OpenSuse 11.2 a serious contender

With Ubuntu 9.10 and Mandriva 2010 already released, OpenSuse 11.2 is the third of the “big four” – Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSuse and Ubuntu – Linux distributions to release new versions this month. And, despite its name, OpenSuse 11.2 is a significant upgrade over version 11.1 released more than a year ago.

The Novell-backed OpenSuse project has a number of unique features that make it popular with users. Chief among these is the Yast software management tool which has always made OpenSuse easy to administer. With the release of 11.2, OpenSuse’s Yast will introduce for the first time “live upgrades” which make it easier to upgrade from previous versions of the operating system. Debian and Ubuntu already have a “dist-upgrade” feature and with 11.2 OpenSuse will have similar capabilities.

In addition to live upgrades, OpenSuse 11.2 also features a first outing for WebYaST: a Web-based remote administration tool for OpenSuse systems. Officially WebYaST is called a “technical preview” but it does add a new dimension to managing remote systems.

On the desktop

On the desktop OpenSuse includes KDE 4.3 and Gnome 2.28, the latest versions of these two desktops. KDE 4.3 is a major update to the KDE environment and has better networking support as well as better Firefox and OpenOffice.org integration. Gnome 2.28 includes a much improved software update application as well as improvements in Gnome’s Webcam and video application.

OpenSuse 11.2 also boosts its social networking capabilities with a selection for new applications. Among these will be choqok, a new KDE twitter and identi.ca client, gwibber on Gnome with support for Twitter, identi.ca, Facebook and others,  kopete with its additional Facebook IM capabilities, as well as desktop plasmoids for KDE 4.3.

Under the hood

Under the hood OpenSuse also includes a number of key features. Among these is the ability to encrypt the entire hard disk. Over the past year this ability has become increasingly common in Linux distributions. Also now fairly commonplace in Linux releases is the inclusion of support for the new ext4 filesystem. Ext4 is the default filesystem for new OpenSuse installs, and the even-newer Btrfs filesystem is also included but not as the default.

With netbooks in mind OpenSE has also made a number of changes to installation options. Because many netbooks don’t ship with an optical drive, OpenSuse 11.2 will also have hybrid install images (ISOs) available which make it easy to install the operating system directly from a USB stick. OpenSuse 11.2 also expands on its support for the growing netbook market and now works perfectly on most popular netbook machines.

The competition

OpenSuse is one of the older Linux distributions, originally known as Suse Linux before that was bought out by ailing networking company Novell. Over the years it has consistently improved and today is among the top two or three Linux distributions. It’s newer competitor, Ubuntu, has, however, managed to steal a lot of the limelight away from the likes of OpenSuse, Fedora and Mandriva. Even so, OpenSuse stands out as a fine example of what a Linux desktop operating system can be.

OpenSuse can be downloaded from http://www.opensuse.org

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OpenSuse 11.2 a serious contender