Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chronicle of a Distro Hopper : From Ubuntu 14.04 to Open Suse 13.2

1. My Linux Background

                     (image 1.1 : My registration ID in Ubuntu Launchpad)      
Now, before anybody comes shooting at me on the “Linux 10 commandments” that says “thou shalt not compare thy distro with others”, I would like to share that I have been using Linux for 6 years now. “Remaja Linux Malaysia” was in fact my brain child, a young Malay lad who is enthusiast about Linux and Open Source and suprisingly, with no background whatsoever in the IT field. Indeed, I represent a spectrum of Linux users who utilises Linux as consumers on their personal computers on daily basis.

2. So why am I comparing between Ubuntu and Open Suse?
                          (image 1.2 : is the Linux governing Body)

Linux is a great system. It is stable, secure and malleable. Unfortunately, Linux is modular. While Linus and his syndicate ensure that Linux is compliant to industrial needs, relies heavily on Canonical, Red Hat and other giant corporations to deliver the system to the public. Linux is also dependent on the front-end makers; Gnome, KDE, XFce and plethoric of other Desktop Environments to make it appealing to users. Sadly though, different sectors in this modularly Linux community have variable approaches on making Linux a great replacement of the commercial Windows and OSX Operating system. Some are good as whole. Some are great only in certain area.

                   (image 1.3 : Ubuntu 14.04 , the lastes LTS OS from Canonical)

Ubuntu have become the most popular consumer-based Linux Operating System in the world. Currently, whenever someone talks about Linux, they always have Ubuntu at the back of their mind. Unfortunately, Ubuntu comes under the category of sects which are only great in making the Distro (Operating System) pretty, but fails to ensure that the system is sturdy as a whole. Ubuntu related problems have tarnished the good name of Linux over the years and the appealing nature of windows 10 have made its adoption even faster.

In today’s article, I would like to make an in depth review of my migration from Ubuntu 14.04 to Open Suse 13.2 Gnome Edition. My review would compare both operating system as a whole, and I will not discriminate the Desktop Environment since both are part and parcel of the OS itself.

3. Running the Live CD
For this review, I have downloaded the 64-bit OS image from here :
 Comparatively, you can download a copy of 64 bit Ubuntu 14.04 OS image from here :
I burned the Open Suse DVD image and run it on an ACER V5-471pg Laptop. At boot, you are greeted with the friendly familiar looking Open Suse Chameleon.

                                 (image 1.4 : Open Suse 13.2 live CD greeter)
 Honestly, running the Live DVD wasn’t a real pleasant experience, at least to the eye. It was slow and command line races through your screen. I reckon that if a newbie witnessing all these for the first time, they would be nervous. However, once the system starts up, everything looks good and in place. No flicker, no lag, nothing! I heard that the live USB version is set to persistent by default. That means, you can use your USB pendrive as a portable computer and any changes made in it will be saved for the next session. Cool!

                          (image 1.5 : Open Suse  13.2 Gnome Vanilla Look)

Open Suse 13.2 uses the vanilla version of Gnome 3.14. Its not horrible; Adawaita theme is fine, but the default Gnome icon theme is dull, at least in comparison to Ubuntu or Windows 10. Fortunately that can be changed and will be explained later in my article.
                              (image 1.6 : Ubuntu 14.04 Icons and themes)

The installer icon is somewhat confusing.  It wasn’t placed on the desktop, like most of the Linux OS would do. Rather, it was place on the gnome Dash’s dock. For someone who has zero experience with Linux or Gnome, it would be trivial for them to identify where should they press, especially with no icon name to aid them. The installer was integrated into Yast; I will elaborate more on this later. It is user friendly, responsive and honestly crash much lesser than the ubiquity installer used in Ubuntu. However though, when comes to disk and partition, it becomes rather confusing. The installer is intelligent. It could identify where should it install itself, creates Swap, format and everything.

                                (image 1.7 : Open Suse Partition Manager)

However, the installer shows a lengthy, rather confusing and yes scary list of changes which will hesitate any newbie to press “Next”. What’s wrong with a simple :
A) Install Open Suse alongside windows / Ubuntu
B)Reformat disk and install Open Suse.

Well, it goes back to the fact that Open Suse cater more for office uses, and usually the IT people are the one dealing with all these stuff. Nevertheless I think we could appreciate changes in these part of the OS.

                           (image 1.8 : Time and Zone selection on Open Suse)

 The subsequent installation was a breeze. Unlike Ubuntu which asked should they connect the OS to the internet or should they install codecs or should they update etc, Open Suse only asked for the time, place and your password. That’s it! More amazingly, in no more than 10 minutes, the installation completed smoothly. Personally, this is what I would like to see in any Operating System. A simple no fuss install. If I need an update, I can do it later, after the installation, not before hand.

