Review: 3 top Linux distros go for different users

Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu Linux desktops may look alike, but they've got some important distinctions.

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OpenSUSE 11.2

Over the years, I've tried literally hundreds of Linux distributions. I keep coming back to openSUSE, along with the relatively obscure but reliable Debian-based MEPIS Linux. Why? Because they just work.

No operating system is perfect, of course, but in release after release I can count on openSUSE to not get in the way of my work and fun. Take, for example, its default KDE 4.3 desktop. I'm not a huge fan of KDE 4's multi-window/folder approach, but openSUSE has made it palatable by combining it with the distribution's multi-layered administration tools.

A key difference between openSUSE and the GNOME-based Fedora and Ubuntu is that you can click your way easily through almost all administrative tasks with openSUSE's YaST interface. In the same way, openSUSE and KDE 4.3 make it easy to find and use applications without ever leaving the desktop. This is in contrast to GNOME, which makes it easy to use and access the most common programs and settings, but if you want to access less common applications or do more with the system, you need to get your hands dirty with the shell interface and config files.

To me, openSUSE and KDE have more in common with Windows' XP interface, where almost anything you need to do can be done with a control panel somewhere. Fedora and GNOME resemble the Mac interface, where 99% of what you want to do is easy, but the remaining 1% requires expert knowledge and a visit to Mac's BSD Unix-based shell.

OpenSUSE also makes it easy to use proprietary media codecs, such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft's Windows Media and Silverlight. You can add these with any Linux distros, but most, including Fedora and Ubuntu, make you jump through several hoops to do it.

OpenSuse

OpenSUSE lets you click through administrative tasks with the YaST interface.

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Speaking of easy, openSUSE is also the first of the major Linux distros that makes it simple to upgrade the system over the Internet. With most distros, you need to download an ISO image of the new release and then boot from it to upgrade your Linux distribution. However, I was able to do an in-place upgrade of openSUSE 11.1 to 11.2 on my ThinkPad over a Wi-Fi connection. This arrangement makes upgrading the entire operating system as simple as installing one really big program.

All in all, I find myself once more very satisfied with this latest release of openSUSE. While I know Novell's partnership with Microsoft has been made the company persona non grata in some Linux circles, I find the overall quality of the distribution to be high enough that it will continue to keep a place on my working desktops.

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