Review – openSUSE Education Li-f-e 13.1

This is about the “linux for education” (or “Li-f-e”) based on opensuse 13.1.  It was announced on Dec 12th:

but I did not download it until Dec 17th.  Since that time, I have installed it on two computers, and have spent a little time testing it.

Installation

As mentioned, I have installed on two computers.  They were

  • a Dell Dimension desktop, purchased in 2007, with Nvidia graphics;
  • a more recent Dell Inspiron laptop, with Intel graphics.

The installation went smoothly on both machines.   However, some of the graphics applications did not work properly on the desktop, until I installed the Nvidia drivers.  The software worked properly from the start on the system with Intel graphics.

The Li-f-e release is distributed as a 3.5G “.iso” file, which can be burned on a DVD or written to a USB.  As is my usual practice, I went with the USB.

Booting the media gave me a live system.  Unlike the regular live KDE and live Gnome releases of opensuse 13.1, there is no attempt to setup persistent storage with the Li-f-e release.  So any settings that I make while running the live system will be lost and need to be redone.  This was not a problem, since I intended installing anyway.

The install itself went rather smoothly.  While running the live system, I clicked the “install” icon to start installation.  This pretty much looked like a standard opensuse install from live media.  After accepting the license and setting the time zone, I was presented with the partitioning menu.  There, I use “import partitioning”, as I intended this to overwrite an earlier test install of a 13.1 beta release.  Thereafter, the install mostly consists of copying the running live system to my disk, then installing the grub booter.

The first reboot completes the install process.  In summary, the installing was reasonably straightforward, and went without any hitches.

What’s there?

Once I had the system up and running, I of course wanted to look around and to try out some of the software.

The system comes with both Gnome 10.2 and KDE 4.11.4.  The announcement says that it has KDE 4.11.1, but that turns out to be mistaken.  I have played a little with Gnome, but have mostly been using the installed KDE.  I notice that “akregator” is missing from the KDE install, though everything else that I regularly use seems to be there.

The full list of installed software can be found in the announcement (see link near the top of this post).  I have not tested all of that software, though I have sampled some of it.

There are integrated development environments for the programmer.  There are more games than I usually install.  The “wine” emulator is there.  Google Earth (version 6) is installed.  And, as the name suggests, there is some educational software installed.

Full multimedia support seems to be available.  I tried playing music from some MP3 files, and that worked well.  The packman repos are not configured, but the multimedia software has been installed from packman.

Educational software

Since this is announced as an education version, I took a look at the installed educational software.

As a mathematician, naturally I first looked at the math software.  And I saw that there was a package called “mathrider”.  So I tried that out.  It never started.  Hunting for an error message, I found:

Error: Could not find or load main class org.gjt.sp.jedit.jEdit

It looks as if they goofed on installing “mathrider”.  I later tried running directly on the live media, in case this was a file installed under the user account rather than for systemwide use.  Still the same failure.

While I have not tested all of the educational software, that was the only real “oops!” that I came across.  The others that I tested at least seemed to start up, and those that I tried to use seemed to actually work.

“Marble” is there, listed as geography software.  That seems to work, and allows me to click on parts of the globe and look at the climate indicators or a street map.  I’ll note that “Marble” is also part of a standard opensuse KDE install, so not really special to this system.

For astronomy software, there was “stellarium”.  That allows me to do some star gazing, to learn some of the features of the night sky.  I was using it during the evening, and it appeared to give a reasonably view of what I would expect to see if I looked at the stars.  I noticed that it was set for showing the Paris sky.  Looking around, I found a setting to change the location, so I switched that to Chicago.  It was a cloudy night, so I could not go outside to compare.  Then I thought I would take a look at the night sky, as I would have seen it where I grew up near Perth, Australia.  So I switched to that location, and it showed a sunny day.  Oops, I hadn’t thought about that problem, but it was indeed daytime in Perth.  Checking again, the next morning, when it was night in Perth, it looked close to the stars that I grew up with.  And, yes, there is a setting to change to seeing the stars at a different time of day or on a different date.

Overall evaluation

This seems to be a pretty good started package, for somebody wanting to get into linux for the first time.  It has a variety of software to try out.  And the multimedia seems to work out of the box.

Problems

I did run into a couple of problems.  I have already mentioned that “mathrider” does not work.  On first testing on the desktop install, “stellarium” did not start up either.  There was a message about problems with OpenGL support.  And Google Earth worked for a while, but then crashed.  And it was not just “Google Earth” that crashed — it took the whole system down with it.

There were clearly graphics problems with the Nvidia graphics card and the open source “nouveau” graphics driver.  So I installed the Nvidia drivers (“the hard way”).  And since then, it has worked well.  “Google Earth” is not crashing, and “stellarium” is starting up normally.

On the laptop install, with Intel graphics, Google Earth and “stellarium” both ran without any problems.  The Intel graphics card might not be the best around, but at least the open source drivers usually work well.

I did run into another problem on that laptop.  The installed system was using the “default” kernel, which could not use all of the 4G of installed memory.  So I installed the “desktop” kernel from the online opensuse repos.  Rebooting into the desktop kernel gave me full use of memory.  However, I soon discovered that I had no network connection.  It turned out that the system came configured to use the “broadcom-wl” drivers from packman for my WiFi card.  But, the drivers were not installed for the “desktop” kernel, probably because the “packman” repos were not configured.  Checking in “/etc/modprobe.d”, I  noticed that the opensource b43 drivers had been blacklisted.  I deleted the blacklist entry — actually, I deleted the entire file.  I then rebooted, and had network access once again.

I’m a bit troubled by this broadcom problem.  If someone with broadcom wifi hardware installs and uses this system, eventually there will be a kernel update.  And the updated kernel might not have broadcom-wl support, because the packman repos are not configured.  I am inclined to see the failure to configure packman repos as a flawed decision by those who prepared the system.

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About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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