openSUSE logoopenSUSE 11.3 is available. It has been for a while actually, and this week it is my feature distro. I am using it in my “searching for the perfect KDE distro” quest. (You can read the first part HERE.)

I think it is quite good, and I might just have found my favorite KDE distro on the first try. What makes it so special? Glad you asked…

First Impressions

openSUSE is not for the faint hearted. It draws on a long lineage of highly featured Linux operating systems. When I say “highly featured” I can substitute that with “complicated.”

SUSE and openSUSE pack in everything and the doghouse in the release. You can download a DVD chock full with everything you will never need, or you could go for the installable CD. In fact, I highly recommend you go for the CD if you are a regular desktop user.

openSUSE went in a different direction to Mandriva KDE and PCLOS KDE and kept the kickoff launcher. I did not switch to classic menu style since I wanted to experience the full KDE experience.

I prefer Mandriva KDE’s implimentation of the classic menu to the SUSE Kickoff menu. It gets in the way. Once I have set my mind on the perfect KDE distro I will make a decision on using Kickoff or Classic…

Desktop

The Beautiful KDE4 the way openSUSE sees it (Click to Enlarge)

Installation

Installation is a little more involved than with most other desktop distros. There is no pretty graphic partition editor like with Mandriva, PCLOS, Ubuntu or any other distros I have reviewed.

Instead the installer displays the partitions in text format. A lot of information is given though.

One thing I find interesting is that while I wanted to overwrite my Mandriva KDE install, openSUSE decided it was not necessary to format /home – I could have used it with my old home directory if I wanted.

I opted to tell it to wipe the whole disk.

openSUSE install is not aimed at the new user – more involved, more technical – better for the experienced user.

Twenty THREE Part Test

(If you are new to SaGeek, read here about the twenty part test, the methodology and the why of it.)

Yep, you read right, I have added some tests to my list in order to better compare various distros.

For the openSUSE comparison I decided to compare it against Mandriva KDE, Mandriva Gnome, Windows 7 and Ubuntu.

Mandriva Gnome is included as it is my Distro Benchmark, Ubuntu is included as it is my favourite and I am moving from it to a KDE distro, Win7 since it is the supposed desktop standard, and Mandriva KDE as the best KDE distro according to us.

How did it fare?


OpenSUSE 11.3 KDE MandrivaKD Mandriva GN Win7 Ubuntu
Join Wifi Network 80.00 100.00 100.00 80.00 100.00
Join Wired Network 100.00 100.00 100.00 50.00 100.00
Set Proxy 66.67 57.14 100.00 57.14 66.67
Get Network Info 100.00 100.00 100.00 25.00 50.00
Change Desktop Background 100.00 100.00 100.00 80.00 100.00
Change Theme 66.67 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Set Screen Rez 66.67 80.00 80.00 100.00 80.00
Set up Network Share 50.00 57.14 57.14 80.00 100.00
Access Network Share 100.00 100.00 100.00 66.67 100.00
Get Hardware Info 40.00 40.00 66.67 100.00 66.67
Get System Usage Info 66.67 40.00 66.67 100.00 66.67
Play Audio CD 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Access USB Drive 100.00 100.00 100.00 50.00 100.00
Play Youtube 66.67 100.00 100.00 33.33 50.00
Play MP3 66.67 50.00 50.00 100.00 50.00
Open PDF 100.00 100.00 100.00 33.33 100.00
Look For Specific Software 33.33 50.00 66.67 28.57 66.67
Check For System Updates 33.33 50.00 66.67 50.00 66.67
Supported Architecture (32bit/64bit) 100.00 75.00 75.00 100.00 100.00
Shut Down 100.00 100.00 66.67 66.67 66.67
Battery Life 100.00 100.00 100.00 90.91 50.00
Atheros Support 100.00 50.00 50.00 100.00 100.00
Codec Support 71.43 55.56 55.56 100.00 66.67
1,808.10 1,804.84 1,901.03 1,691.62 1,846.67
90.40 90.24 95.05 84.58 92.33

Notice the three new tests? Battery Life, Atheros Support and Codec support.

