OpenSUSE 11.3: The Linux distribution for KDE lovers

I've been using SUSE Linux since its start in 1994 and then, as now, I like this strong desktop Linux distribution. Of course, openSUSE 11.3, the latest version, doesn't look a lot like that vintage Slackware variant, but one thing has remained the same. Today's OpenSUSE is a Linux for users, not developers or Linux technicians.

In particular, openSUSE 11.3 is the distribution for people who like the KDE 4.x desktop. While openSUSE offers baked-in support for more other desktop interfaces than most Linux distributions, such as GNOME 2.30.1 with a preview of GNOME 3.0 and the lightweight XFCE 4.6.2, it's really the showcase for the latest in the KDE 4.4.4. While I'm still fond of the older KDE 3.5.x desktop interface, many users are fond of KDE 4.4 and, if you're one of those people, openSUSE 11.3 is the Linux distribution for you.

I found this out by testing out the gold master of openSUSE 11.3 on two different PCs. The first was my faithful old Lenovo ThinkPad R61. This is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GBs of RAM. The other was a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This test machine had 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.

Savvy computer users will quickly note that neither of these is exactly state of the art computers. That's one of the reasons why I like desktop Linux. I can run even openSUSE 11.3, which comes with about every bell and whistle a Linux distribution can come with, quite nicely not only on these PCs, but with ones that have as little as a gigabyte of RAM and a sub-2GHz processor.

Installing openSUSE is a snap. You can directly download openSUSE disk images from numerous mirrors as either an 'everything and the kitchen sink' DVD or much smaller KDE or GNOME live CD images. Or, if you have a fast Internet connection, you can install, or upgrade an existing openSUSE PC, over the Internet. For the time being, your fastest way to access the new distro though is probably to use a BitTorrent client.

No matter, how you get the bits, I found that all I had to do to install openSUSE was to start the process, confirm my time zone, pick my user name and password, choice which desktop interface I wanted to make my default, and then walk upstairs for lunch while the full DVD installation ground its way through the setup. By the time I was back, it was done, and I was ready to go.

Being me, the first thing I did was to install more software. Due to the legalities of combining proprietary and open-source software, you have to download some commonly used programs, such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Acrobat Reader, a library to let you play MP3 music files, and the like. OpenSUSE, unlike some distributions, makes this easy. If you'd rather use free software equivalents, such as Gnash instead of Adobe Flash for Flash video, openSUSE makes that easy to install as well.

OpenSUSE also comes with a complete collection of the usual popular open-source programs such as OpenOffice and Firefox. In addition, it comes with a wide variety of Mono-based, the Linux version of Microsoft's .NET program framework. One of these, Banshee, a media manager and music player, is easily my favorite media manager on any operating system.

In addition, as it has for years, openSUSE uses the YaST system administration tool. I've long found YaST to be an outstanding management tool. It puts almost all the system and network administration programs you're likely to need during work in one, easy-to-use set of menus.

Underneath all that, openSUSE relies on the 2.6.34 Linux kernel. Among other things that means openSUSE 11.3 includes the increasingly popular KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) virtualization. In addition, openSUSE also supports Xen and Oracle, formerly Sun's, VirtualBox for virtualization.

All in all, I've found that openSUSE is, once more, a great Linux distribution. While I know free-software purists won't care for its use of Mono and parent company Novell's friendly relations with Microsoft, if you can past that, you'll find a truly excellent Linux desktop.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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