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Over the last few years, Linux has crossed the chasm from early adoption to mainstream deployment as a server operating system in the enterprise and in many small and medium businesses.

Leveraging the flexibility and innovation of open source, Linux has become the platform of choice for databases, high-performance computing, enterprise applications and infrastructure. Due, in part, to recent offerings from Dell1 and Lenovo2, desktop Linux has enjoyed an increased awareness by those outside information technology circles, though it has yet to cross over to mainstream use.

For many aspiring desktop Linux users, understanding RPMs, root passwords and run levels might be enough to make the OS appear unapproachable. Add to this the difficulty of finding and installing third party software and getting your MP3s and videos to play and it might be a feat of geek strength that most are not willing to endure. If this describes you, stop looking for a personal Linux trainer and try a few reps of openSUSE 10.3 on your own.

> Getting Started is Easy!
OpenSUSE 10.3 was made for geeks and green horns alike. Operating system and application installation have been retooled with ease of use and flexibility in mind. Playing your favorite audio and video clips is seamless. And enhanced visual effects allow new ways to interact with your desktop and drive productivity. Keep reading to see what’s under the hood in openSUSE 10.3 and how to get started!

1-CD Installation
Not sure where to begin? OpenSUSE 10.3 makes it simple with an easy-to-download, single-CD installation (versus five CDs or one DVD in previous releases). Given wired Internet connectivity, the single-CD installation automatically connects to additional software repositories (libraries) hosted at opensuse.org. The result is a full-featured desktop that includes standard productivity tools, games and multimedia applications. Users have the option to choose a KDE- or GNOME-based installation CD. In the case that your desktop (or laptop) is not connected to the Internet at the time of install, the single CD sets up a trim KDE or GNOME desktop environment. Thereafter, the same repositories can be added to the system and additional software installed.

Of course for the Linux-learned, the single CD offers the same flexibility as a DVD or multiple CDs without the long wait to download the installation media. Partitioning, software patterns and user management (and other configuration options) are still easy to find and customize as part of the install. For those that prefer to have the full installation sources, the DVD is still available for download as well.

Instlux
So you’ve successfully downloaded the openSUSE CD and burned an installation disc. (See The Image of an ISO for notes on writing the CD image to a physical CD.) You reboot your machine and place the disc in your CD drive and Windows starts up just as it has before. Did something go wrong? Why didn’t the openSUSE install start? Your geek friends will tell you that you need to change the boot order in your BIOS. What’s a BIOS though, and furthermore what’s boot order? This is the problem instlux was made to resolve.

To download an installation openSUSE 10.3 CD, browse to opensuse.org and choose “Get It.”

Instlux is a graphical installer that runs on Windows. The program is included as part of the openSUSE installation media (whether CD or DVD). To use instlux, ensure Windows is up and running and place your installation disc in the CD drive. The instlux installer will automatically start and guide you through the installation steps. Once the installation is complete, you are prompted to reboot. When the machine starts back up, you are given the choice to select the openSUSE installer. Choosing this option will start the standard openSUSE installation. No BIOS or boot order to worry about. (See Figure 1.)

1-Click Install
At first glance, your newly installed openSUSE 10.3 system may appear to have everything you’ll ever need in an operating system. The standard installation connects to multiple repositories that contain additional software, including some non-open source applications like Flash Player and Acrobat Reader, which are necessities for most desktop users. But what if the application you’re looking for is not in one of the standard repositories? And how do you add additional repositories? 1-Click Install solves this problem by streamlining the process of finding and installing software not included in the openSUSE media (or standard repositories).

The openSUSE team has been hard at work, analyzing the boot process and looking for ways to trim precious seconds. The result is a fifty percent improvement in average boot time from openSUSE 10.2 to 10.3.

Through a Web interface at opensuse.org, you can search for software you want to install. Searching for Second Life, for example, yields a few results with a “1-Click Install” button to the right. On clicking the button, you’re guided through an installation process that installs the appropriate software repositories and resolves any application dependencies you might need to install as well. At the end of the process, the Second Life client is installed and ready to use. You can follow the same process to install Eclipse, MythTV and others.

