Tuesday, December 11. 2007
However as a long term SuSE user I will not simply delete my openSuSE 10.2 installation and replace it by Ubuntu. Especially since openSuSE became better and better and is currently really not a bad distribution. Also as a software developer with quite some experience in the IT world, I do not believe hypes until I experienced them myself (that's why I don't use Mac OS X or Windows Vista ).
Since I like KDE better than Gnome for its configurability, I have chosen to start with Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu.
The first step of my potential Kubuntu migration is an installation on a VMware to fiddle a little bit around with Kubuntu before passing the point of hard return, which is deleting my openSUSE installation. They may be SuSE biased and sometimes wrong, as I am not yet familar with Kubuntu. On the other side this review is intended to help SuSE users to decide, wheather it is worth to switch to Kubuntu or not - so a openSUSE bias is even intended to a certain degree.
I would be very thankful, if you could leave a comment at the end to help me in case I made a statement that is caused by my lack of knowledge about Ubuntu. And if you expecting some either openSuSE or Kubuntu bashing you'll be disappointed. Finally here are my first impressions and naive findings about Kubuntu.
Different Distributions for Different Users
Before I start with my findings let me explain my definitions of some types of users to which I will refer later on:
- The beginner has almost no experience with Linux. Typically he has used that piece of software that some folks from Redmond call an Operating System, who are lead by a man, who is best known for behaving like a gorilla on steroids - or short Microsoft Windows. In some cases that user may have used a Apple operating system before. The user expects to be able to install the Linux distribution easily and that the distribution comes with a preconfigured desktop that can be easily used based on his experiences with the operating system he used previously. He is willing to learn how to configure things using an UI, but the shell and config files are something he is afraid of - yet.
- The professional user just wants to do his work. He has already some experience with Linux, knows how to use google to find solutions to problems and can fix them also without a configuration UI and may even recompile some programms to solve his problems. However he hates the time he needs for such tasks as he wants to concentrate on his real work and prefers an easy and fast way to configure his system.
- The Linux enthusiast doesn't care of configuration UIs or a convenient preconfigured desktop. His hobby is constantly tweaking the configuration to find out, if something can be done better. He will change every linux distribution to match his needs as good as possible and expects the underlying mechanisms of the distribution to stay out of his way during this process. The later is something he really hates - when some kind of configuration or update mechanism ruins his careful configuration.
If you would put this on a scale, the bloody beginner at a 0, the professional user in between at a 5 and the Linux guru enthusiast at 10, I would consider myself as a 6.5. So this should give you an idea, where my priorities are in this review. However I'll also try to give some objective advices for the beginners and enthusiasts.
Now that we have clarified that, let's start with the review:
openSUSE is doing the old style installation: You insert the CD, start your computer, boot from the CD and then the installation will begin in exclusive mode. While the installation is running the computer is occupied by the installation. There is nothing you can do other than watch the progress or some fancy splash screens. This may have some technical advantages as the installer has the system exclusively, but the user is forced to wait until the installation has finished.
Kubuntu is following a different way. The CD contains a live image of kubuntu. After booting from the CD you have a (almost) fully working kubuntu running and you can start playing around and discovering the system, before you start. Yes, the openSUSE CDs also contain a live image. But what is unique for kubuntu is the 'Install Kubuntu' icon on the desktop. Trigger the icon and the installation starts in a window. While the installation is running you can continue to explore the live CD and play a little bit around. Really cool!
I guess a Beginner might not care about that although I don't see that it will trouble him. But a more experienced user will definitely like this kind of installation.
No real difference.
Due to the ability to play around during the installation.
Due to the ability to play around during the installation.
Installation: Preconfiguration and Package Selections
The installation wizard of openSUSE is well designed, easy to use and a help is always available on the left. I never had any problems understanding the installation or made wrong selections by accident. So I would consider the installation very user friendly. Most pages have 'Advanced...' buttons to allow a deeper fine tuning of the settings for advanced users. Beginners can select between either a standard Gnome or standard KDE desktops with a preselektion of the most important applications, while more sophisticated users can select and deselect single packages and configure the installed software up to a very fine grained level. After the packages have been installed, the user is prompted for a detailed network configuration of his interfaces, including proxy servers and internet service providers. There are even predefined settings for the most popular ISPs to make the configuration as easy as possible. These are mandatory steps for the first update of the fresh installation that can be done before the first boot, but may also be done later.
