One of the primary reasons I was attracted to Linux was the due to the visual aspect of the whole thing. Now, I know that this becomes a paradoxical statement on my part when I string beauty and Linux in the same sentence! The common (and in my opinion illogical) perception of Linux is that it is extremely clunky and not at all user friendly. The terminal, the Microsoft FUDs and geeky imagery attached with it has not helped it either. But, Linux, in the visual sense is simply beautiful! I was mesmerized by the breath-taking visuals of SuSE Linux 9! KDE3, the beautiful crystal icons, the green tinge, the smooth icons; everything reeked of professionalism. And what did I have next to it? Windows ME! Enough said.
But that was 2004. Fast forward to nearly a decade to the present day. I have been a wholehearted user of Linux at home, with most of my work done on Ubuntu. Moreover, thanks to Wine and Google Drive, I can do my office work on Linux without any difficulty whatsoever. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to give the latest incarnation of OpenSUSE 12.3 a try. OpenSUSE is the free version of SuSE Enterprise Linux, akin to Fedora for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is a community driven testbed for new software! As in most distros, it comes in various flavours, such as GNOME, KDE, XFCE etc. I downloaded the KDE version, since I was most acquainted with it on a SuSE system, using it nearly after a decade. The Live CD ISO does not work with UnetBootIn, but has its own USB installation tool called Image Writer.
Booting the distribution from a USB stick, I was presented with a beautiful desktop, with a darkish theme and all, giving it Mint-ish look! During live boot, the OS detected my LAN connection but could not find the wireless LAN setting. The installation process was fairly easy, but quite detailed, akin to Anaconda, the Fedora installer.
The installation system is well integrated, with YaST handling it superbly. It has quite a few steps, including a EULA-like disclaimer! The hard disk selection was complicated to say the least, but once you got the hang of it, the system is extremely powerful too.
Time and Location selection had been lifted straight out of a page from Ubuntu, with a similar geographic map, but power users can also select from the menus provided below. If connected to the internet, the installer allows you to install other packages at one go as well, which is , great for unattended installations. The installation, due to its complexity, longer than Ubuntu and its derivatives. Post installation, the installer asks for a reboot. After the reboot, I had seen everything! The most beautiful GRUB menu on a computer! Just google it to see what it looks like! Unlike Ubuntu though, the system does not reboot to the desktop with runlevel 5 activated, it proceeds to download the latest updates as well. After updating, I finally get to see the installed desktop. The desktop is an absolute copy of the Live USB system, without the Installer icon of course!
The operating system comes with a decent suite of applications. There is Firefox for internet browsing as well as the veritable KDE Konqueror, pus there lies LibreOffice productivity suite. For multimedia, Amarok is present as well. Moreover, there were some quirky programs here and there! For example, the system came with certain games as well as Marble, the KDE Atlas. All programs feel tightly integrated in to the system, with Firefox feeling like a KDE program, and LibreOffice having OpenSUSE branding. There were some rough ends as well. The system could not detect my internet connection, either over LAN or over Wi-Fi. A few tweaks here and there, and I had access to porn! The Network Management icon at the taskbar was also a source of visual irritation. It contrasted in all of its coloured glory with the rest of the
monochrome icons! The best thing about OpenSUSE has to be YaST. It is the perfect Control Panel for controlling nearly every aspect of the distribution. Though most Linux enthusiasts I know prefer to dabble with text files to change settings,
YaST gives them a similar amount of control while in a comfortable GUI environment. For those who prefer to work from the console, YaST has an ncurses environment too. Moreover, the classic Linux text file approach still works! So everyone gets to be happy.
For all that jazz though there were problems aplenty! First off, the newly installed system could not connect to the internet over either Wi-Fi or LAN. There was a problem with the network management daemon. I guess it conflicted with the YaST network tool, since selecting YaST with ifup to configure the network worked flawlessly. If the daemon did not work, it should have been made to choose YaST and ifup as the default network selection tool. Moreover, the system failed to update repositories. It failed to find the repomd.xml file, which resulted in the error. A quick google search and the generous folks at the OpenSUSE forum made updating easy and flawless. All of this happened at the course of a single boot instance in a single day! Again, this showed the shoddy work by the SuSE quality team! And….. Why was LibreOffice stuck at 3.6, while KDE was at 4.10? Beats me hands down!
Overall, the system is okay, though not frugal on resources. Yet it does not feel sluggish. In fact, KDE, with more RAM usage worked better than what Unity did in the same machine. Since OpenSUSE uses the RPM package management system, it is not as streamlined as the Debian based distros with APT! On the whole though, I am quite happy with OpenSUSE 12.3, even though there are niggles which makes it look more like a side project by a small company, compared to coming from industry giant Novell.