When you ask someone to name a couple of GNU/Linux distributions, in most cases, you will hear the names Debian, Red Hat, Ubuntu and then, SuSE Linux which is now a days known as OpenSuSE.
The reason is that apart from it being one of the oldest Linux distributions around, it has made a name as a distribution which is robust, secure and user friendly. Originally SuSE Linux was owned by a German company by the same name. But in January 2004, it was acquired by Novell which continued to further develop and fine tune it and include more SuSE specific features to it. The end result is a distribution which has grown to have its own unique identity. OpenSuSE is a community program sponsored by Novell and is developed in an open model.
One of the foremost reason to consider OpenSuSE Linux as a very popular Linux distribution is the mere fact that in the past couple of months, it has risen from the bottom of the heap to enjoy second place, just below Ubuntu Linux, in the Distrowatch most popular Linux distributions list.
This rise in popularity is not incidental. Rather it highlights the quality of this very fine distribution.
A couple of months back, I chanced upon a DVD of OpenSuSE 10.2. While in the past, I have installed a plethora of GNU/Linux distributions, this was the first time I happened to lay my hands on SuSE Linux distribution. And to tell you the short story, I was virtually blown away with its ease of installation and use. While the partition manager embedded in the SuSE installer is not as graphical as that found in Fedora installer, in all other respects it is very functional and intuitive. One thing worth noting is that OpenSuSE comes with flash player (albeit ver 7.0) and Sun Microsystems Java 1.5 runtime environment bundled with it by default and at the time of installation you have to agree to the license requirements of the respective software.
The minimum specification for installing OpenSuSE Linux is a Pentium class processor, at least 256 MB RAM and plenty of disk space. The OpenSuSE installer detected all the devices attached to my machine without any problem. While it is pretty bleak to see a Linux distribution not detect any particular device barring wireless devices or internal modems, you can make sure that your laptop/desktop is supported by OpenSuSE by checking their hardware compatibility list (HCL). Once I finished installing the distribution and booted into it, I came face to face with a clean Gnome desktop. What is unique about the OpenSuSE Gnome desktop is that it includes a redesigned menu different from what you will find in the default Gnome setup. More over, the search is integrated in the menu with Beagle search playing a very important role in providing real time search. This is not surprising as projects such as Beagle search and Tomboy are developed by Novell engineers and is based on Mono language; which is also the initiative of Novell.
There is a central place called the "Control center" which can be accessed by clicking on the start bar (named "Computer" in OpenSuSE Gnome Desktop) and then clicking the "Control center" in the menu. Here all the applications are categorized by type or functionality which in my opinion makes it easy to navigate. Though the menu in the Panel of KDE is also redesigned, I found the Gnome menu much more pleasant to use than that found in KDE. But in KDE, there is an option to switch to the classic view which can be done by right clicking on the menu button and choosing "classic view". I couldn't find a similar method to switch in Gnome though.
By default OpenSuSE provides KDE and Gnome and you have to choose one over the other at the time of installation. But if you select a custom setup , then you can easily install packages specific to other window managers and desktops.
Over a period of time, Novell has also built a massive collection of documentation, tips, faqs and howtos related to accomplishing tasks in OpenSuSE which can be viewed here.
OpenSuSE Linux uses the RPM format to distribute its packages. And there are more than one ways of installing packages. But the most popular form of installing software in OpenSuSE is using YaST which does a good job of automatically checking for any dependencies.
A brief introduction to YaST
YaST is a unique tool found in OpenSuSE which allows one to do all the system administration tasks from within its GUI interface which includes package management, managing users, configuring firewall, configuring devices and almost all the other system maintenance and network administration tasks you could think of. It can also be used from the command line. YaST2 comes with three front-ends. GTK, QT and ncurses. And you can start the "YaST control center" using the command yast2. The correct front-end is automatically selected based on the available components and the current environment.
YaST supports the following modules to load the requisite GUI front-end. They are as follows :
answering_machine, bootloader, ca_mgm, dhcp-server, dns, dns-server,fax, firewall,Here is how yast2 can be used from the command line.
groups, host, http-server, idedma, inetd, irda, kerberos-client, keyboard, lan,
language, ldap, mail, mouse, nfs, nfs_server, nis, nis_server, ntp-client, power-management,
powertweak, printer, profile-manager, proxy, remote, routing, runlevel, samba-client,
samba-server, security, sound, sysconfig, tftp-server, timezone, tv, users.
To load the interface of a specific module you use the following syntax :
# yast2 <module name>For example, if I want to add more users to the system, I can use the following command :
# yast2 users... which will load the GUI front-end for adding users. For starting the power management utility, run the yast2 command as follows:
# yast2 power-management.., and so on. You can also start YaST in interactive mode by passing it the phrase 'interactive'. For example, when you use the command :
# yast2 users interactive
YaST2 users> help
OpenSuSE will place you in the 'YaST users' interactive shell where you can run commands to add, remove or modify user data. After you are done, you can press 'exit' or 'abort' to come out of the shell.
AppArmor - OpenSuSE's unique security feature
While other main stream Linux distributions such as Red Hat and Debian have beefed up their defenses by incorporating SELinux into their structure, OpenSuSE has traveled a different path. Instead of SELinux, it comes bundled with its own security framework tool called AppArmor.
Novell claims AppArmor is equally robust and provides similar application level access controls with the exception that it is much more easier to configure and maintain than SELinux. The apparmor profile used by default makes OpenSuSE very secure. You can read more about Apparmor here.
Pros of OpenSuSE 10.2
- Robust and secure GNU/Linux distribution
- A good collection of software including easy availability of proprietary ones packaged in the SuSE RPM format. For instance, you can easily install proprietary Nvidia graphics drivers using YaST.
- Excellent GUI front-ends for almost all system and network administration tasks.
- Has incorporated some cutting edge features in Gnome and KDE desktop such as the redesigned Panel Menu.
- Good all round integration of Beagle search.
- Bundles with it Flash player and Sun's JDK 1.5 by default.
- Has an easy graphical method to enable/disable XGL if you like special effects on your desktop.
- To put it lightly, I found OpenSuSE 10.2 to be a memory hog. On my machine with 640 MB RAM, it was sufficiently slow. I attribute it to the number of services running on OpenSuSE by default.
- With the recent cloud formed over Novell striking a deal with Microsoft, many in the open source and Free software community are concerned about the direction in which Novell is going to steer SuSE in the future. There are also aspersions cast on whether this fine GNU/Linux distribution will remain Free at all.