Why openSUSE 11 is the Linux for me

Recently, my colleague James Turner reviewed openSUSE 11 and he liked it. It's hard to tell from some of the notes he got back -- shame on you people! -- but he really did.

I, on the other hand, love openSUSE 11 and since Warren Woodford, the developer behind MEPIS, has had to put his great Debian-based Linux distribution on the back-burner for now, openSUSE 11 has become The Linux distribution as far as I'm concerned.

Why? Well, for me, openSUSE is easy to install. Yes, you need to decide if you want to use LVM (Logical Volume Manager) for storage, and that is a mysterious question for new users. But, as Turner points out, all you need do is click on the default choice instead and in a few minutes you're in business.

There's this myth about how hard desktop Linux is to install on a PC. I honestly can't think of a single time in the last three years and dozens of Linux distributions that I've had to know anything, about Linux to get it working. My only decision has been whether to blow away the existing Windows hard drive partition or leave it alone. That's not much of a technical decision. After that, I just do something else while the CD or DVD spins around for half-an-hour or so. Then, I reboot, add in a user name and password, if I hadn't done that before and I start using the system. No fuss, no muss.

Getting a Linux desktop to work just right will take more time. But, frankly, I've had to spend a lot more time -- say 16-months with Vista -- to get Windows working properly. Yesterday, for example, Vista suddenly announced that its trust-relationship with AD (Active Directory) was broken and refused to allow me to login to my system. I fixed it, a story I'll save for another day, but suffice it to say for now that I had to resort to one of the most downright oddball network client fixes I've ever used.

That's a good lead in to another reason why I like openSUSE. YaST, the master administration tool, as Turner said, can be quirky. On the other hand, it's a graphical menu-driven system. Even if you don't know it, you can menu your way to where you need to go without much trouble. There's nothing inherently trickier about it than Microsoft's MMC (Microsoft Management Console).

MMC is a good comparison to YaST because openSUSE can be used both as a desktop and as a server. OpenSUSE can do anything and, as a result, its management tools give you access to places most desktop users will never need to go. I like that power that all Linux distributions have and, in openSUSE, Novell makes a point of making all of that easily available to users. I can certainly see how it could also intimidate some users.

Of course, you don't need to see just how much you can do with openSUSE if you don't want to. It comes with a choice of multiple desktop systems and their corresponding applications. The main three choices are KDE 3.5x, GNOME 2.2.x and, KDE 4.0x, which I think isn't ready for prime time. You can use the other, less common Linux desktops, but if you go with either KDE 3.5x or GNOME, you'll be fine.

Both main interfaces give you access to all the applications you're ever likely to use and are nicely polished and functional. I have no trouble running Linux applications, which is more than Vista users can say. Talk about a bad joke of an operating system. Microsoft can't even get its own Vista Compatibility Center up and running! I don't have to put Windows down in favor of Linux; Microsoft is doing a great job of promoting desktop Linux all on its own.

There are many other things that openSUSE gives me that any Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu, can also give me. For example, there's security. If you run Windows, you must also run anti-malware and anti-viral software. I haven't spent a dime on either one for Linux because I don't need to. There have never been any significant Linux malware or viral programs. And, please, none of that "That's only because no one targets Linux because it's not popular." Linux runs Google, Yahoo, and thousands of other major Web sites. If you wanted to do some serious damage to users, and you could do it by easily breaking Linux, it would be done by now.

Face facts: Windows is a patchwork of security fixes and holes. Linux is a brick-wall. You can break either one, but Windows gets ripped open on a daily basis. Linux doesn't.

Taken all-in-all, power, control of that power, choices of interfaces, and security, desktop Linux is clearly the better choice. And, for me, for today, openSUSE 11 is the best of the best.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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