openSUSE 11.2 – A Linux System Perfect For New Users and Pros Alike

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openSUSE is a commercially-backed Open Source Linux distribution with origins in Germany. Novell bought SuSE in November 2004 and has been releasing a freely downloadable community-based Linux desktop since August 2005.

It created a lot of buzz and quickly became a favorite distribution with its initial release of 10.0 in October of that same year. Controversy followed and the openSUSE Linux distribution saw its popularity fall and rise over the years, but according to poll results it is the second ranking distro with tuxmachines visitors and it usually sits at about second or third at distrowatch.

openSUSE is geared toward new to advancing users all the way to power users, with a unique combination of ease-of-use on the surface and advanced options little further in.

openSUSE Linux Characteristics

openSUSE is a popular distribution of Linux for new users for good reason. Hallmarks of openSUSE are professionalism, polish, and stability. Everything about the openSUSE project is very professional; from the website, to the press releases, to development and information, to bug handling, to releases, and the look and feel of their operating system.

It’s obvious from the start that this isn’t a few guys hammering out an OS from their mama’s basement (not that some good work hasn’t come from independent developers). Professionalism is a side-effect from being sponsored by Novell and having an actual budget to work from. The accomplishments achieved from openSUSE development will likely find their way into Novell’s commercial system, SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.


Never underestimate the worth of polish. Fonts that look good out of the box, widgets with equal and symmetrical spacing and placement, nice window decorations and wallpapers at first boot, attractive boot and login splashes, tidy menus, and utilitarian panels all add up to enhance user experience. No one wants to use a GUI that needs a complete redesign the first thing. Most have actual work to do and would like an attractive interface until they have time to find that really great wallpaper or applet.

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openSUSE has always been rock solid. Even their developmental releases were stable, much more so than other distribution releases. This is actually the most important element of any operating system. One of the first things to bash Microsoft’s reputation was the rash of operating system crashes and it subsequently became the longest running joke of the Internet and business world. Somehow openSUSE developers found the magic recipe for stability.

Outstanding Features

The best two features of openSUSE are the installer and YaST Control Center. The installer is a graphical wizard that walks the user through an easy installation and contains many advanced options for the power user as well. So many distributions are trying to dumb down their installers to accomodate new and migrating Windows users these days.

While this may be fine for the majority of home users, there is a large class of users that need, for example, Linux Volume Management, RAID setup, static IP addresses, etc. The best thing about it, these advanced options are available and easy to find, but not in your face. openSUSE always finds the perfect blend of ease-of-use and customizable installs.
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The YaST Control Center is one of the best in the business, if not the very best. They really only have one rival and YaST offers many extra advanced configuration options. Even the most experienced system administrator can sometimes appreciate the convenience and ease of graphical wizards and configurations. Home users may never even need to access some of these modules, but may wish to configure a TV card, scanner, printer, or camera that possibly wasn’t detected or setup during the install. It’s rare, but it happens.
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In addition, from YaST one can back up and restore their system, tweak their bootloader, set up users, manage security features, set up Virtualization, and lots more. Also, the YaST Control Center is the one centralized hub for all things software management. While the actual software installer can be launched straight from the menu, YaST includes media configuration, Online Update wizard, Add-On Products setup, Media Check, and Webpin Package Search (that searches all known openSUSE repositories like the build-service and community contributions).

openSUSE 11.2

These features and characteristics have been the mainstay of openSUSE for the last five years, one could count on it – until 11.2. The last two years in Linux have seen a flux in desktop development due to the KDE’s complete redesign and rewrite of their popular desktop environment. The transition has been extremely difficult for distribution developers as well as the end user. Each release brings more stability and features back to the desktop environment, but many issues remain.

Some of the side effects of this can be seen in this release of openSUSE. Their KDE environment just feels rough around the edges. Some KDE applications are unstable, some stemming from the upstream project, such as the newsfeed client and some settings don’t take effect requiring second and third attempts. The fonts are not as pretty as they usually are and this release is missing a nice window decoration like former releases.

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There was a lot of heavy coding required for this release and it just feels like developers didn’t have time before the scheduled release to polish the appearance as much as usual. Having said that, there are many opposing opinions. Many feel this release of openSUSE is just as polished and stable as any that came before it. In addition, the GNOME interface did get a sleek new theme and appears just as nice as any previous release – perhaps moreso.

The stack of applications is, as always, quite impressive. If not in the default install, openSUSE repositories contain one of the largest collections of software in Linux. Some applications include OpenOffice, the best office suite for Linux that rivals Microsoft Office on most fronts; the Firefox webbrowser, the most popular browser for Linux; and the GIMP image manipulations suite, the most capable and most used image software that is often compared to PhotoShop.
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openSUSE offers a choice of applications for most every task. There are instant messengers, blogging clients, audio and video players, downloaders, email clients, games, word processors, accounting software, a thesaurus and dictionaries, …just about anything you’d need you’ll find.

One thing you won’t find is restricted code needed for some audio and video playback and proprietary graphic drivers. Legalese aside, this can be somewhat inconvenient and discouraging for many users. Ubuntu has their Restricted Formats utility but openSUSE has Webpin Search and Installer (shown in the image below) and the community maintained 1-Click Collection.
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Conclusion

I would have preferred to have a bit more of a shiny version to introduce, but overall through the years openSUSE is the most consistently stable and polished desktop Linux available. It and its big brother SLED are used by government agencies, big businesses, education departments, security specialists, and everyday desktop users like yourself. One release with a few rough edges does not negate its otherwise exemplary track record.

openSUSE is available in several formats. The install DVD is a large 4.3 gigabyte image with lots of software and your choice of desktop systems. The popular live CDs come in KDE and GNOME varieties and offers a nice stack of apps to get started. You can learn more at the openSUSE Website.

What do YOU think of openSUSE 11.2?

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