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

These days, major distributions are known for a particular focus. But the new Open SUSE release is still trying to be everything to everybody.
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Bruce Byfield's OpenSUSE 11 review

The different incarnations of SuSE have always kept the feel of old time distributions -- by which I mean releases made before GNU/Linux became popular, and new users became the main priority in planning. Nor is version 11.0 of openSUSE an exception. Even from a Live CD, openSUSE installs with several choices of basic software, including, for instance, both Firefox and Konqueror in the KDE version. More importantly, unlike distributions such as Fedora or Ubuntu, openSUSE does not concentrate on ease of use so much as on adding increased functionality.

The result is a release that, while not completely ideal for an absolute newcomer, offers more advanced desktop users who have absorbed the GNU/Linux mania for tinkering. In fact, from installation through software selection to package installation and security, the first thing you are likely to observe is the number of choices unavailable on other distributions.

openSUSE 11.0 is available as a DVD, or as a Live CD with either a GNOME or a KDE desktop and a second CD for extra languages. The download page leads you carefully through choosing the appropriate download, starting with a selection of computer type, and offering a choice of media and download type, as well as a link to online installation help. In the sidebar of the download page, you can even choose to buy a boxed version with a manual and 90 days of installation support -- an old-fashioned option that is probably more a courtesy to reassure those used to proprietary software rather than a true source of profit.

For most people, one of the Live CDs is probably the best choice, since it is quickest to download. The only drawback is that, if you are one of those who choose applications by functionality rather than the desktop they are designed for, one of your first post-install tasks will be to install the other major desktop.


The openSUSE installer on the Live CD is divided into four stages. In the first, you choose the language and the keyboard, and accept the license. By accepting the license, you agree not to distribute copies for profit or bundled with anything else, and also not to reverse engineer or transfer rights. The rationale is probably that the license refers to the distribution as a whole, but, all the same, it seems at odds with the free licenses of the individual applications -- especially any version of the GNU General Public License -- so you might want to consult a lawyer before using openSUSE commercially.

If you do decide to continue, the next step is partitioning. By default, openSUSE allocates a swap file twice the size of your system RAM, with 40 percent of the remaining hard drive space given to the /directory and 60 percent to /home, where personal files are stored. If you want to change these defaults, you can choose between creating partitions or a logical volume manager, as well as whether you want encryption, RAID or NFS. The setting up of individual partitions is eased by an in-window help pane, but, to understand other options, you will have to drill down through the online help.

After you set the time zone and create a new member, you can exercise any second thoughts at the installation summary, then the installation begins. Halfway through, you have to reboot and remove the Live CD. Then automatic system configuration continues, segueing into a user login without any warning. At least twice through this process, xserver resolutions are tested, so be prepared for strange displays lasting maybe ten seconds.

In general, the installer is not difficult to use if you have installed GNU/Linux before, especially if you stick to the defaults. However, while not offering as many options as the Debian installer, it does not do nearly as good a job of explaining possible choices. If you are planning any advanced installation, have another computer online beside you so you can consult the help. Even then, you may not find a succinct summary of the pros and cons of each choice, only a description of them.

Desktop and Software Selection

openSUSE starts with a boot manager whose labels give no indication of the kernel being booted, and with a display of messages that seems verbose compared to other distributions. Once you are at the desktop, you will find an extremely up-to-date selection of software, including OpenOffice.org 2.4, Firefox 3.0, and a 2.6.25 kernel. The default desktop, an abstract design of green swirls, is simple yet aesthetically pleasing, although those familiar with other distributions may miss having a panel on the top as well as the bottom of the screen.

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

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