Monday, December 31, 2012

openSUSE 12.2 Review: an Immaculate Conception


When I first updated my computer to 12.2 I wasn't all that impressed, but that was apparently due to having used the live upgrade via 'zypper dup.' Earlier today (December 20th) I got fed up with some of the anomalies and accumulated mess of my system, and decided to reinstall. Quite frankly, though the 'dup' process had (for once) gone without any real problems, this was clearly the right decision to get a proper impression of our latest release. In short, I'm quite impressed.

This may very well be the most polished experience I've had since I used Macintosh OSX. Refinements and polish show all throughout the system, from the moment you turn it on up to doing your work. For that matter there is even a couple of notable changes to the installation process itself. Besides the freakishly fast loading of the installer (or live environment) enabled by the transition to systemd, there is the nice fact that writing a DVD image to USB flash media (via ImageWriter or using the 'dd' method on the CLI) no longer requires you to run isohybrid on the ISO any longer. One annoyance though, is that a bug I had experienced in 12.1 persisted into this release also. That being where it fails to select kernel-firmware package for installation, which is vital to the functioning of my Broadcom WiFi card using the brcmsmac driver. If I recall though, that is a problem with udev.

Upon boot we are greeted by the much prettier interface of the new Grub 2 bootloader, giving us the option of booting openSUSE normally (or Windows if you dual boot) and 'advanced options' for openSUSE, which leads to another page with the usual failsafe booting option. However, I've yet to discover how to manually enter boot options and at this time assume that it can't be done. The YaST Bootloader module has been refined and support for Grub 2 is fully present.

Once we are past Grub 2 we are promptly greeted by Plymouth, the elegant successor to Splashy the splash screen. An elegant green background with the openSUSE logo superimposed in the center stand solidly while the animated activity of white whisps meander about the logo. These whisps gently float about drifting gradually towards the center of the screen before suddenly converging just below the logo into one orb of light, indicating the transition to your login screen or desktop in the case of autologin.

With autologin disabled, Plymouth gently segues us into the login screen. Very little has changed here, excepting the slightly improved graphical performance. Above the user selections within the window, the openSUSE logo has been placed. I've found this looks a bit garish on smaller displays, but is a nice touch for those with larger displays than my little netbook provides.

In similar fashion, the transition from login to desktop is gently handled and has a more elegant temperament than previously. Gnome shell has not changed in appearance at all, but has however become a bit more responsive. The graphical effects, such as the transition to the activities dashboard or the ripple effect of the upper left hand corner are noticeably smoother. As I've used the Gnome system and its application suite, everything feels quicker and more responsive though there aren't too many major changes to the applications that are immediately noticeable. One notable change to the shell however is the inclusion of more options to set up in the 'Online Accounts.' Now, we have Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Windows Live. Setting up your Google account works as before, and the only functionality so far of the other options is setting your IM accounts in the Empathy framework. Below I shall elaborate upon the more notable changes of the system with emphasis on the Gnome application suite and the shell.



  • Shell
    • Identity Menu?
      • Does not set status as online upon login. However when you open the menu it would indicate that you actually are online. This looks to be half a bug, with the other a deliberate design choice. Toggling your status as unavailable then back to available fixes this.
      • Windows Live completely broken. So there is still no MSN access. Not a big deal to me though.
  • Evolution
    • Correctly set up by Online Accounts, whereas before it was unstable unless Gmail was set up manually and disabled in Online Accounts.
    • Imap noticeably faster and smoother. In fact the performance change is dramatic.
    • Emails load faster, and are not seriously slowed by downloading or synchronizing.
  • LibreOffice
    • Startup is significantly faster, quick enough that I am not annoyed by waiting anymore.
    • Overall behavior is smoother, more responsive, and more predictable than ever. In short time, LibreOffice since forking from OpenOffice has shown massive improvements and could reach a level where it can contend with MS Office on purely technical merits.
  • Extensions
    • Many extensions are deprecated by the newer shell. However, most of them have more advanced successors. The Gnome extensions gallery is getting quite nice.
  • Kernel
    • Performance increase
      • The newer kernel shows off its optimizations for filesystem I/O. One of the bigger reasons for performance increases is the much updated compiling stack we use now.
    • Improved hardware support
      • On my netbook I have an uncommon model of touchpad, that up until this version of openSUSE had never been identified correctly. Thus, upto now I wasn't able to toggle things such as “tap to click.” Also, my webcam now works with any app that uses a webcam.
    • Heating issue
      • My netbook and another AMD laptop a client of mine had would overheat fairly easily, shutting off. This issue has noticeably improved as has power consumption. We now have longer bath life.
    • Nouveau
      • Were it not for games, I would probably not have bothered to install the NVidia proprietary drivers. The behavior of the system running nouveau was nearly indistinguishable from the proprietary. In fact, the desktop with its compositing was smoother than before.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thousands of signatures still needed by January 16th to push the US government to embrace FOSS in our schools.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/promote-use-free-software-our-schools-libre-office-gimp-gnu-cash-and-other-gpl-software-which-cost/T1xGw1fZ

A petition posted to the Whitehouse's website still has many signatures to go before the administration will be required to address it. Which is frankly surprising considering the size and connection of our community, and the importance of the petition.

