Relying on one desktop distribution without exploring the alternatives every once in a while can leave the casual Linux enthusiast feeling out of touch.
In the spirit of this realization, this article compares the new openSUSE 12.2 release to Ubuntu 12.10. Realize that at the time of this article, the 12.10 release of Ubuntu hasn't been released yet and is still in beta. Despite the beta status, I was still able to successfully run through the existing features and functionality in the beta release.
During my comparison of the two distributions, I was careful to take into account the different audiences each distribution is targeting.
The openSUSE installation was very smooth. The advanced options provided by default in the partition manager during the installation were a nice touch. Not only did openSUSE offer the ability to import existing partition layout options, this distro even went so far as to suggesting the option of a dedicated home directory!
This option alone is a welcome change of pace from what I have experienced in Ubuntu. While it's possible with both distributions, only openSUSE went so far as to provide me with a "clickable" radio box to make it happen without doing so manually.
Installing Ubuntu 12.10 on the other hand, felt much like it did with Ubuntu 12.04. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it wasn't anything all that exciting, either. And based on the direction Ubuntu 12.10 is headed, I didn't see any indications of openSUSE-themed partition options being offered later on.
With both distributions, the installation went along smoothly and I was able to get everything setup without any major drama.
For openSUSE, both the GNOME and KDE desktops reflected all the features one would expect from each desktop environment camp. The same goes for Ubuntu 12.10, in that its Unity desktop felt familiar to anyone who has used Unity in the past.
Both distributions were very fast. I would go so far as to point out that openSUSE felt substantially quicker to me, running btrfs.
However, Ubuntu is dealing with a Unity performance issue that is expected to be ironed out before Ubuntu 12.10 is actually released. So we shouldn't hold this as a strike against Ubuntu as this issue isn't officially a problem until 12.10 is released.
In either case, the performance issue wasn't noticeable on my hardware. And under the hood, openSUSE came with the GRUB2 bootloader as its default, which is something earlier releases of Ubuntu were already offering.
Both openSUSE and Ubuntu were bundled with the latest and greatest versions of our favorite programs. With regard to the Linux kernel offered with each distribution, openSUSE comes with 3.4 while the Ubuntu beta came with 3.5.3. I give openSUSE the advantage in this space, as 3.4 is a more stable kernel in my opinion.
One other substantial difference I noted between the two distributions was how they each handled Pulseaudio. Ubuntu comes with Pulseaudio running in the background, out of the box. By contrast, openSUSE offers Pulseaudio as a "to be enabled" option only. You must go into the control panel to run your sound card settings, decide on your default settings and if you wish, enable Pulseaudio.
With openSUSE, I decided to enable Pulseaudio and then found that it worked just as well as it does in Ubuntu. On the control front, openSUSE wins this one. Yet for newbies, this win would go to Ubuntu instead. Coming from other operating systems, newbies would never think to tweak audio settings to enable something that works out of the box on Windows or OS X.
I realize I will get some heat for this statement – but I stand by it.
Features and functionality
When I think of the features offered by openSUSE, I immediately consider the fact that the best this distribution has to offer happens behind the scenes from openSUSE's stability down to the benefits of using systemd.
The decision to include systemd basically comes down to providing the best performance and stability possible, in the eyes of the openSUSE developers. By contrast, Ubuntu uses an alternative event handling tool known as Upstart.
There are various opinions here as to which tool is best in the long run, however it has become clear that most distributions are moving toward systemd. Ubuntu, on the other hand, has stated that their development plans will remain in the Upstart camp.
On the desktop front, the differences between openSUSE and Ubuntu really come down to the desktop environments.