Posted by: reformedmusings | May 1, 2017

Goodbye Ubuntu, hello OpenSUSE

Recently, Cannonical announced that they were dropping the Unity desktop in favor of Gnome. Not just Gnome, but pretty much vanilla Gnome. I started my Linux journey back in 2006 on Kubuntu with the KDE desktop and loved it until the initial releases of KDE 4 which seemed very primitive. I went to Gnome at that time, but Gnome has changed over the years as well. I always missed the customizability of KDE, but I lived with it until the latest version of Gnome. Unity took Gnome in a new and somewhat exciting direction as it matured. With the demise of Unity, it’s back to the vanilla Gnome which I don’t care for.

That said, I switched to vanilla Gnome as soon as Canonical announced Unity’s demise, even though that demise was a year or so away. I was able to come up with a moderately acceptable desktop, but unfortunately forgot to take a screenshot before abandoning that setup. I used Dash to Dock to emulate the Unity side bar, which worked OK.

Yet, KDE 5 beckoned me. Although I’d used Kubuntu previously, there’s been some turmoil in the Kubuntu house and Cannonical distanced themselves a bit from it. Plus, I wanted a better-integrated KDE system, so I searched the web for exactly that. In the process, I settled on OpenSUSE. Because I’m pretty used to having a recent kernel and program updates, I went with the Tumbleweed rolling release version. I expected that to be a challenge because video drivers and my VMWare Workstation are sensitive to kernel changes. We’ll see how that goes in the longer term.

Installing OpenSUSE could not have been easier. The installation program picked up my RAID 0 array and assembled it properly. It did get confused with the other, unrelated hard drives in the system, so I had to reallocate the mountings, but that was easy. The rest of the installation flowed along nicely.

As soon as the installation finished, I set about ensuring that programs like Firefox, Firefox, and others could find their previous setups. That proved seamless.

I tried for 3 days to get the NVidia proprietary drivers to install and work, but alas, that didn’t work out. After finding the drivers for my old card, I tried using the automated and manual installations, but I only ever got flashing text screens. So, I went to the open source nouveau and mesa drivers, the latter for 3D support. Those work perfectly and provide the capability that I want. I don’t game, so I don’t need all the cutting-edge stuff.

So, here’s my desktop after several days of work, mostly wasted on the video drivers:

Screenshot_20170501_153329

Pretty simple, eh? It’s probably not my final. I keep moving the panel from top to bottom and back again. Actually, now that I think about it, I like it at the bottom:

Screenshot_20170501_161410

Yea, well for now. I like icons-only on the taskbar with loaded programs receiving some indication at their icon. That provides a compact taskbar that’s elegantly simple. So, I added the Icons-only taskbar widget and deleted the standard taskbar widget from the panel. I then added my most-used programs to the icon taskbar.

My other additions to the panel were the standard weather widget and VLC’s minimize to the system tray feature. I tried the plasma5-radioplayer widget on the panel, but it wouldn’t play sound. The VLC solution will work until I find something I like better.

The trick to getting 3D to work w/o the NVidia proprietary drivers involves the combination of both the nouveau and mesa drivers together. They work pretty well, and I have my desktop cube back after a lot of years of missing it. The multiple desktop widget works very well, too – another piece that I missed in Unity.

Kwin has come a long way over the years. It does respectable compositing and provides nice 3D effects for the desktop, including the aforementioned desktop cube, animated window minimizing/maximizing, windows dodging newly active windows, and fading inactive windows to name a few. Overall nicely done, with a few rough spots.

Another KDE improvement is Kontact, which is now a nicely integrated PIM with Kmail, Korganizer (calendar), tasks, etc. I like the maturation there. The only shortcoming is Kmail. While it has improved a lot and imported all my mail and accounts from Thunderbird, I cannot get it to send mail even after a lot of hand massaging. So, I’m back to Thunderbird, which has its own quirks, especially in conversation mode. The biggest advantage for Thunderbird, besides being able to send mail, is the unified inbox. I’d taken that for granted until I played with Kmail for 3 days.

Besides the NVidia video driver issues, which I have yet to resolve but care less about now that I have nouveau and mesa working well, I had issues getting Tumbleweed to recognize the printers. I had to go into the hardware printer settings and initiate searches for the printers. I also had to load the driver for my Brother HL-2280DW laser because the driver wasn’t available on the initial installation. The scanner driver is too old to install easily on the current system, but I will work on that issue.

KDE has a ton of setting tweaks, and I’m still finding them. OpenSUSE also provides YaST, which is an incredibly catch-all settings manager and toolbox.

OpenSUSE Tumbleweed is not for new Linux users. It requires significant hand-tweaking to get some things working. I still don’t have my VMWare Workstation working, although it did install. I’m still working some issues, but the effort has been well worth it. The KDE desktop is very well integrated, and common programs like Firefox and Thunderbird integrate extremely well thanks to the OpenSUSE team. OpenSUSE does make a more conventional distribution called Leap, which updates about one/year. I look forward to a long and fruitful association with the OpenSUSE community.

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Responses

  1. […] described my reasons for leaving Ubuntu and going to OpenSUSE here. I really enjoyed my time on OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. I put together a great desktop, and Tumbleweed […]


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