Battery Life is a simple non scientific test that measures how long my laptop battery lasts with Firefox, Mail, Openoffice and Compositing ON. Like I said, not scientific.

Atheros Support – Does my WIFI card work, does it connect to all available encryption standards, does it work after suspend/resume?

Codec Support – Are all commonly used codecs available, how hard/easy are they to install, are they pre-installed or not, are there codecs I cannot install for some reason like paid for only etc.

Given it’s complexity openSUSE does surprisingly well. It edges out Mandriva KDE (just) but falls short of Ubuntu and Mandriva Gnome. Ubuntu scores better because it is more ease of use focused, where openSUSE is more aimed at the power user. Maybe I should include a way to weigh my scores to take something like this into account…

Desktop Readiness

openSUSE is a powerhouse. Would I give it to Grandma to use? No. Ubuntu or either Mandriva would be a better choice there. Could you use it in a business environment? Yes. If you are a less technically inclined user and have access to tech support this distro will work well for you.

If you are an IT manager looking for an enterprise ready desktop openSUSE or SLED is for you.

While tooling around everything worked, if being a little more complicated to configure than some of the other distributions I tested.

A telling example is the TaST2 software installation center. It does everything that is expected in a tool such as this, but it is devoid of pretty icons and user friendly descriptions.

It is immensely powerful though, but some users might shy away from its interface and yearn for the Ubuntu software store.

Yast Control Center

Installing Software in openSUSE (Click To Enlarge)

Since it is rock solid and devoid of any issues so far I give it a 4/5

openSUSE 11.3 scores FOUR out of FIVE

User Friendliness

Ahh… now we come to an interesting impasse, do I penalize openSUSE for being a bit more complicated than its peers, or do I give it credit for its power and configurability?

Well it is a difficult question. One of the reasons I have been using Ubuntu for all these years is because of its simplicity coupled with the ability to add all the power user tools you need.

Look at the Sysconfig utility. You access it through the “My Computer” icon on the desktop. It gives you all the information you need, and is certainly one of the more easily digestible information centers that are provided.

Sysinfo Utility

The Sysinfo utility (Click To Enlarge)

Compare that with the Yast2 utility above, and you will see a mix of the easy and complicated that shows up all through the OS.

Incidentally you will notice I had my flash drive plugged in – it is labeled openSUSE Live CD KDE. I used it to install openSUSE to my laptop, and plugged it in to show you something when taking the screenshot – while the utility is nice, it does not separate the drives – that could lead to confusion.

(And I know this comment is coming so let me pre-empt it – no I did not do this review from a live session.)

openSUSE 11.3 has a lot of those powertools included, as well as a few that you do not really get for Ubuntu. It has a brilliant firewall, for instance. Tools the enterprise really needs.

As such it is not really “user” friendly. An average desktop drone will need a technical assistant to configure everything to the point where it can simply be left alone, and it will work.

I settled on a score of 3/5 there – it scored maybe .25 less than Mandriva 2010 Spring KDE, but I round my scores hence 3/5 it is.

openSUSE scores 3/5

Q Rating

3/5 – My reasoning is as follows. It is powerful, solid and full featured. In many respects it is better than Mandriva Spring 2010 KDE, except for ease of use. If I take all of this into account it is the better distro, but I cannot gloss over the fact that using openSUSE can get really complicated really fast.

My favorite KDE4 distro is still Mandriva Spring 2010 KDE, if it were not for the Atheros Card issues I had with it I would have stuck with it as my default desktop.

openSUSE scores 3/5

Summary

I promised to use a screencast or two to enhance this review, sadly the recording done by recordmydesktop is extremely jerky, much worse than my recordings of GnomeShell or KDE4 from Mandriva.

If I sort that out soon I will provide some for you. If you want though you can view my other screencasts in my Youtube Channel by clicking HERE.

openSUSE is a powerhouse. I can fully understand why it is so loved by such a large community. With the 11.3 edition I feel like I have rediscovered Linux, something of the power that other distros have strived to hide from the user.

I like it, and you should definitely give it a try.

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