When it comes to the big distros I tend to stick to the ones that are based on Debian. Apt just is simpler and faster to me than rpm. But since I reviewed Fedora 11 (or tried to, in any case), I thought I’d have a go at the other big two RPM distributions: OpenSuse and Mandriva.
OpenSuse’s last release came out last year, so it doesn’t offer the latest and greatest out of the box, but I that wouldn’t matter. I’d use the GNOME 64-bit Live-CD, and there isn’t much difference between GNOME 2.24 and 2.26 anyway. As long as it provided me with an easy, stable OS, that would be enough for me.
These days, there’s not much to say about Linux Live CDs. They tend to work well, detect all your hardware, and let you discover the OS while providing an easy way to install it. OpenSuse was no different. Three remarks though: I thought the CD booted a bit slower than I’m used to (though after boot, overal performance was good), I thought the Gilouche theme looked a bit dated when compared to the crisp, green looks of Linux Mint, and the resolution was no higher than 1280×1024@60Hz. Now, I know that even the nv driver can do a better job than that on my system, so it’s odd that while openSuse correctly identified my nVidia 8600GT videocard and my Samsung 22″ screen, it couldn’t give me better than that.
Installation and configuration
The install was easy and went well, but I missed the options to give the hostname and install grub on the root partition instead of the master boot record. In any case, the installer correctly identified my Arch install and added a meny entry. Grub also looked much nicer than it does in Ubuntu, which has provided a functional, but boring white on black menu for ages. Ubuntu 9.10 is supposed to remedy that, but openSuse already offers it. Good marks here. The install went past much faster than I remember. I used Suse for a while a couple of years back, and I remember an install taking the better part of an hour. These days, first-boot configuration included, everything was finished after a good 15 minutes. Nice.
The screen resolution was still criminally low though, and looking through Yast, the configuration tool, I didn’t find an easy way to install the nVidia drivers. A quick google search helped me out here, and the one-click install was very easy. However, ideally the OS would have pointed me in the right direction, and ask me for a reboot/restart of X afterwards. It did neither.
Strangely enough, at this point all the Dutch translations were downloaded and installed, and after a reboot my system was in Dutch at last, and I could pick a higher resolution. Again, I feel that openSuse should have done this automatically. A 1280×1024 resolution is never going to be right for a 22″ widescreen.
Look and Feel
OpenSuse looks good, but as I mentioned before, if you’re going for a green theme, I feel Linux Mint does a better job. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, so I won’t elaborate on it.
The menu though is completely idiotic. It takes a lot of screen estate but takes far too much clicks to navigate through, and it doesn’t really offer a way of opening your applications. Your favourites are there, and the last opened applications, but everything else needs the “Applications…” button, which opens another window. Again, Linux Mint offers a better implementation of the same idea, especially by letting you search not only for files, but also for applications, even the ones you haven’t installed yet. I quickly disposed of the menu, and added the standard GNOME “Applications – Places – System” applet. It’s simpler, and easier to use.
I felt the same way about Yast. I’m sure it offers endless possibilities to configure your system, but it still felt slow and complicated to me. I spent a lot of time searching through it, looking for various functions, and that takes a while. Luckily, most of the system configuration can be done with the standard GNOME tools.
As a final test, I decided to install LXDE, just like I had done in Fedora. To my surprise, it wasn’t present in the standard repositories, and neither was Openbox. I found this One-Click install, but the latest offering was for 11.0. There’s a version for 11.1 on the LXDE wiki, which looked beautiful, was much faster than the standard GNOME desktop, but ultimately disappointed because lxpanel kept crashing. I can’t hold this against openSuse since it’s not an official repository, but in any case it’s disappointing that this distrbution doesn’t even offer it.
There was nothing really wrong with openSuse 11.1, but on the other hand it didn’t convince me either. It felt a bit like a throwback to the Linux of a couple of years ago, where everything would eventually work if you tried long enough. Except, it’s not aimed at those kind of users who like to tinker with their PCs until sunset. It’s meant to be an easy, complete desktop system, and as such, in my opinion it fails. For users looking for that kind of operating system I’d recommend Ubuntu or Linux Mint.