4. First Run

On first run, Open Suse enquire on connectivity settings and some other stuff. Everything works fine except for one thing, the time. Oddly, the time does not sync well. I have to manually adjust it to my country. However, it wasn’t a real big deal, since the clock settings is easily accesible by pressing on the clock.

                                (image 1.9 : Clock and date settings in Gnome)

 Gnome Shell as we have seen in many reviews require a much greater learning curve than Unity, KDE, Xfce or LXDE. Partly because it doesn’t have names or logo which indicate menu or whatsoever. Frankly speaking, this would be my first ever experience using Gnome Shell as my primary DE. Nevertheless, after using it for a while, I would like to say that Gnome Shell is practical.
                                      (image 1.10 : Windows View)

One swap to the upper left corner and all your application will be neatly tiled on your desktop. This is something every multi tasker need, unlike the cluttered Ubuntu side bar, or Windows bar or OSX Dock. As a side note, Gnome also comes with a side bar for those who can’t live without it. In fact, with a gnome Shell extension, you can detach the side bar from your Dash. Click on the application Drawer and all applications draws to your attention

                                      (image 1.11 : Application View)

 The Upper bar is clear and the icons are huge. They are finger friendly too, something you won’t experience in Ubuntu. The drop down menu is also neat and looks well intergrated into the system.

                                             (image 1.12 : Shell Buttons)

Funny though, the notification area is hidden at the lower area. You need to swap it up from below, which unfortunately was not really mouse friendly, or use the keyboard shortcut “Windows logo + M” to open it. It took me a while to identify its location and took me longer to understand why it was placed there. After sometimes I realised that it mimics the notification area usually seen in IOS.

                                      (image 1.10 : Notification are)

Beside, by not placing it in the upper bar, more application can run in the background while placing their icon in a very neat looking design in that area. One really cool thing about Gnome Shell is that it is very finger friendly. Swiping my finger to the left to open my dash, swiping from below for notification area, and all upper bar radio button response to touch. This is something I have never experience in KDE or Unity. It's quite a suprise that Ubuntu is not working on something like this, not especially when they are all hyped about their Ubuntu Touch DE. OpenSuse has made Gnome Shell feels at home in the system, although KDE was their primary DE. Ubuntu focuses to much on Unity while other supported DE are left in the limbo, causing too much bugs and crashes. As of now, not a single flicker have I experience ever since using it.
Update : Gnome-Shell momentarily freezes from time to time, but not up to the point that I have to forcefully restart the system.
Screen Lock was a breeze and waking up from a sleep or a dimmed screen was instantaneous. Try doing that on an Ubuntu after long hours of inattention and it will take ages before it wakes up. Worse, you may have to restart the whole system if it hangs.

5.Playing with YAST
YAST, besides stability is Open Suse second core strength. It integrates well into the System Settings. YAST is comparable to Windows control panel, except it is more powerful and user friendly. Needless to say, it looks bare and room for improvement is needed here.

                                               (image 1.13 : YAST)

6. Open Suse Software Management VS Ubuntu Software Center
Linux has multiple ways to deal with software installation and removal. The easiest to do that on Open Suse is by clicking on the “Software Management” on YAST.
                                      (image 1.14 : Software management)

Frankly speaking, Software managemen is nowhere like the Ubuntu Software Centre or Wndows Marketplace or Google Play Store. It is just a bare search bar which shows you list of both available and confusing installable software. However though, it does the job well and it does not freeze or crash like Ubuntu software center. Like Ubuntu, just a single click in the Software Management Apps and all is well installed into your system.

7. 3rd Party Softwares

Now here is the fun part. Open Suse have its partner and so does Ubuntu. While Ubuntu only allow a limited number of Apps in its 3rd party repository, OpenSuse allow a whole bunch of them, and all are listed in its community repository. Its repository manager is indeed very user friendly, unlike the one you have seen in Ubuntu. Just click on the “Software Repository” on YAST , click Add and Choose Community Repository and thousands of Apps will be available at your fingertips.

                                               (image 1.15 : Repositories)

Now, as some of us experienced Linux will know, chance are, indie application maker will not even have their softwares in the repositories. So how will they make their application available to users? Ubuntu uses the ppa approach, which I have long personally felt very non-”user-friendly”. Open Suse uses a very different approach, popularly known as the “1-click install”. It really does what it says. You just download the file, and 1 click of it to install the software.

                                   (image 1.16 : 1 click install)

As a suggestion, it would be great if Open Suse could enable binding of the 1 click install to local application in the computer, much like a torrent magnet link.
Update : actually in Firefox, you could set the downloader to automatically run 1-click install upon download. 

 If you look at it as a whole, gnome also uses a similar approach to 1 click install to handle its extensions.

                                    (image 1.17 : Gnome Extensions)

Surf for any desktop extension at and if you like it, click on to install them. The only downsides of it is that it does not (yet) support themes and icons and sometimes you have to refresh to make it work.