1-Click Install leverages the openSUSE Build Service, an open infrastructure that hosts and builds open source packages for multiple Linux distributions and architectures. 1-Click Install is also available for previous versions of openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise. For more information on the openSUSE Build Service, check out
A Solid Build in the Third Quarter 2007 issue or online at
novell.com/connectionmagazine/2007/q3/tech_talk_3.html.

To search for software available through 1-Click installation, browse to opensuse.org, choose “Get It” and click “Get Software” in the upper right.

Codec Installer
Playing music and videos has traditionally been a rough spot for most community Linux distributions. Owing primarily to legal considerations, the audio and video codecs required to play most content are not available on the installation media (or official repositories). For Linux novices, this again made life difficult as an operating system is expected to be able to play music and videos out of the box. Searching for codecs in the past was often an exercise of finding the right blog or wiki that pointed to an additional repository with the required codecs. OpenSUSE 10.3 saves you the headache of hunting for codecs by including an integrated codec installer. The installer works with the audio and video applications in the OS to download and install the appropriate codecs when you attempt to play new content.

> More Fun and Functionality
Quick Boot
One benchmark that a desktop OS will always be judged on is boot time, the span of time it takes from pressing power to having a graphical login prompt appear (usually a good time to grab a cup of coffee). The openSUSE team has been hard at work, analyzing the boot process and looking for ways to trim precious seconds. The result is a fifty percent improvement in average boot time from openSUSE 10.2 to 10.3 (down from 55 seconds to 27 seconds). Stay tuned for future openSUSE releases where the eventual goal is to reduce the boot time to five seconds.

 

Desktop Environments
Some command-line zealots will tell you that a desktop environment is overrated; after all, you’ve got vi for word processing, lynx for Internet browsing and mutt for e-mail < wink >. If your eyes are glazing over right now, you definitely need a desktop environment to be productive. OpenSUSE 10.3 sports the latest from the GNOME and KDE projects (the two most popular Linux/UNIX desktop environments).

The openSUSE 10.3 release includes KDE 3.5.7 with some applications available from KDE 4. KDE 4 will feature an updated and intuitive user interface, a new multimedia framework and an updated style and icon theme leveraging SVGs (Scalable Vector Graphics).

As I said earlier, when using the 1-CD Install, you can choose a GNOME- or KDE-based installation CD. After (or during) installation, you have the option to install both desktop environments from the repositories (the DVD includes both environments).

The openSUSE 10.3 release includes KDE 3.5.7 with some applications available from KDE 4. KDE 4 will feature an updated and intuitive user interface, a new multimedia framework and an updated style and icon theme leveraging SVGs (Scalable Vector Graphics). SVGs, unlike bitmap images, can be scaled indefinitely without losing image quality. Many of the applications in version 4 leverage SVGs as well, enabling a consistent, quality look and feel at any resolution. KDE 4 is nearing its first “final” release later this year, with full pre-release versions available for install in the official repository today. The repositories will be updated when KDE 4 final is available, making openSUSE 10.3 one of the first distributions to include the desktop environment. If you want to take a look at the current progress of KDE 4, download the KDE Four Live CD available at http://home.kde.org/~binner/kde-four-live.

GNOME 2.20 is also available in openSUSE 10.3 and features an easy-to-navigate, intuitive design. OpenSUSE 10.3 leverages the enhanced GNOME Main Menu (think the Windows Start Menu on steroids) to quickly navigate between favorite applications, recent documents and common places. The menu also includes an integrated search feature that gives quick access documents, e-mails, chats and applications that match the search terms.

 

Compiz Fusion
Long before Vista and Aero Glass (desktop effects in the latest Windows desktop OS) were released to the public in early 2007, Compiz desktop effects were available in a number of Linux distributions. Started by Dave Reveman (a SUSE Linux developer), the Compiz project has revolutionized desktop Linux, providing an extensible effects framework that allows users to interact with the desktop in new ways.

