Linux distribution review: Opensuse 12.3

I have been using Opensuse 12.3 KDE since its release as my main desktop system. There is no doubt in my mind, it is a top notch system easily the equivalent of windows 8 or mac os X. That’s sort of a controversial thing to say: an open source system that is free to download, developed by gifted ‘amateurs’ is as good as an operating system that cost millions to develop? Yes, it is – read on to see how I came to that conclusion.

Install

The first difference between a linux distro and the PC market leader – windows – is you have to install linux yourself. Some companies like Dell, sell systems with linux pre-installed but the majority of people will download the iso, burn that to dvd and then install. It’s old fashioned when you consider the tablet and mobile phone markets- imagine the look of horror on your friend’s face if they had to install android on their new mobile phone with a disc! The sheer number of linux distributions is the systems weakness and its strength – as Linus pointed out, windows dominated the PC market because there is only one version of windows xp professional and it is pre-installed on the computer you buy, whether you want it or not. My point is this, the install is kind of exciting and creates a connection between the user and the distribution – you did that, after all.

Day to day use

I recently used windows xp pro in a day job. I was surprised to see such an old system used for real office work but at the end of the day, xp pro sp3 is one of the stablest windows versions to date. It’s a good system, took them about 3 years or so to get rid of all the bugs but hey, it works. Sort of.

Put a well known payroll package on xp pro and the application runs so slowly it’s virtually unusable. Phone support and they tell you that’s a well known problem that occurs with that graphics card you’re using! Talk to the IT guy, explain that although Outlook 2003 is an ok email app (oh we laughed) you’d prefer to use Thunderbird- you can’t, the company uses an exchange server for email. Turn the PC on in the morning, having cleaned the thing out with cc cleaner (freeware) and fixed the registry, run the anti-virus (twice) and then run the malware scanner (god help us) – it’s running slow again, what could it be now? Your PC get’s it’s time from the windows 2003 server box – it’s always 10 minutes out. I could go on – it’s the constant irritation, almost like an itch, that drives me crazy when it comes to windows.

Since I installed Opensuse 12.3, apart from having to setup networking properly after the install (guys, could you fix the networking glitch in 13.1 please) I have not had a problem. Honest. Linux just works. KDE (4.10.5) is simply brilliant – it’s a full-on, good looking desktop environment with some first class home grown applications (dolphin, okular, konsole, kate etc) and it feels light and responsive in use. I dread to think how this PC would operate if I stuck windows 7 on it. Windows 7 is not that bad but regardless of what they tell you, you need a lot of system resources to run it properly.

I just love the way the linux community rallies around to get things to work, printers are a classic example. Things are a lot better now than they used to be – most printer manufacturers have realised it makes sense to re-use and adapt existing open source software to build a printer driver – it must save them a few dollars as well. Even when I bought a printer that had real problems under linux (I’m thinking of the old win printers that used windows gdi), someone somewhere would find a fix and the printer would be working (almost perfectly) within a few days. These days it’s unusual to find a printer that doesn’t have a driver for linux and mac. I recently worked in an office where the bosses macbook couldn’t print, there was something up with the driver!

From the moment the Opensuse 12.3 kde desktop came up on this Dell Precision 380 I was hooked. The developers have done a thorough job, the default theme is just beautiful (if you don’t like black and green, you’ll probably disagree). That seems to be the theme running through Opensuse, thoroughness – it’s all been thought through. I used to consider Opensuse’s package selection a weakness, there was always a package I thought of as standard -cups-pdf for example – that wasn’t in the main repository, it’s a third party package. Now I realise, the developers are just thorough, if a package has one too many bugs, it’s not included. I have only had to build one package from source and that was my favourite flash-card learning program, Mnemosyne – luckily for me, checkinstall was able to build an rpm without a hitch. If you want to run applications like microsoft office, playonlinux will in install then no problem and they run just as well on linux as they do on windows.

Conclusions

As you can tell I am very satisfied with Opensuse 12.3 and am looking forward to 13.1. Windows users will say that we all have virtualbox so deep down we all use windows in some form or another. True, I have virtualbox but I can’t remember the last time I started it up, when I do it’s just to make sure it’s still working or to update it.

If you want an operating system that will cater for nearly all of your day to day computing needs you won’t go far wrong with Opensuse 12.3 kde – it’s total class.

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