Although a beginner may simple accept the defaults for the most cases, there is a chance that we gets lost or does a serious misconfiguration that results in a unusable system later on (e.g. during the boot loader configuration). A professional will most probably not care. He is familar with all that technical stuff and everything can be done in a convenient way. On the other hand the preconfiguration takes some time before the package installation starts and again some time after the packages have been copied. The enthusiast will love the fine tuning he can already do at the installation and will take some time to review the default package selection and adjust them to his need.
The Kubuntu wizard is a simple six step process:
- Language selection
- Timezone selection
- Keyboard Layout
- Prepare disk space and Partitioning - Kubuntu makes a suggestion, but you can also resize existing partitions or do a completely manual partitioning (see screenshot above).
- User details: Name, Password and Computer Name
There are no advanced help texts, but the wizard is so simple that these are simply not needed. Clearly the best option! I can't image an installation process that is easier.
On the downside the installation is just a 6 step process - nothing more. No detailed setup of the network - DHCP is the default. No setup of an ISP. And no detailed package selection. You have to accept the defaults and configure the system later on. And please don't forget to run an update.
Another - minor - thing I've noticed is that there is no check for a secure password. I entered 'foo' into the password field and the wizard accepted it with no warning that the password is too simple.
Clearly the most easiest installation.
Easy and fast installation process.
openSUSE offers much more options during the installation
Installation: Hardware Recognition
Hardware recognition is very good. On my laptop (HP Compaq nw8240 that is dominated by Intel chips for LAN, WLAN and Audio but the ATI Radeon Mobility X700 graphics chip) everything worked out of the box with 2 exceptions: First the X server shows random artifacts after the installation with the open source radeon driver, which got solved by installing the proprietary ATI drivers and then the WLAN chip, which required to install the firmware for the driver.
The later means that you cannot do the online update during installation, when you are not connected to a wired network.
While the Intel WLAN firmware was delivered with openSUSE and just waited for being installed, the ATI driver had to be downloaded and compiled first. Before I could compile I had to install a couple of development packages. All in all not a big problem for me, but a beginner might have been over strained, since all these steps had to be done on a console. While some Linux and GPL enthusiasts may have objections against including proprietary drivers into a distribution, this would have solved a big problem especially for beginners.
Well, remember that I just installed Kubuntu on a VMware image yet. VMware provides emulations of very well known hardware, so there is no surprise that Kubuntu recognized all the hardware. But what I didn't expect that the VMware started with a resolution of 1680x1050. Kubuntu includes the VMware display driver and has used it already when booting the live image from the CD. That gives some hope that I will not face the same problems with my ATI chip like I had with openSUSE.
Since I haven't installed Kubuntu on my real physical hardware yet, I omit the summary here.
SuSE applies extensive modifications to the desktops. The KDE menu is replaced by KickOff, a completely redesigned menu that offers much more functionality, but sometimes also requires more mouse clicks to perform an action. Some like it, others - like myself - don't. KWins window decoration is a custom theme by openSUSE and there are quite some more or less usefull icons on the desktop. After all it's preconfiguration seems to be targeted at Microsoft Windows switchers, which may not be a bad choice due to its market share.
SuSE also did heavy modifications to the Gnome desktop - modifications that most Gnome users will hate. Normally Gnome has a menu bar with the system tray at the top and a taskbar at the bottom. openSUSEs Gnome desktop is also Windows oriented: A single bar with a launch button that opens a menu (also a custom menu similar to KickOff) and the system tray with a taskbar in between. While the default out of the box KDE desktop does not look bad and makes a polished impression, openSUSEs desktop seems to be the unloved alternative.
For beginners however an empty desktop will raise the question where to start? On SuSE a beginner has no problems to find a way to browse the file system or read the openSUSE help pages to get started before he has to open the K Menu. There is nothing bad about the K Menu, but it lists all the applications that are installed. A beginner is overwhelmed by application choices.
Kubuntu does not provide a own window decoration. Instead Crystal is used as windows decoration and Polyester as style. For GTK applications the GTK-QT engine is used. The preconfiguration is nice, but boring.