We in the Free Software communities know how important Free Software is. It is not merely an abstract freedom, but the various side effects as well. Before I became acquainted with FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) computers were still obscured to me, and esoteric mystery. Granted, I had a more advanced understanding than most, hence why I came to Linux. But it was not until I dove in that I came to really understand computers. Everything from the Object Oriented paradigm to user interface principals finally made sense. The amazing resource of learning that FOSS provides cannot be underestimated, but only underappreciated.

Our schools in particular stand to benefit from FOSS. The enormous savings to taxpayers, both from the software being free of cost, and not being subject to the faults of Windows and its insecurity is staggering. Further, there is an enormous library of educational software as well as software made for the administration of learning spaces and libraries... all readily available and free of any cost. Finally, as computers continue to become pivotal to our society and the future, it behooves us to make sure that children are learning these technologies. Particularly, the availability of high grade development tools would greatly aide in making affordable programming classes for our children.

In the words of the petition:

"Each year our educational system wastes billions of dollars for the purchase and support of proprietary operating systems and application software in our schools. The software is rigid and inflexible, opaque in its design and mysterious to our children.

We advocate and propose the gradual replacement of privately owned software with restrictive licensing in favor of open source alternatives with GPL type licenses. In as much as possible we should have our students using software that complies with the definition of free software as defined by the Free Software Foundation.

The GNU/Linux operating system, underlying source code, tools and documentation are readily available to students already. Their use should be encouraged as the tools and code are available cost free."

I feel very strongly that we should not stand idly by, but should at the least sign and advocate this petition.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Easily install Dropbox, Skype, and Google Music Manager in openSUSE 12.2

Quite frankly, the instructions we can usually find on how to install +Skype, +Dropbox, and Google Music Manager tends to be obfuscated and unusually complicated. No clue why this is seeing as it is actually drop dead simple. The methods I show here are equally applicable to 32 bit and 64 bit openSUSE 12.2. Due to this simplicity I have decided to include all three pieces of software in one tutorial.

Skype

Skype is stupidly simple to install. Simply navigate to their website, download the RPM and install. There is not a 64 bit version, just use the 32 bit one. Our package management will resolve all the dependencies. You should not have to do any prep work at all. On my systems, the PackageKit installation works fine... that is simply select the default action to Install Package from Firefox. If however this does not work, you can simply use Zypper to do the job:

cd ./Downloads
zypper in skype-4.1.0.20-suse.i586.rpm
Boom, that is it.


Dropbox

The easiest way to install +Dropbox  for +GNOME is to use 'Direct Install' from http://www.software.opensuse.org. Here is a nice link straight to the package. Though it says it is the Nautilus extension, it pulls in all of Dropbox as well.

Google Music Manager

Installing Google Music Manager is slightly less straightforward, but still very simple. Due to a dependency issue we will have to use Zypper to install it. Simply follow this link to find and download the appropriate package for your system. Save the file, do not use the PackageKit installer. Now open up a terminal and do the following.

cd ./Downloads
sudo zypper in google-musicmanager*
 Zypper will complain about supposedly missing a dependency. It is not actually missing and will work anyway. Choose option 2, ignoring the problem and installing anyway:

Problem: nothing provides qtwebkit needed by google-musicmanager-beta-1.0.54.4672-0.x86_64
 Solution 1: do not install google-musicmanager-beta-1.0.54.4672-0.x86_64
 Solution 2: break google-musicmanager-beta-1.0.54.4672-0.x86_64 by ignoring some of its dependencies

Choose from above solutions by number or cancel [1/2/c] (c):

Fully integrate Firefox with elegant new Gnome 3 theme

One of the things I love about Gnome 3 is the clean and elegant theme throughout the system. It is unfortunate then that +Mozilla Firefox  has not been consistently themeable to look like it belongs. In the past there was the 'Adwaita' theme for Firefox, but it lacked in a few areas and consistently wasn't updated to keep pace with the version changes of Firefox itself. Now we have ' +GNOME  17.1' by the GNOME Integration Team. This theme not only delivers a consistent appearance like its Adwaita predecessor, but far exceeds it making +Mozilla Firefox look like a truly native application within the Gnome environment. Rather than ramble on about it though, I'll simply show you. You can get it by following this link to the Mozilla site.