While Novell sells its commercial SUSE Linux to business users, the free open-source software version of openSUSE is still freely available, with openSUSE 11.3 majoring on its KDE 4.4 desktop interface
We've been using SUSE Linux since its start in 1994 and then, as now, we like this strong desktop Linux distribution. Of course the latest version, openSUSE 11.3, doesn't look a lot like that vintage Slackware variant, but one thing has remained the same. Today's OpenSUSE is a Linux for users, not developers or Linux technicians.
In particular, openSUSE 11.3 is the distribution for people who like the KDE 4.x desktop. While openSUSE offers baked-in support for more desktop interfaces than most Linux distributions, such as GNOME 2.30.1 with a preview of GNOME 3.0 and the lightweight XFCE 4.6.2, it's really the showcase for the latest in the KDE 4.4.4.
OpenSUSE 11.3 can handle sophisticated graphical effects such as Compiz cube virtual desktops
While we’re still fond of the older KDE 3.5.x desktop interface, many users like KDE 4.4 and, if you're one of those people, openSUSE 11.3 is the Linux distribution for you.
We found this out by testing out the gold master of openSUSE 11.3 on two different PCs. The first was our faithful old Lenovo ThinkPad R61. This is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GB of RAM.
The other was a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800MHz front-side bus. This test machine had 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive, and an integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) graphics chipset.
Savvy computer users will quickly note that neither of these is exactly state-of-the-art computers. That's one of the reasons why we like desktop Linux. We can run even openSUSE 11.3, which comes with about every bell and whistle a Linux distribution can come with, not only on these PCs, but with ones that have as little as a gigabyte of RAM and a sub-2GHz processor.
Installing openSUSE 11.3 is a snap. You can directly download openSUSE disk images from numerous mirrors as either an 'everything and the kitchen sink' DVD or much smaller KDE or GNOME live CD images.
Or, if you have a fast internet connection, you can install, or upgrade an existing openSUSE PC over the Internet. For the time being, your fastest way to access the new distro though is probably to use a BitTorrent client.
No matter how you get the bits, we found that all we had to do to install openSUSE 11.3 was to start the process, confirm our time zone, pick a user name and password, choose which desktop interface we wanted to make our default, and then walk upstairs for lunch while the full DVD installation ground its way through the setup. By the time we were back, it was done, and we were ready to go.
The first thing we did was to install more software. Due to the legalities of combining proprietary and open-source software, you have to download some commonly used programs, such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and a codec to let you play MP3 music files.
OpenSUSE 11.3, unlike some distributions, makes this easy. If you'd rather use free software equivalents, such as Gnash instead of Adobe Flash for Flash video, openSUSE makes that easy to install as well.
OpenSUSE 11.3 also comes with a complete collection of the usual popular open-source programs such as OpenOffice and Firefox. In addition, it comes with a wide variety of Mono-based apps – Mono is the Linux version of Microsoft's .NET program framework. One of these, Banshee, a media manager and music player, is easily this author’s favourite media manager on any operating system.
In addition, as it has for years, openSUSE 11.3 uses the YaST system administration tool. We've long found YaST to be an outstanding management tool. It puts almost all the system and network administration programs you're likely to need in one, easy-to-use set of menus.
Underneath all that, openSUSE 11.3 relies on the 2.6.34 Linux kernel. Among other things that means openSUSE 11.3 includes the increasingly popular KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) virtualization. In addition, openSUSE also supports Xen, and Oracle (formerly Sun) VirtualBox for virtualization.
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See also Ubuntu Linux 10.10 Maverick Meerkat review
All in all, we've found that openSUSE 11.3 is, once more, a great Linux distribution. While we know free-software purists won't care for its use of Mono and parent company Novell's friendly relations with Microsoft, if you can past that, you'll find a truly excellent Linux desktop.