I am on a roll here with reviewing distros, so I thought I would take the advice of my readers and add SuSE to the roll call. I went into this with little expectation simply because I have had less-than-stellar experiences with SuSE in the past. This time, however, my experience was much, much different. And if I ever doubted the power and useability of SuSE, I was very wrong.
Let me start off by saying the install was actually OpenSuSE 11.0. I inadvertently downloaded the KDE 4.x version of the iso but, surprisingly enough, I am not regretting it. But before I get into that, let's take a look at what we're dealing with.Software: You already know this one, OpenSuSE 11.0 with KDE 4.0.4-18 Hardware: AMD 1.1 Ghz processor, 376 MB of RAM, Radeon 7000 graphic card.
So the machine is a bit long in the tooth, but it's good to use to know how low an OS can go. And OpenSuSE met the challenge just fine.
Funny about Linux installations these days — they are becoming almost too simple. You toss in the Live CD, wait until it boots, and click the Install icon. That's it. In about 15 minutes, OpenSuSE was up and running on my machine. And, to my surprise, so was KDE 4!
As you all know, I am all about the look and feel of a desktop. So when I was greeted with KDE 4, I was a bit disappointed. INITIALLY. But, believe it or not, SuSE has managed to actually pull off a pretty strong KDE 4 desktop. After using the desktop for nearly 48 hours, I have yet to have a single crash. Yeah... I can't believe that either. After installing Kubuntu with KDE 4, I was able to get (and recreate) a crash within about 4.8 minutes of initial boot. But OpenSuSE has done the unthinkable — made KDE 4 actually useable!
My next impression was how slick OpenSuSE's update manager is. Once you are up and running, the update manager informs you there are updates available. But then it goes one step further and asks if you want updates to be automated and transparent. In other words, the newbie Linux user can finally have updates happen automatically and without their intervention. This, in my opinion, is a boon to Linux because most >= AVERAGE computer users do not want to get their hands dirty. This rivals the Microsoft automatic updates and that is exactly what Linux needs.
So, against my better judgment (as a seasoned Linux user), I set up the automatic, transparent updates and let them run. A few minutes later I received a notice that some of the updates installed required a reboot to take effect. This was obviously a kernel update, so I went ahead and rebooted. When the desktop came up (OpenSuSE has taken it upon themselves to auto load the user instead of having to log in), everything was running perfectly.
One of my biggest surprises was that The GIMP was not installed. I am a BIG GIMP user, and any time I see a Linux distribution that does not automatically install this flagship graphics application I am shocked. Of course, installing the application is a few clicks away and that's exactly what I did next.
Installing software on OpenSuSE is very straightforward. From the main menu you go to Applications|System|Configuration and then click Install Software. You will be required to give the root password and then the application installer (a module of Yast2) will be up and running. Searching for Gimp and checked off everything I needed. The installer then proceeded to download and install everything for me, just like a good package manager should.
I have to say I am completely impressed. Any distribution that can make KDE 4 run smoothly is doing something right. I have yet to come across a problem with 11.0. This is a large leap ahead for SuSE, seeing as how the last time I gave it a try (10.0), the installation wouldn't even complete.
I realize that I have not put this installation through anything really rigorous. I have not installed any servers on the system nor am I doing any compiling or number crunching. But what I have been using it for, day-to-day desktop usage, it is very much as up to the task as any other distribution.
Who is it for?
I know that Ubuntu is THE distribution of choice for new users. But I would have to tip my old red hat to OpenSuSE and say their latest offering could easily usurp Ubuntu as the newbie distro of choice. It really is that good. But is OpenSuSE for everyone? Probably not. If you are a true Linux power user this might not be for you. But then, if you are a true Linux power user, you are probably using something like Gentoo or Slackware. But OpenSuSE might just be the one distribution I have come across that is as close to being for "everyone" as I have seen.
Most of my beefs with OpenSuSE have to do with KDE 4. First and foremost is, why in the name of Tux has the KDE team deemed it necessary to NOT include Firefox as the default browser? I realize they are trying to eat their own dog food but come on... Konqueror is not going to usurp Firefox as the browser of choice. That could easily be the deal breaker for many new users. You fire up Konqueror and then have to jump through hoops to get it working with everything on the Web. I went to Gmail and found I only had the minimum of functionality because I was working with an non-supported browser.
I get Kmail as the mail client (though I prefer Thunderbird). It resembles Apple's Mail (at least enough to say "I get it"). But the Konqueror over Firefox I will never understand. I've already mentioned The GIMP.
I am truly impressed with OpenSuSE 11.0. It has made vast progress from its last iteration. I'm so impressed that I am considering keeping this installation and using it as my Linux test-bed (first things first — must install Enlightenment).
So if you haven't given SuSE (or OpenSuSE) a try lately, you really should. No... you must. If you are a fan of Linux, you will be doing yourself a big favor by letting OpenSuSE win you over.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.