Friday, April 6, 2012

openSUSE guide for Ubuntu users

So since the advent of Gnome 3 and the Ubuntu spin of that – Unity – a lot of people have been frantically seeking a familiar refuge. Now as I stated in another blog I like Gnome 3, but it was a long time coming and I can certainly understand the reluctance towards it... not to mention legitimate issues pertaining to your peculiar hardware. As for Unity, I briefly installed the newest Ubuntu. And I hated it. I can see it may be good someday, but for now it is alpha level. Sluggish, unresponsive, not something I would have pushed on possibly paying users. So now a lot of people are fleeing for KDE or some other more familiar desktop paradigm. So in this post, I want to basically give a guideline for those who have landed in our community. One thing I do recommend is RTFM, please read a little bit of the documentation. You'll learn so much more quickly, and learn some nice tricks along the way.

  1. Documentation; We do of course have other sources of documentation, but these three are more than enough to get you where you want to go. OpenSUSE is simple enough you should be able to get along without the documentation, but I personally would prefer to avoid any potential headaches.
    1. An excellent guide for beginners is the Unofficial openSUSE Guide. This guide is KDE oriented, but still touches on many of the important things in openSUSE regardless of your preferred desktop environment. Www.opensuse-guide.org
    2. The manuals should be installed already, and if not can be easily found in YaST. If they are installed, you'll be able to find them in the location file:///usr/share/doc/manual/opensuse-manuals_en/index.html which you can simply open in your web-browser. I suggest making a bookmark so its quickly handy when you need it. I keep mine as an 'app-tab' in Firefox.
    3. Gnome and KDE both have help viewers. In KDE you'll be able to get to it from the desktop link. In Gnome 3 you'll need to open the help browser from the activities dashboard, or when on the desktop (not within a particular application) press F1. Here you'll find plenty of tips and information so you can get the most out of your new Gnome 3 desktop.
  2. Installer
    1. The Ubuntu installer excels at simplicity... and that is part of its downfall. That and its instability. Our installer is actually part of our YaST graphical system utility suite. It is old, but always updated, and offers many highly advanced options for your installation. However, it is still simple and attractive enough for anybody with a smidgen of experience. We have a Live CD, and a DVD for openSUSE. The installer differs slightly on the two platforms. If you know your hardware well, use the DVD since it has some more options you may appreciate. I want to point out a few things you may miss, and that I think are particularly nifty.
      1. Additional software and desktop environments are available when using the DVD instead of the Live CD. On the DVD we ship four environments easily selectable; LXDE, XFCE, KDE, and Gnome. Rumor has it that in 12.2 we will also be offering Qt-Razor. You may simply select one of these, or by using the software management module you may choose to install the environments side by side. In order to do the latter, you merely need select for example, the XFCE 'pattern' and it will install. I will write more on how to use YaST software management from within the installer in a later section. If you are looking for an experience more like Gnome 2 with all its comfortable old programs, I HIGHLY recommend using our XFCE desktop.
      2. The partitioner in the installer is the same as used by the openSUSE desktop itself. This is thanks to the modular design of YaST and that the installer is itself a module of YaST. Thus, you get all the options of a full enterprise ready partitioner so you can cater your installation exactly. This includes such advanced options as being able to select a variety of file systems to format with (including btrfs), use Logical Volume Management (LVM), or even to encrypt your partitions for security purposes and be able to edit the fstab to graphically toggle special features of the filesystems.
      3. Getting into the software manager from the DVD installer is very simple. On the final page of the installer 'Installation Settings,' you'll see a button labeled 'change' below the textual summary of the changes to be made for your installation. Click there and you'll see a myriad of options, including 'Software.' There it is that you may select other patterns and packages, as well as other desktop environments. I personally will always select the 'Console Tools' pattern.
  3. YaST2 is a tool for administering and maintaining a openSUSE installation. It allows administrators to install software, configure hardware, set up networks and servers, and more.
    1. I made mention that our installer is part of something called YaST. Yet another Setup Tool (YaST) is in my opinion the heart of what makes openSUSE unique. Mandriva and Mageia have a similar tool, but it wasn't built with an Enterprise distribution in mind. And though YaST was built with the enterprise user in mind, it still manages to be excellent even for a naïve home user. Part of that is simply the help button. If you go clicking through the modules in YaST, you'll always see a help button. And lo and behold it is in fact actually helpful! It clearly explains what each module and each page of a module does. YaST is ideal for the new user learning about Linux due largely to this. YaST is immensely powerful despite being user friendly, and once again I recommend reading the documentation so that you can truly grasp the GUI goodness and power that is YaST. What more, is that YaST gives you a graphical tool to help you manage and fix issues that Ubuntu would always require you fiddle on a command line terminal, which is something even I am not very comfortable with.
    2. Edit GRUB graphically with the 'Bootloader' module. Often enough I find that people will have problems with the splash screen, and you can easily set the VGA mode with this module. Also, this module makes it easy to add parameters to the bootline in GRUB. All this and more without having to fiddle with the command line and obscure text based utilities.
    3. Printers and scanners can be easily and effectively configured in YaST. Frankly, on the three platforms of openSUSE, Mac, and Windows; openSUSE's YaST module was the only one that was clear and not a pain in the rear to get my HP all-in-one configured. All I needed was the IP of the printer, and I was able to get everything working perfectly.
  4. Package management
    1. Yet another YaST module is our Software Management. Though it is not quite as friendly as the Ubuntu Software Center, you'll quickly get the hang of it; especially if you take a little time to read the documentation. Often people mistake YaST as being merely a package management tool, but rather that is only one of several modules... but a notable one indeed.
