I recently installed openSuSE 11.0 and thought I'd give a little review. I've been running Ubuntu 7.10 on my T60p for about the last year and have been very happy with it, especially for its "it just works" factor. I considered upgrading to Ubuntu 8.04, but given that Linux has made some serious progress in the last year, particular in the area of drivers/peripherals and general usability, I decided to look at what else was out there. Initially I tried openSuSE 10.3, but I had trouble installing the ATI drivers (either through YaST or directly from ATI) and the wireless drivers (dropped connections, hidden ESSIDs, WPA). After some frustration and distro-hopping (PCLinuxOS, Kubuntu, Fedora) I decided to look at the beta release of openSuSE 11.0. To my surprise, everything worked out of the box! So here's my experience with openSuSE 11.0, which is no longer beta but openSuSE 11.0 RC1. You can skip to the bottom if you want the short version.
This has got to be the sexiest installer I've seen (although I can't comment on Mac OS X). I used the 4.5GB DVD which has 4 different desktop managers (GNOME, KDE 3.5 and 4.0, & Xfce) and a more packages than you could probably want. Besides the look the installer is fast. I've used SuSE before and I was expecting a 2-hour install time (adding repositories, online update, etc.). When the whole process was done in 45 minutes I was blown away, especially since I added more packages than the default options and installed 3 of desktop managers (Both KDE versions and GNOME; I wanted to try them all and then remove those I didn't like). I feel the installer is easy enough for Linux beginners to use (it reminded me of a more polished version of the Ubuntu installer), but still has enough advanced options for power users (software management, partitioner, etc.). A note to those who don't want to download the DVD, there are GNOME and KDE live CDs available.
I installed KDE 4.0 to see what all the hype was about. Overall, I wasn't that impressed. I think it tries to be a Mac/Vista clone for Linux. It has desktop widgets and menu bar with a navigation similar to Vista. Frankly, the new menu bar annoyed me as it took too long to navigate it. I could see how Linux newcomers might like the menu bar and, as with just about everything in KDE, I'm sure I could customize it my liking, but I don't want to take that time just yet. The file manger, Dolphin, is ok but not groundbreaking. First, let me say that I like Konqueror but sometimes it tries to do too much and can cause problems; I don't always want to open a picture, text document, webpage, or movie in the same application. In my opinion, Nautilus is probably the best file manager, and Dolphin is trying to emulate it. I commend the developers for trying to slim down Konqueror, but Dolphin has a very unfinished feel. Overall, KDE 4 still has some work to do, but I think it could be pretty good in the near future. For now I'm using KDE 3.5 and keeping 4.0 installed and waiting on the back burner. For those interested, I did check out GNOME. The GNOME installed is actually the Novell-tweaked version you'd find in SLED 10 and it's the same great DM with a slightly sleeker look. I think it's one of the better looking GNOME desktops you'll find. I didn't keep GNOME installed only because I wanted to keep some hard drive space open and I know I can always blow KDE 4 away and put on the old trustworthy GNOME.
In terms of general system administration, I think YaST performs superbly. However, as a package manager I've always disliked its sluggishness. The one thing drawing me toward Ubuntu (or any other Debian-based distro) was the speed and usability of Synaptic. I'm pleased to say that the new YaST in 11.0 is faster and more stable than previous versions (probably the best rpm-based package manager) and has new feature: zypper. Zypper is a command-line utility similar to yum or apt-get. I don't know about some users but there are times when I want to use a full-blown package manager like YaST and other times when I'm working in the command line and just want to quickly download and install a small utility package. You can't beat "sudo apt-get install XXXX" for this aspect, but zypper is a close second. It still has some kinks to work out, but it's definitely an improvement and closes the gap with Ubuntu.
