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An In-Depth Look at openSUSE 11.3

Date: August 2, 2010
Author(s): Rob Williams

Since it’s been quite a while since I last took openSUSE for a spin, I couldn’t resist downloading the 11.3 release that came out in mid-July. To see how the distro fares today, I installed it onto my home PC and used it for just over a week. So, read on for an in-depth look at what’s new and notable, and also for my experiences.



Introduction

For about as long as the Linux kernel itself has existed, there’s been SUSE (pronounced: soo-sa). That’s no exaggeration, either. SUSE development began in 1992, a mere year after Linus Torvalds released the first bit of Linux kernel source code. Called S.u.S.E. at the time, 1.0 came to light in 1994, while the first “proper” release, 4.2, become available in 1996.

The reason that 4.2 was considered to be the first “proper” release is a bit varied, but it’s likely that the developer team simply saw it as being the first feature-complete version. It was the first to be sold in retail packaging, and also the first to feature YaST (Yet another Setup Tool). Also, unlike 1.0, 4.2 wasn’t merely a patch-applied version of Slackware, but rather a unique distro in its own right.

That’s not to say that 4.2 didn’t get a boost with an already-existing distro, though, because it did. That distro was “jurix”, and because its lead developer and the S.u.S.E. team worked so close together and fed off each other’s work, both could have been considered one and the same. As the tale goes, jurix’s developer, Florian La Roche, was brought over to the S.u.S.E. team to continue work on YaST.

Those were sure simpler times. There was no such thing as GNOME or KDE, so 4.2 came with XFree86 3.1, a simple X Window System similar to Windows 3.x. Things have sure changed since then!

The first time I dabbled with SUSE (then called SuSE… no dots) was with its 7.3 release – about nine years ago. At that time, I was getting a bit fed up with the finicky Caldera OpenLinux 2.4 I had been using, and since SuSE also used KDE (I didn’t much care for GNOME back then, either), I decided it’d be worth checking out. I was sure glad I did, too, because compared to what I had been using, SuSE was like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better, and made life a bit easier.

From then on, I continued to use SuSE as a full-time distro until 9.3, at which point I decided to keep things interesting and moved over to Gentoo, a distro that avails much more overarching control to the user. But later, I did check out 10.1, and also dabbled with SUSE Studio, but since 9.3, I really haven’t used SUSE to a great degree except to spend 10 or so minutes with it.

But to say that not much has happened since I stopped using the distro, or even since our last proper review in the summer of 2006, would be a wild understatement. In early 2004, Novell completed the purchase of SuSE for a cool $210 million, and though people were worried as to the future of the distro, I think by now all of those fears have been quelled. It seems like things are stronger than ever.

In late 2005, Novell decided to make things more “open”, and announced the openSUSE Project, a community-driven version of SUSE that would differ only slightly from its retail products (SUSE Enterprise Desktop and Server). Like most distros out there, openSUSE was to be free, includezz cutting-edge software and technologies, and also avail the user with great community support. None of these aspects seems to be amiss with today’s openSUSE.

The problem, of course, with choosing a Linux distro today is that there are just so many to choose from. Who exactly could benefit from openSUSE? Well, here’s a quote directly from the project’s website:

openSUSE is a free and Linux-based operating system for your PC, Laptop or Server. You can surf the web, manage your e-mails and photos, do office work, play videos or music and have a lot of fun!

Judging by that, and previous experience, openSUSE is essentially designed for everyone, regardless of whether you plan to use it on a desktop, notebook, or server. The latest versions include a wide-range of up-to-date software and remain easy to use and configure, and also include good security software to help protect your digital goods.

Who wouldn’t openSUSE be for? Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it if you wanted ultimate control over your system, and I do mean “ultimate”, as in kernel hacking, but that’s about it. openSUSE is full-featured, and competes nicely with the likes of Ubuntu, Fedora, PCLinuxOS and others.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a proper “review” of a Linux distro, so for this one, I decided to figure out a different way of doing things. I came to the conclusion that the only real way to properly understand the perks and downsides to a distro is to install it and use it, so that’s what I’ve done with openSUSE 11.3. The goal is to use it for as long as it takes to gain a proper understanding of that particular distro, and its nuances, which in this case was about a week.