      1. Adding a new desktop environment is easy. Simply look for the pattern for the desktop you want, select and go! In a while, you'll have a whole and complete new desktop environment to try out and use.
      2. You can browse through specific repositories in order to find new and interesting software. I find this particularly handy with the Games community repository.
    2. We also use PackageKit to fulfill some functionality, mostly updating. You can also use PackageKit to install new software packages you download, such as Google Earth. PackageKit does have a couple bugs. If you for example need to lock the package for your kernel from updating, then you will want to deactivate the updater applet since it won't honor those locks. It will also screw up if you use an external device as a repo such as a USB drive or the install DVD. It also occasionally has problems installing RPMs from sources such as Google. If you find it doesn't work, you can use zypper on the command line to do it. Simply 'cd' to the directory where your RPM is, then issue 'zypper in thatrpmthatpackagekitchokedon.rpm.'
  5. Finding more software
    1. Community Repositories are quickly and easily added from YaST, without needing to drop to CLI or even needing to manually copy and paste a URL. In YaST under Software, simply click 'Software Repositories.' Once that is loaded, click the button 'Add.' You'll see a list of options, select the radio button second from top that says 'community Repositories,' and click 'Next.' You'll see a listing of popular repositories. I usually add Packman, WINE CVS, and Gnome Extras.
    2. The openSUSE Build Service provides a simple and central place for developers to make software available, and use our servers to build it with so they don't stress their home computers. Why this matters to you, is that it also makes those packages available to you since it automatically creates a repository and a 'One Click Install.' With the one click install, it will download a .ymp (YaST Meta-Package) which will be handled by YaST. This will download and install the package, as well as subscribe you to the repository so you can get any updates. OBS also provides packages for many distributions besides openSUSE.
  6. Super User and sudo
    1. First off, you may quickly notice that sudo seems broken. In actuality it was configured that way for security purposes, ones that I honestly don't entirely understand. If sudo doesn't work, you'll need to use 'su' to drop into Super User or Root. If you just tried sudo, simply tap in 'sudo su' since sudo will remember your authentication briefly.
      1. In Gnome we use 'gnomesu' to invoke graphical applications as the root user. You can use the hotkey of Alt=F2 to quickly launch programs, or you may do this via a commandline (CLI) terminal such as Gnome Terminal.
      2. In KDE we use 'kdesu' to invoke graphical applications as the root user. All the Gnome instructions apply equally.
  7. Support
    1. Forums are the best place to find support. The gurus stalk the forums that are their fields of interest and specialty. Plus the more organized format of the forums help guarantee you won't get lost in a flood of other requests.
    2. Mailing lists are available, but you may not get the timely help you'd hope for. Your message can get lost in the sea of other messages. If your issue is terribly critical, such that it prevents you from using your computer properly then you can try the mailing list... but I'd recommend posting to the forums first.
    3. IRC is also available. If you are using Konversation, the default IRC client for KDE, it will automatically connect to the appropriate channel. If you are in Gnome and using Xchat our channel is #suse on the FreeNode (same as Ubuntu's channel) network. The channel is only very active at certain hours, so once again forums are a better choice for support.
  8. Notes on our Gnome 3
    1. Themeing browsers to look native. I personally enjoy a very consistent theme across all my applications. I like having a total environment that is consistent and beautiful, and so I was thrilled that finally in Gnome 3 I could make my two favorite browsers finally look like they totally belong in my environment. Of course, if you wind up using a custom theme, then this will not help your desire for consistency at all.
      1. Chrome/Chromium requires two different extensions to look right in the Gnome 3 Adwaita environment. Besides the obvious, you'll also want the Gnome 3 Scrollbars and may like to go into settings and set it to use the system window titles and borders.
      2. Firefox in general never looks as alien in either Gnome or KDE as Chrome does, but it still isn't perfectly themed. Until now with the Adwaita Theme for Firefox. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/adwaita/
    2. Gnome Tweak Tool, also known as 'Advanced Settings' is included by default. This gives you access to some toggles, and the ability to change fonts, cursors, and even themes. It may take a little experimentation.
    3. I highly recommend reading through the help browser to learn the workflow of Gnome 3. Such things as the ability to simply type when in Activities rather than actually having to enter the search box aren't immediately evident.
  9. Multimedia
    1. Getting multimedia to all work properly can be tricky. Thankfully there is a One Click available to take care of your needs, including (limited) DVD playback. I'll simply point you to the page that will help you select the one that is right for your needs and system. http://opensuse-community.org/Restricted_formats
    2. On Gnome the default music player is Banshee, and the default video and DVD player is Totem. Totem can be problematic with DVD playback, and you may find that VLC works better for you as I did. I have had issues with Banshee being unable to play some radio streams as well. VLC can be installed via OBS or from the Packman repository.
    3. In KDE the defaults are Amarok for music, and Kaffeine for video. Amarok has had stability problems sometimes, so the team has included Clementine which has most of the features of Amarok but is lighter and I have found it to be much more stable. I have never had an issue with Kaffeine.

In conclusion I hope you can see that, though we are different... we aren't lacking anything Ubuntu had. We just go about it differently. No distribution is perfect, as you no doubt learned. To quote a friend, “every OS sucks.” The question is in finding one that keeps you happy, and I hope this brief (not as concise as I'd aimed for) guide will help you be happy as a part of our community. Welcome to openSUSE, and as we say (its probably cooler sounding in German) “have a lot of fun!”