Compiz fusion is a relatively new project (available in the official openSUSE 10.3 repository) that showcases the combined efforts and innovation from the Compiz community and a parallel community project, Beryl. Standard Compiz provides a number of effects that boost desktop productivity such as the cube, enhanced Alt+TAB and dynamic window tiling. Compiz fusion builds on these features and offers additional effects that are both productivity minded and fun. The power of Compiz fusion truly has to be seen to be believed. (See Figures 2 and 3.)

Compiz fusion is a relatively new project that showcases the combined efforts and innovation from the Compiz community and a parallel community project, Beryl. Standard Compiz provides a number of effects that boost desktop productivity such as the cube, enhanced Alt+TAB and dynamic window tiling.

Configuring and enabling Compiz fusion varies depending on the graphics card in your machine. Most Intel, ATI and NVIDIA video cards are supported. If you’re new to Linux, consult a geek friend and refer them to opensuse.org.

Virtualization
In desktop and server environments, virtualization is becoming more pervasive as a means to consolidate hardware, save on power and cooling and rapidly deploy application workloads to new servers. Virtualization is also a great way to test out and run multiple operating systems on your desktop without requiring a new piece of hardware. OpenSUSE 10.3 includes the latest virtualization technology from the open source community including Xen, Virtual Box and KVM. Let’s explore each in more detail.

Xen, an open source project started at the University of Cambridge, introduced the concept of paravirtualization. Paravirtualization allows modified (to be Xen-aware) guest operating systems to run at near native speed on top of the Xen virtual machine monitor (or Hypervisor). Recent processors from AMD and Intel that include virtualization extensions (AMD-V, Intel VT) allow Xen to virtualize unmodified operating systems such as Windows Server 2003 and XP, as well. This is called full virtualization. Xen 3.1, the latest release from the Xen project, is bundled with OpenSUSE 10.3. The OS includes graphical tools, virtmanager and vm-install, to more easily create and manage Xen virtual machines. The xm command tools are also available and provide an easy scripting interface to control the Xen virtual environment.

The Image of an ISO

We’ve talked a lot about downloading and burning ISO images to disk, but what exactly is a CD or DVD ISO? An ISO is a single condensed file; it’s an optical disc image that contains all the files, directories and extra data found on a CD or DVD. Subsequently, you can “burn” an ISO image directly to a CD or DVD. Doing so unzips and writes the entire CD/DVD file structure to the CD or DVD. To burn the image to disk correctly, Google “how to burn iso” along with your preferred CD/DVD burning application. Then choose from the plethora of search results.

Innotek, the company behind Virtual Box, open sourced a version of the product earlier this year. Virtual Box OSE (Open Source Edition), now part of the standard openSUSE 10.3 distribution, includes support for multiple Linux distributions, Windows, DOS, BSD and others. Virtual Box is also available as a stand alone download for Linux, Windows and Mac. If you’re familiar with VMWare Workstation or Server, you’ll adapt easily to the Virtual Box graphical interface. (See Figure 4.)

KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is also available in openSUSE 10.3. Sharing some characteristics with Xen, KVM requires Intel or AMD virtualization extensions to run virtual machine guests. The project is rapidly progressing and contains some support for paravirtualization although still requiring virtualization extensions. OpenSUSE 10.3 currently includes command line tools to interact with the KVM environment.

Configuring each of these virtualization solutions is beyond the scope of this article. If you’re interested to learn more about virtualization in openSUSE, check out http://en.opensuse.org/Xen and http://en.opensuse.org/VirtualBox.

> Install the Lizard on your Desktop
Linux server use is firmly in the mainstream with desktop Linux soon to follow. Whether you’re a Linux nerd or novice, openSUSE 10.3 is the right fit for you, combining the latest in open source innovation and usability delivered by the openSUSE community. Ready to try out desktop Linux? Download and install openSUSE 10.3!



Notes:
1 desktoplinux.com/news/NS1990237723.html
2 novell.com/news/press/lenovo-and-novell-to-offer-linux-preload-on-thinkpad-notebooks




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