OpenSUSE 11: A Feature-Rich Distro in Search of Direction: Page 3

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However, openSUSE is also supported by a Local Security application under Security and Users in YaST. This tool is the closest I have seen to a user-friendly version of Bastille, the well-known system hardening tool. Local Security covers such issues as permitted password length and complexity, permissions at boot time, the number of login attempts permitted, and the default file permissions. Its major lack is a discussion of the possible choices that would allow unsophisticated users to make best use of it.

Detracting from these tools is the option in the installation program to use the password you create for the root user. If you select this option, not only are you automatically logged in, but the default settings for sudo, which is designed to give users temporary root privileges, are set so that all users on the system have them. Perhaps these are rare examples of openSUSE's developers thinking of new users and trying to create a default that will be familiar to them from Windows, but, if so, the decision to include such options and defaults is a classic example of choosing convenience over security. Taken together, they seriously undermine the entire concept of root users and sudo.

Possible audiences

Some members of the free software community will reject openSUSE out of hand, remembering the Microsoft-Novell pact in November 2006, and damning openSUSE along with its patron Novell. That is understandable if not entirely fair.

However, thinking only on the technical side, a better reason to have reservations about openSUSE is its lack of focus. These days, major distributions are known for a particular focus -- for example, Ubuntu for user-friendliness, Fedora for the latest innovations, and Debian for stability and software freedom. By contrast, like the distributions of a decade ago, is still trying to be everything to everybody.

There may be a niche for all-purpose distributions, but the lack of one or two priorities makes openSUSE hard to recommend unreservedly. Like a Swiss army knife, it is a reliable all-round tool, and often has some welcome features in the most unexpected places, but it is hard to say that it excels at anything.

In particular, it is not a strong choice for a distribution for introducing anyone to GNU/Linux. While openSUSE may change as its development community becomes more organized, right now, it seems at best only intermittently aware of the need to assist new users.

Instead, I would recommend openSUSE to two types of uses. The first would be an old hand whom an all-round distribution makes nostalgic. The second would be one who has tried several distributions already, and, who, with some knowledge of GNU/Linux configuration and administration, is shopping around for a distribution to call their own.

Such users, if they took the time to know the distribution, just might find openSUSE compatible with their mindset and level of expertise. But other users, I'm afraid, have few technical reasons either to gravitate towards openSUSE or to reject it altogether.

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Tags: Linux, Firefox, desktop, OpenSUSE 11, download OPenSUSE

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