Before we continue though, I should mention just what it is that 11.3 brings to the table. According to the press release, the latest version introduces SpiderOak support along with a new audio editor, Rosegarden. Indexing has also been improved with the help of Tracker, and as you’d expect, the latest versions of many popular applications are here, including KDE 4.4.4 and GNOME 2.30 (there’s also a 3.0 preview available), along with the 2.6.34 Linux kernel.

That all said, read on as we tackle the installation process (which could not be easier or more robust), and then we’ll take a look at other aspects of the distro. Since this is our first distro review in a while, we welcome comments and suggestions in our related forum thread. If we missed mention of something you’d wish we didn’t, please don’t hesitate to bring it to our attention and we’ll be sure to include such information in future articles.

Installation

If you’re interested in giving openSUSE a go for yourself, you’ll need to head on over to the download page and grab a version that best suits you. For the sake of this review, I downloaded the full-blown 4.7GB DVD image (via BitTorrent), but for those who are looking for a slimmer download, there are GNOME and KDE LiveCD’s available, each weighing in at around ~700MB.

If you want to install openSUSE by way of a thumb drive, it is possible, but it’s not something I’ve had a great deal of success with in the past. But, if you have patience, there are many how-to’s found around the Web that will help you get on the right path, including one right on openSUSE’s own website.

After booting up with whichever method you chose, you will arrive at a typical boot-loader screen. From here, you can test the media for defects (smart thing to do if you haven’t used the disc in a while), and also perform a memory test with the help of Memtest86+ 4.0. There’s also a “Firmware Test” which scans various parts of your PC to make sure things are in check.


The other options are straight-forward. You will be able to boot straight to the hard drive, or even rescue your system in case of something going horribly wrong. After choosing the installation option, you’ll soon find yourself at a very clean and simple installer intro screen:

The next handful of screens are straight-forward, but I’ll explain them briefly. After clicking “Next” on the above screen, openSUSE will probe your computer’s hardware, and then you can choose to create a new installation (unless you happen to have an older version of openSUSE installed).


The next option is timezone configuration, which couldn’t be much easier. You can either select your particular region and timezone from the drop-downs, or click your location on the map. You don’t need to stress over being precise, because as you click anywhere on the map, it will zoom in, so that you can easily click your exact location. Finally, before we get into the good stuff, you can choose to make either GNOME or KDE your default desktop. If you’re unsure of which to choose, stick with KDE, as it’s long been preferred by SUSE users.

If you click the “Other” option, you will be able to choose between Xfce, LXDE, Minimal X Window and text mode.


One of the biggest fears of Windows users who decide to try Linux, or even Linux users who don’t want to overwrite their current distro, is having an installer mess up their entire PC. I’ve had it happen in the past, and it’s not fun. Thankfully, things are much improved today, and after seeing how YaST handles things, I have to say that it looks like all of your installed OSes are in safe hands.

From the get-go, you need to choose whether you prefer to have an LVM based system, or a partition-based system, and for the sake of remaining simple, the default option is going to be your best bet. At the top of this first page, you can see the partition layout that YaST proposes. In my particular case, I had an already clean SSD in the system, so it picked up on it immediately and chose to use it. If I had all partitions used, YaST can either resize what looks to be the best and use that, or if you are up to it, you can configure your own.


As you can probably tell by the top-right screenshot, YaST’s partitioner is impressive to look at and use. When first entering this page, you can see all of the partitions on the system in an easy-to-understand manner, and from here, you can choose to configure any that you need. If you want to set up a RAID, there’s a sub-section for that as well.

Something I like most about YaST’s partitioner is that it gives you a flowchart look at your devices and mounts. In the bottom-left shot, we can see that YaST is going to automatically mount the available Windows partition to /windows/C, while my home partition for openSUSE will of course be set to /home. If you wish to use a different filesystem than ext4, you can also change that to ext2, ext3, Reiser or XFS. Again, default is best for most people.


