some BIOS settings.  Then the bootloader wouldn’t install unless I only had one HDD and disconnected the two mirrored drives.  And even then, when I rebooted after the initial install, I got buckets of SATA data errors and the OS failed to boot.

After tinkering with BIOS settings and kernel modules for a couple of hours I gave up.  Life’s too short.  I bunged in a Linux Format magazine coverdisk that had Ubuntu 10.04 on it.  Twenty minutes later, I had a working system, with all my drives, including the RAID mirror and it had also installed the proprietary drivers for the graphics card.  No fuss, no muss.  Boy, was I relieved!

I sometimes feel that it’s a bit churlish to complain about an OS which is essentially free, i.e. no cost.  In my defence, I have previously supported SuSE and Red Hat by buying the box sets, but in this day and age, if Linux wants to have any chance to succeed against the Redmond machine, it has to just work.  I’d consider myself somewhere between a power user and an expert and if I can’t get it to work on a fairly ordinary system, there’s no hope.

I’ll probably replace Ubuntu (which uses the Gnome desktop) with Kubuntu (which uses KDE) tonight to keeps things a bit more familiar but I’m afraid it’s goodbye SuSE, hello Ubuntu.