As desktop search engine Kubuntu is using Strigi, which will also become the default in KDE 4. However the version that is included with Kubuntu seems not to be on par with Beagle, which is used by openSUSE. There are plugins for Firefox and Thunderbird and almost every other applications alreadu available for Beagle, but not for Strigi. Also the Beagle UI looks much more polished in contrast to the simple web based UI of Strigi.
In case you dislike the Kubuntu desktop you can always switch between Ubuntu (Gnome), Xubuntu (XFCE), Edubuntu (Gnome for educational purposes) and back to Kubuntu later. Since I just had a VMware I switched to Ubuntu. And yes, Ubuntu did a much nicer job to present a nice Gnome desktop. The desktop really looks great. So when you judge the out-of-the-box look of the desktop Ubuntu clearly wins. I played a little bit around since I did not use Gnome for a long time. And I must admit that Gnome wasn't sleeping. Well and then I just wanted to adjust the toolbar of nautilus and it was not a big surprise that Gnome does not allow that. Bye, bye - I'm back to Kubuntu. However don't do this on a productive system, if you want to keep it clean from applications you don't use generally. When switching to Ubuntu a lot of Gnome applications were installed, like the F-Spot picture manager, which is no comparison to the powerful DigiKam (IMHO). After a switch you either can leave these applications installed and live with a crowded KMenu (all Gnome applications are listed there) or spent some hours to deinstall these applications.
A professional or a enthusiast will not care. Both know already how to configure KDE to match their needs. Both know which applications to use to solve which problem. However for beginners I would recommend openSUSE.
When you want to go with KDE, openSUSE offers the best preconfiguration while Kubuntus default desktop is very basic.
No clear winner, as the user will adjust the desktop to his needs anyway.
No clear winner, as the user will adjust the desktop to his needs anyway.
openSuSE makes the system configuration very easy thanks to YaST. There is a YaST module for almost everything: Scanner, firewall, Bluetooth devices, printers, users, backup, DSL provider and even server services like DNS and postfix. YaST is very easy to use and offers the same wizards with contextual help as for the installation.
Almost all the settings you do in YaST are also accessible as text files via files in /etc/sysconfig using your favourite text editor like vi. However changes to these files do not affect the services directly in most cases. YaST and its config files provides an easier abstraction layer above the systems real config files. You have to call SuSEconfig after you've changed files and SuSEconfig will then read in the files from /etc/sysconfig and write the application specific config files, like updating /etc/mail/postfix.cf and then running postmap. Even the YaST UI is running SuSEconfig at the end of most configuration wizards.
While very easy for the beginner, this has some disadvantages on the downside. First it is slow - sometimes awfully slow. But what is much more trickier is that you'll experience conflicts once you edit the applications config files directly and not via the /etc/sysconfig files. Sometimes you find generic information how to do something with the real config files, sometimes the desired options are not exposed to YaST and you are forced to edit the files. In this case SuSEconfig tracks the md5 checksums of the files and as soons as a file got modified it is no longer overwritten by SuSEconfig. When this works, you can not work with YaST 2 anymore - changes in YaST2 will have no effect. In some cases (which admittedly ocurred less and lesser during the last releases) a conflict is not cleanly resolved and the result were inconsistent settings that did somehow not work and you have to dig deeper into the system to solve the issue.
Another thing that annoyed my in the past was that openSUSE removes some very useful tools from KDE that are more powerful than the YaST equivalent like the KDE printer manager.
Kubuntu provides a System Settings program that partially provides new tools, but also leverages existing KDE tools, like the KDE printer manager. The modules of the System Settings program cover only the most basic aspects, like networking and printer setup. However even modules for configuring a Scanner or the firewall are missing. No need to talk about a mail server of DNS server setup. Kubuntu leaves a unfinished impression here. It seems to rely heavily on tools provided by other developers or leaves the configuration open up to editing config files. E.g. for the firewall configuraiton Kubuntu does not preinstall any configuration tool like Firestarter or Guarddog (more about that later). These tools are available in the standard repositories, but the user must install them manually. Not something I would want to face a beginner with.
On one hand this is bad for beginners, but better for advanced users. You can apply any information you find on the web even for other distributions for configuring applications as long as you deal with standard config files. That would frequently cause configuration troubles with SuSEconfig on openSUSE.
