I'm among the first to admit that when I find a Linux distribution that I like, it takes a lot for me to be impressed with any of the alternatives. I've looked into countless distros, such as Arch, Fedora and Linux Mint, among others. Yet at the end of the day, I kept finding myself coming back to Ubuntu. And in many ways, I find this comical since I was one of the early naysayers about their use of Unity and other controversial decisions. But something happened over time – I found myself growing comfortable with the way Ubuntu does things. With my busy schedule, a distro that "just works" appeals to me.
Then something unexpected happened. I decided to take a leap of faith and gave OpenSUSE 12.3 a spin. Considering my disappointment with various package breakages in 12.2, I must admit I went into my OpenSUSE testing wearing a skeptical hat.
Flash forward to now. I'm utterly stunned at how smooth this release of OpenSUSE actually is. To put it bluntly – if I had to switch, I would switch to OpenSUSE 12.3 without a second thought.
In this article, I'll compare the various features and functionality of the two distributions, examine which one is best suited for which type of user and explain why I feel OpenSUSE has evolved into such a great distribution.
One of the biggest differences I've found between OpenSUSE and Ubuntu over the years is their target audience. OpenSUSE has always remained squarely aimed at system admins, software developers and other various technology professionals. By contrast, Ubuntu has always focused on the casual user.
But this isn't to say that new users can't find a home with OpenSUSE. Truthfully, it actually has handy features that might lend itself to newbies, like a user-friendly means of creating a dedicated home directory, more granular control over your desktop settings from a GUI and easy-to-understand dialogs that pop-up when needed.
With Ubuntu, you're presented with the Unity desktop environment by default. You are free to install other desktop environments yourself if you like using the terminal or have already installed a package manager like Synaptic. However, tools like Synaptic aren't installed by default any longer. And unfortunately, the Ubuntu Software Manager isn't well suited for installing entire desktop environments.
On the flip side, with OpenSUSE, you can install your choice of desktop environment during the initial installation. Unlike Ubuntu, which leaves alternative desktop environments to its derivatives, you'll find OpenSUSE gives you desktop choices right out of the box.
Many people have very little love for PulseAudio. For myself, I actually prefer it simply because it provides me with smooth functionality for handling multiple sound devices on a single machine. Sure, if I enjoy playing with my ALSA config, I could do this by hand. But I enjoy using pavucontrol instead, as it simply works with minimum hassle.
Ubuntu has always taken a flawed approach to PulseAudio, in my opinion. Worse, their implementation has left a lot of people wondering why the default volume control doesn't help with multiple audio input functionality. The problem is that Ubuntu's default volume controls offer input and output setting only. On the other hand, pavucontrol offers those in addition to playback and recording settings dedicated to application-specific presets.
OpenSUSE takes an interesting stance on PulseAudio. They provide it disabled by default. This means if you don't want it, no problem, you don't have to enable it. However if you decide you want PulseAudio, you can easily enable it from the sound settings within YaST. With both Ubuntu and OpenSUSE, you'll want to install pavucontrol from the repositories, as it won't be provided otherwise.