A moment ago, I mentioned the device graph, and here is what mine looked like:

I don’t know about you, but I think an overview look like this is cool. What’s also interesting, is that YaST picked up on the swap partition from my other Linux install, so to save hard drive space, it automatically chose to use it instead.

We’re at the home stretch here. After giving the OK to your partition setup, you need to create a user, and then decide whether you want to have an automatic login or not. For most people, that’s preferred, but for those who are looking to keep their PC as secure as possible, that option should be unchecked. Once done, you’ll find yourself at the “Installation Settings” screen, which gives an overview look of every aspect of the installation.


From here, you can go back and change anything you might need to, or configure some things that are by default already chosen for you. YaST preconfigures the boot-loader for other OSes that might be installed, and in my case, it picked up on my Gentoo and Windows install just fine. Though not pictured, if you wanted to enable SSH on your machine, you could also configure that here, and the same goes for the firewall.

I couldn’t resist checking out the software configuration, and sure enough… robust, just as I expected. If you chose GNOME or KDE earlier in the installation, but want both installed, you can take care of that here, along with the option of installing additional desktop environments and software. There wasn’t too much extra I installed here, but I did choose to include some extra networking capabilities and development software.

At this point, the installation on your part is done. All you need to do is continue along, and allow YaST to partition the hard drives, install a boot-loader and then copy over all of the required files and settings. While you wait, you are treated to a slideshow that tells you a bit about the distro, and at the same time, you can click on the “Details” tab to see what’s going on behind the scenes, or “Release Notes” to read up on what’s new with 11.3.


Throughout my 11.3 testing, I installed openSUSE a total of four times, and each of those went off without a hitch. I appreciated the fact that there was a smart partitioner being used, because it made installation all the more simple. To add to it, the installation overall was fast (I didn’t time it due to doing other things at the time). I’m wholly confident in the fact that openSUSE’s installer is one of the best out there. It’s robust, simple and effective.

YaST (Yet another Setup Tool)

As I mentioned in the intro, SUSE isn’t SUSE without YaST, as it’s a dominant feature and selling-point. Its full name is “Yet another Setup Tool”, and chances are, you can tell just by that what its goals are. Because configuring Linux hasn’t always been quite so simple, the original SUSE developers built YaST to take out the pain of both installing and configuring the OS, and over the years, it’s become more full-featured and ever-more impressive.

A moment ago, we took a look at the install process, and believe it or not, that installer is also a part of YaST. YaST aims to replace all other configuration tools that might ship with a distro and its desktop environments, and although other configuration tools are generally included, such as KDE’s “System Settings”, the general idea is that people will use YaST instead for system-specific settings.

Everything from the basic configuration of your system to installing new software is handled through YaST, and even if it’s not immediately obvious, most things you will do configuration-wise will have YaST involved. Once into your desktop, you can access YaST by clicking on the KMenu and heading to Applications > YaST. Because YaST allows access to sensitive configuration options, a root password must be entered.

There are many available options for you to peruse through, so in order to show them all at once, I had to expand the window to almost 1600px across and 1000px deep. Apologies to those running smaller resolutions.

It’s near impossible for me to predict what options or sections people will use most, because generally speaking, our configurations are going to be different, and also our goals. But if you have to configure some piece of hardware, or tweak one, then you can likely take care of it here. The first option to really catch my eye was “Joystick”, but unfortunately, that option only seems to apply to those plugged into old-school audio cards. I plugged in an Xbox 360 controller, and while it was picked up successfully in the background, there was no immediate way to test it out.

Like most consumer Linux distributions, openSUSE has a full-featured online updater tool. By default, the service for this will run in the background, and an icon will appear in the system tray whenever important updates are available. During my one week with openSUSE, there were three occurrences when updates were available. Installing the patches were simple… simply click to install and enter a password.

