OpenSUSE 11.0 review, part 3
The desktop and included programs
We installed the GNOME desktop by default (the liveDVDs are all inclusive and allow the user to choose a desktop, where liveCD users will need to pick a KDE4 or GNOME based image before downloading). We later looked at the KDE4 live environment to get a feel for how both desktops operate on the system. KDE 3 is still available in the OpenSUSE 11.0 repositories, as well Xfce and a number of window managers, should they be more your style.
We like OpenSUSE's presentation of the GNOME desktop. The elegance goes beyond the easily changed things color choices and themes, and gives the feeling that OpenSUSE's developers knew what functions and features to "brand" and which to leave alone. Yes, when you use OpenSUSE 11.0, you are aware of it. It is unique, but not at the cost of function. There is always easy access to utilities such as YaST and the Control Center on the GNOME menu, but the presence of these applications doesn't complicate or clutter the menu at all.
Certainly our favorite bit of GNOME on OpenSUSE 11.0 in terms of presentation is the look of YaST, the frontend of the package management system. It's clean, it's easy to sort with pull down menus, and icons with corresponding functions are easy to decipher. The KDE side of YaST is not quite so pretty (to the point that we find it annoying), but we are still taking a lot of comfort in the speed of the whole deal.
Hey, if KDE's YaST is a little ugly, it's not so bad. Installs and updates are much faster, so we don't spend as much time looking at it.
The KDE4 version of OpenSUSE 11.0, though very pretty, is less impressive in terms of ease of navigation. It's hard to tell if moving around the desktop is more difficult due to the general layout of KDE4 menus, or if there is something more OpenSUSE could have done to make getting from point A to point B easier.
We also want to note for the sake of fairness that the KDE4/OpenSUSE screenshot here was a capture from the liveCD, and doesn't have the nice graphics drivers installed. A permanent install with the proper resolution can work wonders.
Both desktops are responsive and stable, and it is pretty safe to say that no matter which you prefer, the underlying bits of OpenSUSE 11.0 will do them both justice.
Both desktops include many commonly used open source applications. OpenOffice 2.4.0 is included in a default install, as well as Firefox 3 (though still in beta). The OpenSUSE sticks to the desktop-developed versions with other applications -- F-Spot is the GNOME digital photo management software, and digiKam does the same in KDE, for instance. Regardless of desktop installed, many users will find that they're able to do a majority of their common computing activities from the start.
A word about graphics cards and drivers
The machine we installed OpenSUSE 11.0 has an NVIDIA graphics card. Installing the proprietary drivers via the instructions on NVIDIA's site seems very daunting on any OpenSUSE version. This is due in part to the proprietary nature of the NVIDIA drivers, which makes things difficult for any Linux distribution.
Here's where we discover a neat feature of OpenSUSE in general: the 1-Click-Install. We recommend giving the OpenSUSE 1-Click-Install NVIDIA drivers a spin. The only requirement here is that you are connected to the online YaST repositories (usually set up during installation). Installation and configuration should be automated after that point. (ATI drivers are also available for 11.0 via 1-Click-Install.)
Oh, and about those installs...
YaST, regardless of your desktop choice, is going to behave (if not look) the same way. YaST is used to add, remove or update your system's software packages (among other administrative tasks). Most people know it in its graphical form that runs on the X server. It also runs as a console based application from the command line.
The real star of OpenSUSE 11.0's packaging system is Zypper. It's a command line install tool that works with a number of repositories and resource objects (things like packages, updates and patches). Like YaST, it will update and cache repositories when you first use it. This takes a few seconds, depending on internet connection. The OpenSUSE 11.0 version of Zypper, once the repositories are updated and the command is given, absolutely flies through the install.
This is a crowning achievement. Success with Zypper was all over the charts in earlier versions. Some people had no issues, some said it was slower than other command line install methods (including apt-get commands). But where we're shy about saying the openSUSE liveCD installer is significantly faster than Ubuntu's ubiquity, we will say with absolutely no qualms that Zypper outperformed apt-get on the command line.
OpenSUSE has always been a strong option for new Linux users, and users who wanted a distribution they could grow with. We always had a few reservations about recommending it, mainly because of speed and package handling issues. OpenSUSE has made monstrous strides in these areas between the 10.3 release and today.
The little geeko is a different animal than the Hardy Heron, but its proven ability to adapt and innovate gives it a much more secure niche in the Linux ecosystem.