Old-timer openSUSE has been around the block a few times. First conceived in 1994 as a German translation of the veteran Linux distribution, Slackware, it ran through a number of different names and versions before finally opening itself up to community development in 2005.
The move has allowed the community to participate in the development and testing of openSUSE releases, and since its inception, updates have been released approximately every eight months. At the time of writing, version 12.2 was due to be released – alas, it didn’t arrive in time to be included in this review.
The openSUSE developers offer both KDE and Gnome desktop environments on an equal footing, officially not preferring either one to the other. However, before the establishment of the openSUSE project, KDE was the preferred desktop, and this remains the default selection during installation of the distro. Indeed, openSUSE is one of the leading contributing distros to the KDE desktop.
We wouldn’t call it the most intuitive front-end in this Labs, but it’s highly configurable. The key is the Plasma desktop shell, which allows users to design their own desktop environment. You can also add any number of widgets to the desktop, from the practical Folder View and calculator, to the less useful (but undeniably geeky) binary clock. Widgets can be resized and even rotated at a jaunty angle.
We found our multitouch touchpad worked out of the box, with two-fingered vertical scrolling in applications such as LibreOffice Writer and Firefox, as well as two-fingered multidesktop navigation. We’d recommend checking out the touchpad settings when you start, too, as you can make all sorts of customisations, including two-finger right-clicks.
For software installation, you’ll be spending a lot of time with openSUSE’s YaST (Yet another Setup Tool), which combines this job with the whole spectrum of system configuration and administration. With sections dedicated to Software, Hardware, System, Network Devices, Network Services, Security and User admin among others, YaST provides the means to configure just about every aspect of the operating system. It’s powerful, and we particularly like the software collections, which allow you to install themed groups of applications with a single click. It’s a little daunting at first, though.
Fortunately, there’s another route for finding and installing software: packages can also be installed directly from the Package Search page on the openSUSE website. Behind the scenes, installation is performed in the same way, but with a more familiar, web-based method. Finally, if you find a program that hasn’t already been built for openSUSE, the Open Build Service will compile packages for you and publish them in your own, personal repository. From here, packages are made available to all users of the distribution, benefiting the entire community.
There’s no doubt that openSUSE is a very capable Linux distribution. It has a wealth of Linux software readily available in its official and community repositories, a flexible desktop environment, and it offers simple community tools for expanding that. If you’re looking for a no-hassle introduction to Linux, then it isn’t the distro for you, but more experienced users should definitely give the live disc a whirl.
Main wiki contributor: Bruno.
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