Going through YaST, and selecting the Online Update option, you can take the manual route to updating. As soon as I hit the desktop after the installation, there were a fair number of updates available, which you can see in the below screenshot. From here, the process was once again simple… click “Accept” and type in your password.

As I’m using an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 graphics card in my PC, openSUSE automatically installed the open-sourced Nouveau driver. For general use, this driver is fine, but for those looking for the best 3D acceleration possible, an official driver will be required (openSUSE doesn’t include the official NVIDIA driver by default as it’s proprietary). So, the first real task I set out to take care of was finding out how to install the official NVIDIA driver with YaST.

I was a bit surprised to find no results at all when searching for “NVIDIA” in YaST, but at the same time, it was understandable. However, this lead me to hit a major complaint I have with Linux… the requirement to head over to a search engine to find out how to do something. For me, as someone who enjoys tweaking, that’s not a big deal, but for new users, it can be a little disheartening and tedious.

Regardless, after doing a bit of searching, I found out that I had to add an official NVIDIA repository to the list of repositories already available in SUSE. Doing this is simple, and as you can see from the first screenshot on this page, there’s an option right at the top to configure this. After I added the proper URL (not Web-viewable) as a repository, I found results for “NVIDIA” in YaST just fine.

I’ll talk a bit more about the software configuration later. One of the next places I had to tackle was the “Boot Loader”, as for some reason, even though the installer picked up on my Gentoo installation, it wasn’t bootable. In heading into the GRUB configuration, I could easily understand why, but for the sake of doing it through YaST, I loaded up the Boot Loader option, and then went into the manual configuration pane.

Gentoo was originally configured as follows:

title Gentoo Linux 2.6.34 (/dev/sda5)
rootnoverify (hd0,4)
chainloader +1

For some reason, YaST tried to set up the Gentoo entry as if it was a Windows install, and that simply wasn’t going to work. So after some quick editing, I changed the entry as required, and then my Gentoo install become bootable once again. This is only a minor issue, and one that few people are going to experience. YaST did a fair job setting up the Windows entry, as that install was bootable, but for those who have other Linux distros installed, you might have to take the same manual route as I did.

One area experienced users might want to check out is the “System Services”, where you can configure all of the services that are set to run on boot. The list is rather large, but if there’s a service you need running that’s not, chances are it can be found in here.

Due to a problem I have with my motherboard, my Ethernet wasn’t functioning after I landed at the desktop for the first time. After a second reboot, I still didn’t have net access, so I found myself having to take advantage of the network configuration tool. As hoped, it was rather straight-forward, with numerous options available.

I connect to the net via a simple DHCP connection, so the overall process was simple. If you have a more complicated setup, then a little more time might be needed.

Thanks to the fact that YaST offers a staggering amount of configuration possibilities, I can’t tackle them all. So the last thing I’ll focus on is the “System Backup”, which as you might expect, is used to backup all of your important files, primarily documents. This cannot be used to back up your system as a whole as far as I can tell, but rather to resupply your PC with your personal files after a rescue or re-installation.



To set up a backup plan, you need to click on “Profile Management” and then click the appropriate option. After proceeding, you need to tell openSUSE where to save the backup, and whether it will be saved locally or via a network share (to another PC or something like a NAS box). You also have the option of choosing the type of compression, and also whether or not volumes will be created (rather than one monolithic file).

The rest of the process is simple, with the most difficult part being what to back up and what to leave aside. By default, almost anything of importance will be backed up, with the main exceptions being system files. Once your profile is in place, you can run the backup manually anytime you like, or configure automatic backups to run daily, weekly or monthly, and at any time of the day that works best for you.