8. Packagekit vs Gdebi vs Ubuntu Software center.
Next, some software developer creates binary to install softwares. If Windows create .exe or .msi, and Apple uses .dmg, Ubuntu uses .deb while Open Suse uses .rpm. Arguably, both .deb and .rpm have a fair share in terms of application availability on the internet. Sadly though, when comes to binary handling, this is where Packagekit from OpenSuse falls short. It looks simple, unlike the informative Gdebi or Pretty looking Software centre.

                                   (image 1.18 : Package installer)

It is also sluggish, and when there is error, it doesn’t explain them. In fact, sometimes it simply doesn’t work when zypper does it job well.

                                 (image 1.19 : Package installer error)

The only good thing about it is that it doesn’t crash.

9. Zypper vs Apt-get
                                              (image 1.20 : Zypper)

As a hardcore linux console user, Zypper is by far the greatest Open Suse strength in compare to Apt-get. Zypper works similar to apt-get.” zypper install” to add software, “zypper remove” to uninstall them. The upper hand of it? It also support installation of .rpm packages, unlike apt-get where you need dpkg to do the job. It also support multiple install of software with mixing those from the repo or local file.

Zypper is also very smart. When there is a repository conflict, it doesn’t just tell you there is an error, it provides suggestion to what can be done. Besides, this is the other thing I like about Open Suse. In Open Suse, if there is repository conflict, you can opt for vendor change to install dependencies. This is not the kind of experience you will get with Ubuntu.
Update : Sometimes, conflict resolution doesn't work. That is when you have to crack your head to work around it. I am not if .rpm does have it, but .deb have post install script which automate certain settings required by the app and will execute it upon installation. On several occasion, I have to run commands and change settings in order to make my applications works. Besides, the naming scheme in OpenSuse and Ubuntu differs. It will take sometimes for OpenSuse new comer to get used to it.

                                  (image 1.21 : zypper 2)

The only thing I wished is that someone could write a zypper-fast, much like apt-fast on Ubuntu so that we can download apps faster. Oh by the way, the one thing sucks about linux is that its 2015 and we still cannot create a system to install multiple applications at one go nor be dependencies-free. Oh well.

10. Su vs Sudo : Root management
Both Su and Sudo are available on Ubuntu and Open Suse, but both deal with them differently. Ubuntu prefers Sudo, and it creates a passwordless Su so that no one can hack your system through it. Nevertheless you can manually edit it if you want to. Open Suse on the other hand limits Sudo power while setting primary user’s password as the default Su password. Of course, you can change this later if you want to.

At one glance, Ubuntu’s approach is more secure, but unlike Ubuntu, I do not experience incidence where my files and folders suddenly owned by the root and causing applications to crash while I am using them. On a side note, because Open Suse and Ubuntu deals with root differently, I have to change the code for the applications and scripts I have written in Bash. It wasn’t that hard anyway; you just need time to understand how does it works.

11. Softwares as a whole
 In very brief words, what you can get in Ubuntu you can also get it in Open Suse. In fact, I dare say that those applications on Open Suse are more current, thanks to its more upstream nature. Some softwares does have conflicts, for example VLC in Open Suse 13.2.
                                        (image 1.23 : VLC error)

The forums blames it on the community repositories, but to me as a user, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. As long as it doesn’t work its bad. Fortunately, most of the software works, especially if it is in the repo, unlike Ubuntu. As for the VLC, I figure out that I can download a portable version of it from :

 With a little tweak, it works just like a native installed app.
                                      (image 1.24 : VLC fixed)
Update : the protable app does not support .flv videos.
As a side note, the default Gnome player is cool enough if you install the codecs. Pretty too I would say. Wine works well, for the curious ones.

                                      (image 1.25 : Microsoft office 2010)

And so does..urmmm... Google Chrome. LOL

                                   (image 1.26 : Google Chrome)

One thing uncool about OpenSuse is that it does not have a driver blob, or driver prompter to install proprietary driver. In one sense, its all because of its Open Source Philosophy, but to the user, it sucks! I tried installing the driver using the manual here :

But I accidentally place the wrong version of Open Suse into the code and end up with a crashed system. After reformatting, I dare not to touch the drivers, well at least for now. So I can’t really say for sure how was it.

Theming is something similar as Ubuntu. You can go to
to find themes and icons and download them. You can install them using the tweak tool in the settings. I am fine with Adawaita theme, but not the icons, so here is my current Icon Set, Moka.

                                  (image 1.27 : Moka Icon)

Currently, this is how my desktop looks like

                                 (image 1.28 : Current Desktop)

with a little tweak, you can even set up your system to do this, thank to Gnome

                                      (image 1.29 : Cover flow tab)

 All in all, eventhough Open Suse is simple and vanilla, it works more or less like Ubuntu, but it is very much stable. This review is far from complete but I discussed stuffs which people first think about when they want to play with a new OS. So if you are tired of your Debian / Ubuntu / Ubuntu based OSes, How about giving it a try?

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