Monday, November 28, 2011

Impressions of 12.1

First, I must reiterate that this blog in no way is intended to be explicitly technical or even well organized. Rather, it is meant to be more conversational. So in this posting I'll be stating my impressions now of the recently released 12.1 and some notes to new users.

Honestly I have very mixed feelings about this release. But when you consider the complexity of all the things a Linux distribution entails, with all of its technologies and software this should ultimately be no surprise. Likewise with bugs; considering the complexity there will of course be bugs. 12.1 offers a lot of new technologies, very little of which I actually care about or find personally useful. Bugs... it seems like this release is especially buggy. However I don't think that is actually the case, but rather that some of the bugs that have cropped up are just a bit more "in your face" than some other bugs that have cropped up. Some of these I ran into myself, but I certainly can't ignore the many many improvements to the core technologies and software.

Now, I'm a huge fan of the KDE environment and applications and this release delivers. First thing I noticed was how much more responsive and snappy the Plasma Desktop was. Another nice thing to see is widgets that actually work correctly. You probably have noticed how unreliable Plasma widgets have been in the past, and I personally found that rather disturbing. "Hey we have tons of widgets! O, but don't actually expect them to work." But now the ones I have bothered to use DO work, and are actually useful. It really helps put a positive spin on the Plasma Desktop concept. There are some seemingly unusual instabilities in Plasma however, and I have had frequent crashes. Thankfully though the Plasma environment is happy to relaunch itself and help you report the crash. So though crashes are ugly, it manages to recover itself quickly and thus this instability doesn't disturb my work-flow.

Keeping in line with the improvements to the Plasma environment and widgets is the immensely (I cannot emphasize this enough) massively improved Plasma Netbook workspace. Trying it in the past, it was an interesting concept at best. But it was glitchy, and the reliance on widgets meant a good portion of it wasn't functional. However now in this release not only is it usable, but its graceful and impressive. If you haven't tried the Netbook interface before, now is a fantastic time to do so. If it weren't for a couple of bugs that I experienced, it would be the primary desktop on my own netbook. Now, for some odd reason the netbook space doesn't include any way (that I have seen) to lock the screen or logout or any of that sort of thing. Of course, thanks to the versatility of the modular design of plasma it was a cinch adding the appropriate widget to the upper panel to allow that. However, this is where the problems become obvious. Logging out takes an incredibly long time, I mean over ten minutes for some odd reason; I finally just dropped to a tty and issued a reboot on the command line. Logging into KDE with the netbook space active is also painfully slow, though nowhere as bad as logging out. It still took several minutes to show anything but a black screen. For me, these are show-stopper bugs. The logout issue may be related to a bug that seems to pertain to that widget though, and may not reflect the performance of that environment. Another issue I encountered is that it doesn't want to shut off the monitor or initiate the screen saver. Now, to be fair I hadn't seen if perhaps that environment uses different settings that would need to be set in System Settings.