It goes without saying that YaST offers an incredible amount of configuration, and for the most part, I find the tool, or rather group of tools, fairly simple to use overall. Throughout all of my testing, I ran into minimal issues with YaST. I’m not quite sure about that strange font it uses for the title of the windows though…

openSUSE 11.3 Experiences

Because most common distros use either GNOME or KDE, the difference between them comes down to their background and foreground software, such as package managers and configuration tools. Of course, ease-of-use comes into things as well, because even if two distros use a desktop environment you’re pleased with, if one requires a day’s worth of studying to install, it’s probably not going to be well-received.

openSUSE is a distro that’s tailored to support novice and advanced Linux users alike, so it’s no surprise that the installation process was a total breeze. Compared to other leading distros, I’d have no problem in saying that openSUSE offers the easiest installation, especially with regards to the partition configurator. Then there’s the sheer control. You can configure everything during the install from the boot-loader to installed software packages to whether or not SSH will be enabled at boot. It offers a complex number of options, yet remains simple to use and understand.

We covered the installation earlier though, so I’ve already repeated myself too much. How about the OS itself and the experience? Well, I’m happy to report that openSUSE discovered all of my hardware and configured it (almost) perfectly. At the desktop for the first time, my display’s resolution was set properly and the desktop was speedy graphics-wise, thanks to the Nouveau GPU driver being installed.

Before I did anything in the OS, I simply rebooted the PC a second time, in order to make sure that nothing would break. It might seem like an odd step, but all too often I’ll install an OS (not just Linux), and after the first reboot, see something go awry. Here, something did go a little screwy, and there are two reasons for it. I mentioned earlier that due to a faulty NIC on my motherboard, the Ethernet wasn’t configured properly before I hit the desktop, and as a result of this, the SUSE updater icon in the system tray was distorted, for whatever reason. While it might not be related to the lack of an Internet connection, I never encountered that minor issue again since.

The taskbar theme also changed in between the reboots, which I found a bit strange. Even stranger, I had the same exact thing happen when I installed 11.3 in a virtual machine, so it really does seem like something is not quite right. Once you install a proper GPU driver, this “issue” disappears.

A rather frustrating issue I encountered was that the second audio card in my PC didn’t work properly, even though it was detected fine. That card is ASUS’ Xonar Essense STX, which uses the snd-virtuoso driver. Through applications like KMix, the volume sliders functioned fine, and I’d even get functional playback when using Amarok or playing a video through YouTube… but there was no actual audio coming from my speakers (rather, headphones).

I spent a couple of hours on this issue, and I couldn’t figure out a solution. What I came to surmise is that openSUSE was, according to YaST, using the snd-oxygen driver for the Xonar card, rather than the snd-virtuoso, which it should have been. While audio cards exist that use a similar chipset (CMI8788) and do use snd-oxygen, Xonar cards are the exception.

In the end, I decided to let this issue slide, since I would have spent an unknown amount of time on it, and since I’d just be purging the install a week or so later, it clearly wasn’t going to be worth it. Even now, I’m still not quite sure what the solution would be, because if you compile the Xonar driver in the kernel, you automatically get the snd-oxygen driver (and both will be loaded as modules when in use). It’s a strange issue, to say the least. I truly believe that if I were using a non-Xonar card, I wouldn’t have had this issue.

While I’m tackling strange occurrences, another lies with “My Computer”. This is an icon found on the desktop, and it leads you to a specialized HTML page “sysinfo:/”. Here, you can get a quick overview of various bits of information about your PC, quick links to common folders, and also a run-down of the available partitions on the machine. You can see how things looked on my PC below:

From the get-go, my Windows partition and also my /home were displayed fine, in addition to the currently-mounted DVD-ROM. Here, I had expected to be able to click on a partition link and have it open up in Dolphin, KDE’s file manager, but instead, I received an error, “There is no application installed that can open files of the type block device (inode/blockdevice).”

From that, I simply assumed that these links couldn’t be clicked on. That raised the question as to the reason for their existence on that page, and not to mention the even less-useful mention of partitions there that weren’t even mounted. After I mounted a couple of other partitions, the view changed, as you can see below. Still, clicking on them yielded the same error as above.

After a couple of days, I decided to click on the My Computer icon again, and for fun, I clicked on one of the partition URL’s to see if anything changed. To my surprise, things did change. When I clicked on the URL’s, I was now brought directly to the root folder of that mount just fine. For /windows/C, I found myself at the equivalent of C: on a Windows machine, and /home as you’d expect brought me right to that folder in Dolphin.

