Remember when SuSE Linux was a real powerhouse? YaST was one of the finest administration tools available and SuSE was one of the few distributions featuring the KDE desktop as the default. But then Novell purchased SuSE and things changed. Ubuntu came to be and new users flocked to a distribution that promised Nirvana for Linux users. And with all of the changes happening on the Linux landscape, openSUSE continued moving ever forward, not swaying from its path, not causing rifts in the Linux community, and eating their own dog food.
The only problem? openSUSE seemed to be slowly disappearing. With Ubuntu taking up the majority of the media's attention and end users looking for something more compatible and easier to use, only the faithful few remained with openSUSE.
But now a new release for the distribution, the project that is controlled by the community, is poised to bring it back out of obscurity...and with good reason. Actually, I will give you two good reasons: KDE 4.6 and Tumbleweed/Factory.
Being one of the first distributions to ship with the latest version of KDE has its advantages. When KDE 4.x was released, there was a general concern that the other major desktop had seen it's last days. That all changed when KDE 4.5 was release and a record number of bugs were fixed. Now 4.6 is out and has managed to improve on an already fantastic, stable, reliable desktop. KDE 4.6 is as slick as any desktop has ever hoped to be. Not only does it now enjoy a very polished and professional look, it functions flawlessly and enjoys a speed all desktops would enjoy having.
The openSUSE take on KDE 4.6 also migrates away from KOffice and, in a very smart move, ships with LibreOffice as the default office suite. With this inclusion, openSUSE feels like one of the more complete out of the box operating systems at a time when most other OSs are having to strip out any extras in order to fit the release on a single disk.
Tumbleweed and Factory
Yet another reason to give openSUSE a second look: The openSUSE developers have adopted a rolling update version of the distribution which is dubbed the Tumbleweed Project. The rolling release differs from the standard release by not relying on a rigid, periodic release cycle. This allows users to always have the latest, stable release on their machine.
In contrast to Tumbleweed, openSUSE also offers the Factory project which allows the users to have the latest, bleeding edge software. Factory is unstable and is the current development release for the next upcoming stable release. Users can choose which they want to try, but Factory is geared more for developers and testers.
I installed openSUSE 11.4 on a test machine and although the visual effects didn't much care for the on-board NVIDIA GPU, the release has really impressed. Not only is it as stable as any distribution I have used, it's ready to get to work, right out of the box, and serve as your go-to distribution. I would, with good conscience, be able to hand an openSUSE desktop or laptop over to just about any user and feel confident the distribution would serve them well.
A couple of issues
To the developers of openSUSE I would offer up a couple of bits of advice. First, install Samba by default so that users can, out of the box, share out their folders. KDE 4.6 includes the ability to easily share folders from within the file manager, but when users want to configure that they have to turn around and install Samba to make it work.
Finally, I would highly recommend coming up with a more user-friendly Add/Remove Software tool. Although the GUI tool is nice, it's not nearly Synaptic or The Ubuntu Software Center. This piece alone makes openSUSE a challenge for new users.
If you have been on the fence about your distribution, I highly recommend you give openSUSE another chance. The 11.4 release should stop you in your tracks, making you rethink your opinion of a distribution that could have easily faded into obscurity. That won't happen now as openSUSE has come back with a serious contender for my vote as best Linux distribution.
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.