A very pleasant surprise was that Kubuntu had installed the hpijs toolbox for using HP printers. This toolbox allows to query the fill level of the ink cartridges and trigger self cleaning of the print heads. Why isn't openSUSE installing this toolbox, when the user configures a HP printer?
Clearly YaST2 makes configuration much easier.
Kubuntu stays out of the way, when directly editing config files.
Kubuntu has no problems with direct configuration changes. No slow update process required.
For KDE and Gnome openSuSE bundles the several standard applications into one logical package. E.g there is a package kde-pim that contains applications like kmail, kontact, knode, korganizer and akregator. This means, that you cannot install kmail, but not akregator. Either you install all kde-pim applications together or non at all. On todays hard disk this is not a big problem, but anyway - you have to install quite some applications that you might never launch just because of one application that you use.
In openSUSE 10.2 Novell's zmd has been used for package management. What a crappy thing! It's slow, awfully slow. On my old server (PIII 500) it even takes several minutes to launch. Luckily the openSUSE project noticed that and removed it from 10.3. Since I haven't used 10.3 yet I cannot talk about the current package manager. However for 10.2 the use of zmd was a big mistake. I really hope that openSUSE finally found a stable solution with 10.3.
So for 10.2 I got rid of zmd and used Smart instead - a great tool. It allows to combine YaST, apt-rpm, plain directories and many more kinds of repositories. The command line tool is easy to use and the GUI is also pretty useable. However the use of Smart silently introduced a new and bigger problem... more on that later.
There are several different front ends for apt-get to make this powerful tool accessible for beginners. Kubuntu install Adept by default. However it crashed several times during my evaluation. Too bad - it looks very great. I love it. I just would wish, that it would be more stable. But you can also use synaptic as front end - not a bad choice either.
In contrast to openSUSE, Kubuntu provides a package for every single program. When you know, which program you need this is great. You just have to install what you need and omit all the other stuff you never start. Disadvantage: You have to select every single program. Just time consuming for a professional but worse for a beginner, who does not already know the applications. On the other hand a beginner may have it easier to install a program, once he heard about it, while on openSUSE the beginner must first search for the package that contains the program. For example akregator is contained in kdepim.
There are pros and cons for beginners. However for openSUSE 10.2 a beginner will have to configure Smart before having a good package manager
Proven and stable apt-get.
The user is able to strip down the installation to the absolutely needed programs.
After the installation a firewall is active on openSUSE, which prevents access to all ports, but ssh. The X server port is closed as openSUSE recommends tunnel X11 through SSH forwarding. Not a bad choice.
Some may argue that this is not user friendly as a user will experience problems when providing access to his computer via the network using Samba, NFS, a http server or other network services. However the user is notified several times during installation that a firewall will be configured, so he should be aware of that. In my opinion security should preceed convenience. It's better for a user to know that a service cannot be accessed than not knowing what is exposed to the network.
Kubuntu does not install a firewall. It even does not provide configuration options for a firewall in the network setup module of the System Settings application. In fact I haven't found that a Firewall was mentioned anywhere. Very bad! I wonder how long it will take until a Kubuntu worm can be found in the wild. On the other hand the Kubuntu repository provides nice firewall UIs like Firestarter or Kubuntu? Why not preinstall one of them and preconfigure it and make it accessible via the System Settings application? I really would like to see this improved and it could even endanger the good reputation of Ubuntu as soon as a worm will attack Ubuntu installations.
After all even Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows XP SP2 activate a firewall right after the installation. Who thinks that a Sasser-gate would not be possible for Linux just because Linux is claimed to be more secure may recall worms like Ramen or Slapper.
A beginner may not notice the lack of a firewall and expose a potential vulnerable system.
openSUSE comes with a easy to configure Firewall frontend. No need to manually install a configuration tool.
Applications like Guarddog or Firestarter provide more options than openSUSEs firewall tool. However these applications can also be used on openSUSE.
For power management openSUSE relies on the standard ACPI support. Either your laptop provides a compatible ACPI support or not. In the later case you may manually patch the DSTL table to make it work.
Good news for me is that my laptop (HP Compaq nw8240) comes with a Linux friendly ACPI implementation. Although suspend to memory does not work, suspend to disk does and that's what really matters, when the battery runs out of power. So far to the good news.