As I said before the DVD comes loaded with most of the software you'd want and setting up the repositories is a hell of a lot quicker than previous versions of SuSE (I remember this taking 30-60 minutes in some cases and crashing quite often; now it's done in a few minutes). I can't remember what came installed by default as I changed and added a fair amount, but I will say that it is most of what you'd expect is there (Firefox 3, OpenOffice, K3b, AmaroK, etc). The nice thing is that I haven't run into the issue of "what, that's not installed by default?" In fact, I've been pleasantly surprised in some cases. For example, I rely on gcc-4.1 or greater as it has OpenMP support. I had to install this from source when I had Ubuntu. I don't mind installing some things from source, but sometimes I prefer to let the package manager handle certain important programs (gcc being one of them) as it eliminates some of the hassle of dependencies and updating. I was tickled to see gcc-4.3 in the repositories by default. Also, if you use virtual machines at all this is the distro for you. The DVD comes with the Xen hypervisor, Qemu and Virtualbox, and open vmtools, all without any special configuration needed. Compiz-fusion comes pre-installed, and I was able to get the desktop effects working fine, although I prefer not to use them. Overall, I haven't had to do nearly as much configuration as I have done in the past (even on Ubuntu with its vast repositories).
This is probably the area that is a deal-killer for most people (it is for me). As I said before, my Intel 3945abg worked out of the box with the iwl3945 drivers. I was up and connected to my WPA2, hidden ESSID home wireless network within minutes. The network manager in 11.0 is improved and I no longer have to use that dang wallet manager...I can just set up a network profile and save it. One annoying thing is that the wireless light at the bottom of my screen doesn't work now (although the Bluetooth one does). This isn't a big deal as the network manager icon in my system tray displays everything I need to know. I installed the driver for my FireGL V5200 from ATI's website (I don't believe there is an ATI repository for SuSE 11.0 yet) and everything worked fine. Interestingly, when I used the same procedure on SuSE 10.3 my X session would crash immediately upon logging in...go figure. My favorite feature is that standby and hibernate work out of the box, something I never had with Ubuntu (even fn+f4 and fn+f12 work)! The one problem I've run into involves my Ultrabay hard drive external usb drives. In Ubuntu, they just worked. In SuSE they mount fine (the Ultrabay took some tweaking in fstab) but I had to modify permissions and groups in order to gain read-write access. Not a big deal, but I could see where newbies would be frustrated. SuSE comes with Thinkfinger installed, and you can even configure it through YaST. My one complaint with that is that I can't set up the fingerprint reader for KDM login or screensaver unlock (which is where I use it the most).
After I installed SuSE 11.0 and poked around a little I was hooked. I'm actually glad 10.3 failed miserably on my Thinkpad or I probably wouldn't have tried 11.0. Practically everything works out the box with little to no configuration. I've always felt openSuSE has been a bit of a power user's distro, more so than, say, PCLinuxOS or Ubuntu but less than something like Slackware or Gentoo. At its heart I feel 11.0 still is, but I think newcomers will be able to easily use SuSE 11.0. To sum up I like the comparison one reviewer made: "OpenSUSE 11 RC1: The Mercedes-Benz to Ubuntu’s Volkswagen". I don't want to beat up on Ubuntu (I've used it, love it, and would reccommend it in a heartbeat) but I've always felt it could use some polishing. The new SuSE release gives that sleek, polished, put-together feel of a major distribution (I'm talking about more than just eye-candy you can download from kde-look.org). Some may like that and others may not...it just happens to be exactly what I've been loooking for.
- Clean, polished look
- Almost complete hardware compatibility with little to no configuration (wireless, ATI graphics card, fingerprint reader, standby/hibernate)
- Vastly improved package management with YaST
- Fully loaded distribution (could also be considered a con for some)
- KDE 3.5 and Novell-branded GNOME look awesome
- Community support of SuSE is probably second only to Ubuntu
- USB drives require some configuration
- Misc. bugs associated with a beta release (Although they appear to be updated somewhat quickly. Example: When I initially installed 11.0 knetwork-manager displayed 3 different icons all showing basically the same thing. Last night a dist-upgrade fixed this and it now works perfectly)
- Large installation that some may not want
- KDE 4 still needs some work, but not really a SuSE issue
- Probably not the best choice for older machines or users looking for a small footprint
You can check out some screenshots
, both of the installer and the various desktop managers.