I’m not sure why this functionality suddenly began to work after a couple of days, but I’m assuming it had something to do with an online update. While on topic, though, it would have been nice to have a drive auto-mount if I clicked on it. Instead, users will need to haul out their text editors and edit fstab, which isn’t exactly ideal for the novice. Auto-mounting drives seems like a common-sense thing to have in a distro to me.

These issues mentioned here were pretty much the only ones worth raising that I ran into, and to be fair, I experience just about the same – if not more – on other distros, so openSUSE did rather well here. If there’s just one more niggle of a complaint I have, it’s that getting certain pieces of software, or up-to-date software, can be complicated.

For example, YaST doesn’t normally include bleeding-edge versions of software in its repository, so if you want a version of a program that just came out, even recently, you might not be able to install it without issue. You can hope that a version is available on openSUSE’s software website, or if you are gutsy, you can go ahead and compile it yourself. That latter option will be a little time-consuming though, as you’ll need to install gcc and other required packages.

I do admit, I was taken back a bit by the lack of available software that I personally wanted. I’m not saying that YaST lacks software, because that’s far from being the case. But for what I use on a regular basis, I had to look into alternative install methods, rather than simply load up YaST and search for what I needed. Of the applications I wanted to install, those not found in YaST were Google Chrome, Google Earth, SMPlayer, VLC, Bluefish, VMware, Skype and Nero.

I can understand the omission of some of these, since they’re commercial or proprietary, but the lack of both Bluefish and VLC were a little puzzling, since both are open-sourced. To install most of these applications, I simply went to SUSE’s online repository and grabbed them there, or downloaded the RPM versions of a particular application on its respective website.

Some of the applications I mention above might incite a, “Do you really expect everything to be there?” response from some of you, but I’m coming from Gentoo, which has every-single one of those applications available in its repository, so it’s not completely outlandish to expect a wider selection of software to be available.

It should be noted, though, after you add some additional repositories, some of those applications mentioned will become available through YaST. In particular, SMPlayer and VLC became available after adding a popular media-related repository. Of all the applications I installed, Skype proved to be the most complicated. The application itself installed fine, but in order to actually have it function, I had to use YaST to install these additional packages: xorg-x11-libXv-32bit, libqt4-32bit, libqt4-x11-32bit and libpng12-0-32bit. I only mention these here because Skype is a popular program, and it might prove useful to someone.

openSUSE 11.3 Experiences Continued…

So far, I’ve just been talking about the unfortunate issues I’ve run into, so let’s talk about the good things. As I mentioned before, the installation and YaST as a whole is great, and general usage of the OS is as well. I’ve been using Gentoo full-time for almost five years, so I’ve gotten quite attuned to certain ways of doing things, but after a couple of days of using openSUSE, I found myself very comfortable.

At no time during my testing did I feel the need to go back to my native install, and to be honest, that’s something I was expecting to happen. It didn’t, because openSUSE offered me everything I needed, and there were no issues strong enough to force me back to my native Linux, even for a few minutes. Most of the issues I ran into that I didn’t mention on the last page have more to do with KDE than openSUSE, as I experience some of the same random KDE-related application crashes in Gentoo as well.

Speaking of KDE, the theme found here doesn’t stray too far from a native KDE install, although there are some tweaks made to set it apart. The result is a theme based off of Air, and is simply called “Air openSUSE”. There’s really not much to say about the desktop environments, although it should be mentioned that openSUSE opts to use the “kick-off” style KMenu – which is no surprise, as it was the SUSE developers that created it years ago. I prefer the old-school style menu, but for those who like big icons and an accessible search, this style works well (you can revert to the old style anytime).

KDE has always been a focal-point of SUSE, but that doesn’t mean that GNOME was left to ship with default settings. Rather, the openSUSE artists spiced things up and gave it a great-looking theme… easily one of the best GNOME themes I’ve ever seen. Similar to Ubuntu 10.04, openSUSE uses a darker theme, but infuses it with some dark green to better fit the typical SUSE color scheme.