Some nice additions to software have made it, while of course other software has yet to be put into the various repositories. A note here to new users, in openSUSE we like to put a lot of software in different repositories rather than having tons of software in one. This may seem inconvenient at first, but I personally find it useful; I can browse the games repository to discover new games more easily than if they were all included in the main repos. Anyhoo, it was good to see new browsers make it into the repos. So now we can easily find Rekonq, Opera, and Chromium all in the default repos. Another thrilling (for me anyway) addition is the latest version of the fabulous Clementine media player.
  • Clementine is a personal favorite. It is based of the old Amarok that was part of KDE 3.x. I find that its interface is less counter-intuitive and doesn't feel as cluttered. It also boasts most of the features of Amarok, but has the addition of a groovy graphic equalizer display as well as true visualizers unlike the crummy crashy ones I saw in the Ubuntu implementation of Rhythymbox. Give it a try, see if you don't fall in love.
  • Konqueror and Rekonq both see some serious changes and love in this release. Konqueror now is really quite snappy, and renders most pages correctly but had problems with playing Youtube videos which I thought rather odd. Rekonq however did not have this problem. Frankly Rekonq is maturing into a very nice browser. Though it still has some minor stability issues, it is very quick, has an attractive and responsive interface, rendered all content I threw at it faithfully. Rekonq may indeed become my default browser. Both Konqueror and Rekonq are using webkit for their rendering engines, but Rekonq is noticeably faster with Konqueror leading in stability. If you love KDE, its time to give these browsers another chance.
  • Akonadi and Kontact need their own sub-section since there is quite a bit to cover. Overall though, it is well on its way to becoming the premier enterprise level groupware solution.
    • Akonadi as you may know has become the universal backend for the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact. Akonadi though a bit buggy will show you its power after a while. Now, if you aren't familiar with Akonadi I'm going to delve into some slightly technical aspects. Basically Akonadi stands between your application and its information source, such as Gmal or your Google Calendar. By using extensions Akonadi is able to access a very wide variety of different sources such as Google resources, standard IMAP mail or things like Novell Groupwise technologies. The Akonadi advantages are several. Firstly it simplifies application development since now, Kmail for example doesn't need to know much of anything about how to handle email protocols; Akonadi handles all that. The Akonadi API simplifies the way Kontact and any other applications can access the various sources of data, so that you don't need to worry about these things when developing software. Now, Akonadi still has some work to go, but I know there are some patches in upstream being worked out that will clear up a good number of the most annoying issues with Akonadi and the applications that use it.
    • Kmail thankfully is using Akonadi now, which also means it gets a nice Account Wizard that works identically to the wizard in Thunderbird. For some of you this will be a pain since the resource migration is very buggy... mostly because it is terribly complicated. For me though, not an issue. In Kmail in 11.4 I was using POP instead of the much preferred IMAP since it really didn't seem to be able to reasonably handle IMAP at all. This is not to say I haven't had issues with it, but they are largely negligible. One thing people (such as I) are discovering is that initially, you really just want to let it run and synchronize your mail... which takes a good long time. But, if you let it do its thing it will behave nicely afterward. An odd behavior I encountered with my Gmail filters is that Kmail seemed to be confused by the ability of an email to be in the inbox and another folder at the same time. This caused some minor issues which I found resolved by simply telling Gmail to "archive" those e-mails and having those skip the inbox. Overall, I am enjoying Kmail now and find it surprisingly responsive. Occasionally Akonadi and the MySql database it uses seem to go crazy and I have to kill them so I can get back to what I was doing. Thankfully this doesn't seem to cause any corruption that Akonadi can't resolve simply by resynching.
    • The Address Book is now also using Akonadi, which means I can now import all my Google Contacts. Now, this didn't go off exactly as I had expected but also wasn't terribly painful. You may find you'll have to do a little bit of manual review and clean-up including some entry merges. However, that has much more to do with how google handles things and not Kontact.
    • The Calendar can sync with various info sources as well now, and the half-assed Journal has seen major improvements in well... actually being something that could be used. Painless.
    • The Time Tracker module is pretty nifty... I haven't really used it as I can't think of what I personally could use it for, but check it out. It seems to fill the gap in task management left by the To-do List module. Unfortunately these two modules do not share data as you might expect, which I think is really quite silly. I think that if you have tasks in the Calendar and To-do List that they should be selectable within the Time-Tracker module as well. Hopefully this is something we can see in the future.
    • Kjots is an impressive little gem. It allows you to create structured notebooks that can essentially double as personal mini-wikis as well. You can link to other notebook pages or external links in your notebook entries, and apply fancy formatting to your pages. It is an understated app. It can clearly sync with resources acquired by Akonadi... though I don't know much about what that entails precisely.
  • Now, Apper isn't exactly new; it is the renamed and reworked KPackageKit. Apper boasts a greatly refined interface, and significant speed improvements. Now, on launch day Apper still behaved like ye-olde shitty KPackageKit in that it basically didn't work at all as intended. But now, thanks to a vigilant openSUSE developer working closely with the Apper author it now works entirely as intended. Frankly, its rather pleasant to use now. Whats especially nice now, is if Zypper or YaST ask PackageKit to quit, it will! What a concept!You will however need to wait briefly for it to quit... but at least it does without you having to manually kill it.
  • NetworkManager. Ugh. Perhaps more glitchy that previous version. There have been some cumbersome changes under the hood that have complicated security matters, leading to a rather odd decision by the security team causing the apparent bug of needing root authentication to add any network connection at all. This frankly was an insanely stupid decision since it potentially cripples many peoples usage of a mobile computer, and compromises the intended usage of NetworkManager all together. This behavior is present regardless of using the KDE or GNOME applet just so you know. Good news though, is there is a fix that loosens the security policies so as not to be so cumbersome. Hopefully this fix will be pushed out as an update. In the meantime there is a one-click install for you, which as you know will take far more than one-click of course. But quite frankly, I have tried managing wifi connections with ifup; so I would rather have a glitchy NetworkManager than have to try using ifup or some such for wifi connections.
  • Plasmoid-nm would seem to be seeing some improvements. When I went to set up my mobile broadband it actually let me get through the entire setup wizard before failing miserably. As usual, have to launch nm-applet from the Gnome desktop. However, unlike some say once you do have the connection added you will not need nm-applet to connect to mobile broadband. Just launch it once to setup the connection, then forget about it.
  • Systemd is a huge system change... that means basically nothing to me. The only thing about it I really understand is that it uses a very aggressive parellelization to achieve shorter boot-time by starting various services for the system simultaneously. I personally don't care about boot time since I use Linux. That is to say, frequent reboot is for Windows users. Most updates you get will take effect simply by relogging your desktop session. Apparently systemd has many other powers and capabilities, but those are all beyond my level of understanding.
  • Unknown Horizons is a new game that has hit the repos. This game is very similar to Age of Empires or other such games of that genre. Very impressive, it is stable and good looking with well worked out game play with complete units and buildings. A real treat in the often sparse world of open source games. Heck, it'd be good even if you were a Windows gamer.
  • YaST has gotten a good ol fashioned Orange County facelift. Which is to say it is quite ugly. Mind you I do mean the qt version of YaST not the GTK. I simply don't like it, and would like to set it to use whatever widget theme I like instead of this CSS themeing thing. However, as I understand it in order to do so I would have to gut the entire system branding with something generic. Why that couldn't be a separate package is beyond me. The only part of the theme I have for root applications that this new YaST will honor is the font. Nothing else. Now, if I recall correctly in the past the GTK YaST frontend was basically identical to the Qt one. However now, it is significantly changed, and actually I rather like it. The update to GTK YaST brings the package management a wee bit more in line with modern paradigms, and even adds some interesting features that the Qt version either lacks, or is so obfuscated that I STILL haven't found them. Though I had wondered why the Qt version of YaST hadn't seen these sorts of changes, it would seem that with Apper fixed now that such a need is not to be found.
  • A little gem that you can find hidden away in the KDE extras repo is called Basket. Basket... well, its complicated. But, if you are just breaking up with Windows and are missing your MS One Note, then this may suit you very very well. Just figured I had best mention it since I often hear people saying how they miss One Note.
  • Gnome 3. It sucks. The interface is cumbersome on a desktop, though quite nice on a netbook... which is WHERE IT SHOULD STAY! In 12.1 there is a significant decrease in the responsiveness of the desktop itself as well as when clicking to close windows. Not impressed.
Well, I think that about covers it. Of note, I really like the new boot splash KDM theme and login splash. They feel much more fresh than what 11.3 or 11.4 had.