Bad news: The proprietary ATI driver blocks the system from going into the suspend to disk state, when the 3D kernel module is loaded. So on openSUSE I have the choice: Either 3D or suspend to disk. Either fancy screensavers and games or possible data loss, when I run out of power. So my answer was to dismiss 3D support.
That is what pushes me to use Kubuntu: I really would like to have a fancy hardware accelerated desktop with Compiz-Fusion. Kubuntu uses the Suspend2 kernel patches. Suspend2 allows a suspend-to-disk without ACPI support. My hope is that this also works with ATIs kernel module loaded. At least that's what a friend told me. So far I have only tested it in VMware. I do not believe that there is a real ACPI support in a VMware session available. Anyway it did work with Suspend2.
Therefore the clear winner in this discipline is Kubuntu.
An upgrade of openSUSE has almost no difference to a fresh installation:
- Download a DVD image or multiple CD images of the latest openSUSE distribution.
- Burn it the image(s).
- Reboot from the installation media.
- Choose to upgrade instead of new installation.
- Follow the wizard.
- Resolve package conflicts manually
- Follow the wizard.
This works reasonable well, as long as you stick with the SUSE packages. As soon as you install a lot of packages from third party repositories, you're doomed. I have done an upgrade from SuSE Linux 9.1 to openSUSE 10.1 with no problems.
Now I am stuck with my upgrade from 10.2 to 10.3 in the step 5 above. Since I used Smart to fetch and install packages from several repositories that are not officially supported by SuSE like Guru or Pacman, these repositories are not considered for upgrade during the distribution upgrade. Smart is not supported by the YaST package management. All I can do now is to install fresh openSUE 10.3 installation. Or I could try Kubuntu as well.
As Kubuntu is based on Debian there are long term experiences available with apt-get and Debian users enjoy the simple rolling upgrades for a long time already. Since apt-get along with its frontends is similar to Smart there is no need to use an unsupported package management software. So all configured repositories will be available during upgrade and since you do not need to reboot to do the upgrade you even can continue to work with your system while the upgrade is done just like it is possible during installation as desribed above.
Kubuntu made this even easier by providing a graphical upgrade wizard. This article [de] shows a visual guide to the simple upgrade process. Can it be any easier? Hardly!
Once again Kubuntu is the clear winner here.
So let's sum the results up to get an idea, which distribution is better for who according to my findings.
Well, seems like Kubuntu is the clear winner for professional users and also for enthusiasts. For beginners there is a draw. So I would recommend to use the distribution that is used by a friend who is willing to help you with your first step. From the results it seems like a beginner cannot do much wrong.
Please remember that this summary is still biased by my personal point of view, my experiences with openSUSE, my lack of experience with Kubuntu and that I do not claim completeness for all disciplines I have examined and listed above (have an idea of a discipline I should add? Add a comment! It's free ). Also I still haven't even installed Kubuntu on a real system and used it as my daily development system. There may be come up new issues or new features I do not know and I would soon miss when I might switch to openSUSE.
I will keep you posted of my findings - as soon as I have time to do a Kubuntu migration of my laptop and as soon as I find the time to write.
Update #1: Don't know why I haven't tried it earlier, but I just tried to boot the Kubuntu live system from my Laptop. The X screen is flickering wildly . So I tried to boot with the safe graphics mode - worse! X quit after a short time: Xlib: extension "XFree86-DRI" missing on display ":0.0". When I've installed openSuSE 10.2 I had the same problem with the flickering screen - however after the full installation has been completed. I had to install the ATI fglrx driver to have a non-flickering screen as the default radeon driver caused the problem. On openSUSE that was not a big deal, since I already had an installed system. But what shall I do with Kubuntu? How can I install it, when I cannot make the live CD work? Is there also a command line installer for Kubuntu? Or has someone an idea what I can do to make the Kubuntu live image show a clean image on my Laptop with an ATI radeon X700. I just get the impression that the old fashioned installer of openSUSE has a very good reason
Well in the worst case I'll have to run the installation on a flickering screen and hope to hit the correct options, when they are hard to read.
Update #2: In the meantime Kubuntu replaced my openSUSE installation and I posted a update that describes my second impressions.
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