Unlike the default GNOME setup, the one found here doesn’t feature a menu up top, but rather a customized taskbar to better mimic KDE, application menu and all. If you’re a GNOME user and don’t like this design, it only takes a few minutes to revert it back to the more “normal” style.

To better show off the cool theme of GNOME, take a look at the application windows:

I’m not usually a fan of dark themes, but I might make an exception for that one, since it just looks so refined. The dark green and gray colors really work well together. You might notice that the screenshot is of the GNOME disk benchmarking tool, with me benchmarking OCZ’s Enyo USB 3.0 SSD. Judging by the performance, USB 3.0 works just fine with openSUSE! Please note the dips in performance aren’t due to the OS, but rather the drive, as it’s very “dirtied”.

Before jumping into my conclusions, there’s just one more topic to discuss: codecs. As a rule, most distros don’t ship with proprietary media codecs due to licensing, copyrights and their “non-free” nature, so it’s usually left to the user to install those that are needed. With openSUSE, the process is fairly simple, but not quite as simple as, say, Ubuntu, where you simply install the proper “Restricted” package via APT.

The first time I tried to play a media file through a player, Kaffeine, openSUSE popped-up a message that told me that I’d have to install the codecs. After clicking “Install”, I received an error that told me I’d have to visit the support website to read up on how to install them. There, I was led to yet another website that finally allowed me to install what I needed. All it took there was for me to click on a URL, then type in my password, and allow YaST to do its thing.

Once done, I had no problem playing a variety of files, from .AVI’s to .MKV’s to .FLAC to .MP3 any beyond. Everything I threw at any media player just worked, so while the install process was a wee bit more complex than I would have liked, it was still simple overall as long as you followed the basic instructions.

Final Thoughts

In testing 11.3, I essentially came off of a 5-year hiatus from using SUSE, so the big question of course is… do I leave this test impressed? I can wholeheartedly say, “Yes!”. In total, I spent about 10 days with the distro, and they certainly weren’t without issue, but at the end of the day, those issues I did experience don’t even come to mind. The overall pleasant experience overpowers those hiccups.

openSUSE 11.3, as I had hoped, is a great package. Everything from the installation to the configuration to the regular desktop use has been considered and refined, and overall, it just looks good. After my install, I had full graphics support (not full 3D), so I was able to get down to using my OS right away. Once I had a proper NVIDIA driver installed, compositing was automatically enabled, meaning I could get my fill of wobbly windows and desktop cubes.

The issues I did experience with openSUSE happened at the kick-off, where things had to be tended to right after the install. For many Linux distros, that’s not too unusual, and for the most part, the same could be said for Windows. It’s rare for anyone to install an OS and simply have it perfect… it’s just not a realistic idea. openSUSE came close, though.

I have few complaints about openSUSE, and from how far it’s been improved over the years, I can see me enjoying each subsequent release even more than the last. If there are some things I’d like to see tackled, it’d be just the small issues, like the one where I couldn’t click on a partition in “My Computer” and have it work from the start. Another hope would be to see “My Computer” spiced up a bit in the design department, as it looks like little more than an HTML page with a simple design.

I don’t have a ton of experience with current Linux distros, but that’s something that will be changing going forward, as I’d like to take a look at others I haven’t dabbled with in a while, and others I’ve never even touched (such as PCLinuxOS and Arch). I have been using Ubuntu on my notebook for the past while though, and compared to it, I can honestly say that openSUSE has been the bigger joy to use as a whole, and definitely the easier one to install.

Of course, the top desktop Linux distros are free, so you don’t have to take my word for it. Download a couple, and see what’s best for you. If you don’t want to do that, give openSUSE a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if you run into any issues, you have little to worry about, as there’s an “Online Help” icon on the desktop that will quickly bring you to online support, and only a jump away from SUSE’s rather large forum community.

If you do give openSUSE 11.3 a try, please let us know your thoughts of it in our forums! Likewise, if you run into issues, please don’t hesitate to post them as well, since we might be able to help.

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